The rapid increase and advancements in technology have brought faster internet speeds, cloud-storage based architectures, easy access to data and information, and marketization of digital media whereby inputs and outputs have an economic and social value (Bernat, & Makin, 2014). This in turn has brought digital piracy which has become a major issue for the global digital goods economy. It has rampaged through all reaches of cyberspace with new forms and methods of accessibility causing threats and damage wide spreading and spanning the entire spectrum of digital goods from music, books, movies, and software.
In order to secure and preserve the socio-economic values of the proprietor and commercial data and information, legislations and regulations have been put in place. However, much of the current approaches heavily depend on the rules derived from real space. Adida, Chang, Fletcher, Hong, Page, & Sandon (1998) point out that all these traditional legal doctrines focus on intent, entry, property, and permission and the problems arises when unauthorized access in cyberspace challenges or conflicts with the normal and traditional ways of understanding real time spaces.
A lot of cases have been miscalculated, which have lead to inappropriate punishments ranging from too little to too severe. It has also led to the confusion of what behaviors should be considered criminal when accessing materials via cyberspace. Ultimately, these legal and academic definitions have remained stagnant and cannot fully deter digital piracy, but instead create more grey areas. In order to fully understand this, we must explore how digital piracy has evolved and shaped cyberspace as we know it. Additionally, we must traverse alternative avenues which can minimize the occurrence of digital piracy.
Potential Causes of Piracy
To fully understand the issue of digital piracy with goods and services we must explore some of the root causes. Understanding the reasons behind digital piracy is the first step towards control. Shanahan & Hyman (2010) point out that over three billion of pirated files are downloaded each month, and despite the efforts to curb such behaviors with lawsuits, 50% of college-aged music enthusiasts along with 80% of all UK students deemed sharing copyrighted of unauthorized replications via the internet as acceptable.
What was interesting enough is that many of those committing the crime would not walk into a store and shoplift an item of equal value, but many of these students did not deem the act as stealing because they do not view the files they find online as property simply because they lack the physical presence. The interaction between human to machine rather than human to human has applauded a lack of empathy which has institutionalized the product acquisition through problematic means. A vast majority of them saw the act as “merely” copying the information which does not deprive the owners.
Shanahan & Hayman’s (2010) research indicated that there are six main motivations to the engagement of digital piracy: (1) Justification; (2) Economic Incentive; (3) Believe Pervasiveness by Peers; (4) Experiential Reasons; (5) Believe lack of risk; and (6) Tech Savviness. Overall, the indications reveal that individuals prefer to steal from and be more approving of others stealing from large-scale, impersonal organizations. Additionally, a lot of these revolve around the concept that there is a lot of peer influence and the believed pervasiveness within one’s cohort which relates to one’s beliefs about the general acceptability of engagement in such actions.
The social learning theory and the general theory of crime discussed by Holt & Bossler (2016) also support the findings by Shanahan and Hayman. The social learning theory has been one of the most commonly tested theories with empirical evidence that supports a variety of criminal and deviant activities. The social learning theory can be traced back to the works of Robert Burgess and Ronal Akers in 1966. The theory essentially states that the probability that a person will engage in criminal and deviant behavior is increased and decreased when they associate with others who commit criminal behavior and espouse definitions favorable to it. The exposure to in-person or symbolical criminal/deviant models further instills desirable and justified behaviors that anticipate greater rewards than punishments (Ontario Ministry of Children Community and Social Services, 2016). Holt & Bossler (2016) concisely summarize the four principal components that Akers initially included as aspects of operant conditioning and reinforcements: (1) differential association; (2) definitions; (3) differential reinforcement; and (4) imitation.
Additionally, the general theory of crime on the other is another popular theory in criminology. The theory suggests that the level of control on an individual from both internal and external sources varies, and so it allows them to feel free from social conventions and restrictions. Individuals with low self-control have characteristics such as preferences for impulsive acts, self-centered acts, simple and easy acts, physical acts, non-frustrating acts, and risk-taking behaviors (Higgins, Fell, & Wison, 2007). As a result of this, criminal behavior is an extension of one’s own level of self-control, or the ability to constrain one’s behavior through internal regulation (Holt & Bossler, 2016).
