Nevertheless, recently released figures from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that file-sharing is growing more popular. There were approximately 23 million regular music downloaders in the United States in March, compared to 18 million in November and December 2003, according to the Pew study. The study said this showed a steady rise, though the number of people downloading music remains far off its high of 35 million users in the spring of 2003 -- around the time that the RIAA first started warning people that they could be sued for illegally sharing music.
The Harris poll shows that "education is important, but without an enforcement component, it can only do so much to influence behavior," said RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said the Harris poll strengthens the case for tougher punishments for online pirates.
"People can understand what they're doing is illegal and not feel a great deal of empathy for the entity that's getting shafted," Berman said. "What they need to have also is the fear of getting caught -- that's the stick that needs to be out there."
Berman is cosponsoring a bill with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that would send people to jail for up to three years for trading more than 1,000 songs on peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa and Morpheus.
Wayne Rosso, chief executive of the company that runs the Blubster and Piolet peer-to-peer networks, said that file-sharing companies and the recording industry have to find ways to cooperate instead of clamping down on online music distribution.
"Clearly the suggest that changes in the law need to be made," he said. "As opposed to throwing 53 percent of the young people in the country in jail, wouldn't it be better to make sure they can do this safely and legally and with respect for copyright law?"
Rosso and other file-sharing proponents so far have been unable to reach a compromise with the entertainment and software industries to pay copyrighted works shared online. File-sharing companies have proposed a licensing scheme that would force consumers and Internet service providers to be responsible for compensating artists and copyright holders, but intellectual property groups have objected to any plans that would not allow them to set the prices.
Online polls are often not considered to be as accurate as more traditional surveys conducted over the phone or in person. But Harris research official Marc Scheer said his company took a number of steps to ensure that respondents belonged to the eight-to-18 age group targeted in this survey, such as not specifying to a preferred age group in the initial questions. Harris has built a list of several million Internet users from which it randomly selects respondents for various surveys based on demographic and other criteria.