The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Researchsurveyed American consumers’ attitudes toward protecting intellectual property (IP) such as copyrights for text, graphics, music and movies, and for patents on industrial designs and pharmaceuticals. For the most part we feel protective toward IP but a small segment shows hypocrisy and some of the survey results are troubling.

We know IP delivers a good livelihood for many American families and although IP theft harms them directly, ripple effects make us all a little poorer. The annual $200 billion of intellectual property theft is a bigger piece of the $2 trillion underground economy than most of us expected.

We know that unlawful use of designs and branding supports counterfeiting items such as fake aircraft parts and useless or poisonous pharmaceuticals.  Theft of intellectual property can quickly lead to our death and injury.

We’ve always known it’s wrong to steal. But some of us must have majored in self-esteem and were taught to think we’re a special case entitled to take the fruit of others’ labors.

Almost 57% US computer users admit to using pirated software – a decade ago it was mostly pirated music and now its videos and games. The 57% can’t all be impoverished kids thwarted by prices – IP piracy is explained by a sense of entitlement or by a quest for the street creds of a skilled hacker.

It is distressing that 20% in the survey oppose being told when they are engaged in an unlawful download.  And 22% oppose having their internet service provider shut down access to sites that promote IP theft.

Condoning theft is an antisocial attitude that does not flow from principled reasoning.  It is more likely a shield for one’s own bad behaviors, or a corrupt world-view with a stylish “stick it to the man” theme.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Florida and who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research