Higgins, Fell, & Wison’s (2007) studies found out that there is a correlation between these two theories which supports previous empirical and theoretical research. They state that low-self control is conditioned by the social learning theory in regard to piracy. Individuals geared towards piracy as a result of being a member of a group, and group norms towards piracy exacerbate the link between low self-control and intentions to pirate. Fundamentally, an individual’s calculation of risks in engaging in criminal behavior is distorted not only by low self-control but also by the norms of those with who they associate that shift towards the criminal act. These theories together with empirical findings demonstrate some of the main reasons why individuals engage in digital piracy. There might be other multidimensional constructs that contribute, but most revolve around these critical and core findings.
Harm by Digital Piracy
Regardless of the potential causes that lead to piracy, the bottom line is that it causes harm. First, we’ll look at the implicit message which we’ve all have been accustomed to hearing and the cause of many legal lawsuits, and that is that it causes harm to copyright holders in terms of financial losses. According to Tunay & Wu (2009) every year industries lose billions of dollars. They went to cite the BSA/IDC 2009 global software piracy report which indicated a loss of more than 50 billion dollars in 2008. Moreover, for every two dollars’ worth of software purchased through legitimate ways, another dollar was obtained illegally somewhere. About 35% of all music sold around the world are illegal copies thanks to digital piracy. Costing the industry $4.6 billion, and the movie industry losses about $6.1 billion every year. Not to mention the amount of energy and financial costs that these industries spend to fight piracy activities via multiple avenues.
So, if you’re an aspiring artist, book writer, software developer, or one of the top guns in Hollywood who has spent perhaps a year or more into your production and begin making some money when it hits the market. Next, you may realize that your sales decline because it has been distributed over the internet for free. This most certainly harms you as an individual because of the time and money which were invested into the production.
Now a lot of people focus on financial losses, but there is more to it than meets the eye. Digital piracy can also have implications for cybersecurity. Many of these files being distributed over the internet on torrent sites and file sharing methods are used by hackers to distribute malware, trojans, and viruses. So even though consumers of piracy benefit from free consumption there are other adverse effects. Telang (2018) conducted an unobtrusive experiment via background sensors on 250 home users’ computers for a year. The data indicated that the more time users spent on infringing sites in a month, they were also more likely to download malware in the same time period. Overall, there was a 20% increase from time spent on these sites, and another 20% increase in malware after removing potential adware. Interestingly enough, users who visited these sites were also less likely to have antivirus applications installed on their computers. Ultimately, the majority of these users don’t worry about the harm caused to content creators, but they should be concerned about the harm caused to themselves.
Legislation and Regulations
While tech savvy individuals have been busy innovating new ways on how to pirate digital content, lawmakers have also been hard at work trying to find ways to stop online piracy. Moss (2016) states that this goes as far as in the early 1980’s where judicial fights set the tone for how electronic content would be handled. At that time the term “time shifting” was coined, referring to someone being able to record a live show to watch it later. The courts decided that a manufacturer would not be held liable for negligence or potential infringement whereby they did not have knowledge.
Fast forward 14 years later and then we saw the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which gave authority to owners of copyrighted digital media to sue those who illegally copied, distributed, or decoded encrypted products (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2008). Owners were also able to compel ISP’s to remove the online material being shared. This allowed the takedown of the famous Napster service which accounted for over 300 billion songs being downloaded yearly. Then the Recording Industry Association of America took it further in 2003 when they started targeting individuals instead of file-sharing website owners.
These laws and anti-piracy campaigns have brought so much confusion and problematic number of cases to the courts. In 2003 alone the RIAA brought over 25,000 lawsuits against individuals which would require time to go over individually. Not only that but there have been lawsuits against young children and cases of mistaken identity. The Constitutional Rights Foundation (2008) points out that in 2007 a jury found a young mother guilty of sharing 24 songs and awarded the music companies damages of $9,250 per song which totaled $222,000.
The problem with these laws must be reiterated as Adida et al. (1998) emphasize, all these traditional legal doctrines focus on intent, entry, property, and permission and the problems arise when unauthorized access in cyberspace challenges or conflicts with the normal and traditional ways of understanding real-time spaces. In a lot of these cases, a broad range of definitions and interpretations exists in deciphering the language involved. What would be ideal is the consistent use of terms across the board, but currently nonexistent, which leads to a lack of understanding of the translations into cyberspace. As a result of this many individuals are given sentences unequal to the crimes committed. Essentially, a lot of these laws leave a grey area that can be put up for debate.
