The sweeping legal campaign appears to be educating some file swappers who did not think they were breaking the law and scaring some of those who did. But the barrage of lawsuits has also highlighted a stark break between the legal status of file sharing in the United States and the apparent cultural consensus on its morality.
In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted this week, only 36 percent of those responding said file swapping was never acceptable. That helps explain why the pop radio hit “Right Thurr,” by Chingy, was available to download free from 3.5 million American personal computers last week, while two million file swappers in the United States shared songs from rock icons like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, according to the tracking company Big Champagne.
The persistent lack of guilt over online copying suggests that the record industry’s antipiracy campaign, billed as a last-ditch effort to reverse a protracted sales slump, is only the beginning of the difficult process of persuading large numbers of people to buy music again.
[…] Fear of being sued or fined can help shape a new moral sensibility — as happened with sexual harassment laws, seat belt requirements and no- smoking laws — despite considerable initial public skepticism. Some legal experts and ethicists say the music industry’s enforcement of copyright law against Internet file sharers may eventually catalyze a similar change in attitudes.
But many experts argue that legal prohibition alone is rarely effective in getting people to behave differently if it runs counter to strong societal beliefs.
“When efforts to ban behavior fail, like with the Prohibition, they may need to be changed,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington.