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Teenagers' Beliefs about whether Music Piracy is Morally Wrong

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. (April 26, 2004). “Fewer Than 1 in 10 Teenagers Believe that Music Piracy is Morally Wrong.” The Barna Group, Ventura California, pp. 3


In an era where there is an increase in balking and legal action against those who illegally download music, this research surveyed the views of teenagers throughout the US regarding their views on and use of pirated music. Illegally downloaded music is a norm among adolescents today and few view it as anything less than their right. While there have been some prosecutions and a few discontinued sites, this practice goes on unabated. This survey looked not just at general music piracy practices among youth, but also at whether the person’s moral beliefs, particularly Christianity, made a difference in one’s propensity to download music.

The survey found that there is almost no moral objection to music piracy, whether in the form of copying a CD or downloading music online. In fact 86% of those surveyed felt that music piracy is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue. Only 8% of those interviewed felt that music piracy is wrong.


This survey was conducted by The Barna Group and Harris Interactive at the commission of the Gospel Music Association of Nashville, TN. The survey was administered online and included 1,449 interviews of teenagers ages 13 to 18. Having the survey on-line attracted teens who had computer and internet access, which are those most likely to understand and have access to pirated music via the internet.


  • Four out of five teenagers interviewed had been involved in music piracy in the last six months. This was regardless of one’s gender, race, region, academic performance, or parent marital status.
  • When asked whether downloading music online or copying a CD was morally firth, morally wrong, or not a moral issue, only 1 in 13 (8%) said it was morally wrong. Twenty-one percent said that downloading music was morally right. Sixty five percent of those interviewed said that it was either not a moral issue or had inconsistent views on this, feeling that either downloading or copying was wrong but not both. Church attenders were just as likely as non-church goers to engage in piracy, at 78% and 81% respectively.
  • Born-again teenagers (those who said they had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ) were not much different than their non-Christian friends. Only 10% of born-again adolescents believe that music piracy is wrong, and 6% of non born-again teens felt it was wrong. 64% of Christian teens felt that it was not a moral issue, similar to the 66% of non-Christians.
  • Of the 8% who opposed piracy, only 1 in 3 of those teens said they feel certain of that stance. Of those who do not feel that piracy is wrong, two-thirds of those teens are convinced of that view.
  • 79% of interviewees said that said that their parents had recently committed some form of music piracy.
  • 84% of teenagers had purchased music from a store in the past six months, making traditional retail outlets the most common source of music for teenagers. Only 12% of teens had paid to download a song in the past six months – a new focus of the music industry.
  • Only 54% of the teens reported ever having heard a discussion about when it is and is not legal to download or copy music. Only 48% had heard it discussed in moral terms.


  1. Do you think music piracy – whether through copying a friend’s CD or downloading free music online – is wrong? Why or why not? Do you view the act as morally right, morally wrong, or not a moral issue at all?
  2. If shoplifting from a store is wrong, why would music piracy not be considered wrong?
  3. Why do you think people (lawyers, music industry, some religious leaders) are making a big deal out of all of this?
  4. Do you think some of the ways that the industry is trying to address this (legal action, paid downloads, etc.) will be successful? What else should be done?
  5. If music piracy is truly stealing someone else’s music without paying for it, is it morally wrong? If it is morally wrong, how should we go about stopping it?
  6. Should there be a different view among born-again teens and those who are not? Why are there not those differences?
  7. Why has the church been silent relatively on this, especially those working with teens?


  1. Adolescents are engaged in large numbers in music piracy. Few teens see it as a moral wrong action and few have ever heard anyone discuss it in that way. Teens are not being reached with messages sent by those opposed to music piracy, and therefore the likelihood of it continuing at its current rate is high.
  2. Adults in adolescents lives, including parent and youth group leaders, are not speaking against music piracy. Teens are not being taught that this is wrong or a moral issue. This means very few adolescents who have the ability to download music will stop. The likelihood of them stopping later in life is also low.
  3. Music piracy is a moral issue, yet it is not being addressed.
  4. Parents, pastors, and youthworkers have a role to play in helping teenagers understand the implications of music piracy and what the correction actions and responses should be.
  5. Christian youthworkers must come to terms with the morality of this issue and act accordingly, both in their lives as well as how they teach and lead the adolescents they work with.

Rebecca Wolfe cCYS