Strategies for Reducing Digital Piracy
Laws are important and will help deter piracy to a certain level, but by no means is it an all-in-one solution. Feldman (2019) makes some interesting observations about “cinephiles and audiophiles” who wanted to possess local copies of high-quality media because entertainment providers were charging high prices. However, then came broadband internet and adequate streaming technologies with pioneers in the entertainment industry who shifted markets through disruptive innovation. Pioneers such as Netflix and iTunes were suddenly offering end consumers the services at a fraction of the cost. All of a sudden people were turning to movies and music legally than to turn to peer-to-peer file sharing piracy because it was affordable.
In essence, you can say piracy declined in the mid 2000s because the legal options for consuming media became easier than the illegal options. In fact, today perhaps Gen Z and beyond might not even be familiar with how piracy works due to the ease of use of the services. What this teaches us is that these digital goods industries need to come together to understand and anticipate this cyclical shift that end consumers are experiencing. This must be looked at from a social science perspective, and the truth of the matter is that you cannot scare people into not pirating things, you can only offer them better options and that’s the fundamental way of what any strategy should rely upon within the realms digital goods. New pricing strategies, better offers, and subscriptions services need to come into play. Some artists today are in fact looking at putting their digital content out there for free and capitalize through different marketing methods to generate profits. Software as a service is also a huge step toward the minimization of software piracy, similarly, gaming is starting to take roots in online grounds.
Kent (2019) makes some interesting points that are very concise that could help the fight against piracy:
- Remove the incentive – You want to offer a good service at a good price. Netflix is a prime example.
- PR and Education – A lot of people mentioned in the aforementioned studies were simply unaware of many illegalities about their actions.
- Barriers to entry – Entities must make it hard for pirates to ‘pirate’. Software as a service is an innovative way for the software industry. Each industry must take a multidisciplinary approach.
- Technology and operations – You want to know what content is being pirated and where. Artificial Intelligence monitoring will have a crucial role in the near future.
- Cooperation – Bottom line all industries must come to get in and at all steps of the processes to make working solutions more effective.
The digitalization of goods in different industries is such a great phenomenon, but so is digital piracy and both are here to stay. It can be minimized but it will never be truly gone. Laws and regulations that leave more grey areas than solutions will never be the all-in-one solution. If companies will try to capture and entertain monopolies, then they must understand the causes of piracy and appreciate the consequences. They must all come together and adopt suitable strategic responses such as those aforementioned. Similarly, more academic research can bring about more findings into the causes, consequences, and strategic responses that can best be implemented. These will most certainly contribute to the understanding of digital piracy and bring about best practices for all stakeholders.
Adida, B., Chang, E., Fletcher, L., Hong, M., Page, K., & Sandon, L. (1998). The Future of Trespass and Property in Cyberspace. Retrieved from https://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/classes/6.805/student-papers/fall98-papers/trespass/final.html
Bernat, F., & Makin, D. (2014). CYBERCRIME THEORY AND DISCERNING IF THERE IS A CRIME: THE CASE OF DIGITAL PIRACY. International Review of Modern Sociology, 40(2), 99-119. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43499904
Feldman, B. (2019). Piracy is Back. Retrieved from https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/06/piracy-is-back.html
Higgins, G., Fell, B., & Wison, A. (2007). Low Self-Control and Social Learning in Understanding Students’ Intentions to Pirate Movies in the United States.
Holt, T.J., & Bossler, A. (2016). Cybercrime in Progress: Theory and Prevention of Technology-Enabled Offenses. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge
Kent, A. (2019). 6 Ways to Stop Digital Piracy. Retrieved from https://www.viaccess-orca.com/blog/six-ways-to-stop-digital-piracy
Moss, S. (2006). How Pirates Shaped The Internet as we Know It. Retrieved from https://www.recreatecoalition.org/how-pirates-shaped-the-internet-as-we-know-it/
Shanahan, K., & Hyman, M. (2010). Motivators and Enablers of SCOURing: A Study of Online Piracy in the US and UK. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/4452748/Motivators_and_enablers_of_SCOURing_A_study_of_online_piracy_in_the_US_and_UK
Tunca, T., & Wu, Q. (2013). Fighting Fire with Fire: Commercial Piracy and the Role of File Sharing on Copyright Protection Policy for Digital Goods. Information Systems Research, 24(2), 436-453. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42004313
Telang, R. (2018). Does Online Piracy make Computers Insecure? Evidence from Panel Data. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3139240
Ontario Ministry of Children Community and Social Services. (2016). Social Learning Theories. Retrieved from http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/professionals/oyap/roots/volume5/chapter08_social_learning.aspx