Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Arr pirates' moral compasses way off?

Piracy has been described as "morally as well as economically unstable” (Lord Mandelson, cited in BBC, 2009).

This is from the man who set the recent changes in UK law into motion. But is there any truth to it?

Maybe so.

First of all, Marshall (2004) argues illegal downloading/file-sharing is not theft, but rather copyright infringement and that statutorily and practically they are very different. It's generally accepted that stealing is wrong, but copyright infringement? That sounds complicated.. Even theft is messy, where stealing office stationary for example, is normalised enough to be tolerated. Morality is unfixed.

As far as music piracy research goes, the results certainly sway in favour of the argument that those who download music illegal are immoral. But as Stephen Fry commented in his speech at the 2009 I-Tunes festival (discussed in previous blog entry below) this does not mean they have crossed a line into criminality, with no way back.

To briefly consider the findings from just a few scientific papers, the moral intensity of students has been shown to vary cross-culturally, thought to account to account for differing piracy rates (Kini, Ramakrishna and Vijayaraman, 2004) with Al-Rafee and Rouibah (2009) observing religion as a predictor of reducing piracy.

This is all very good, but the question begs: 'How does one measure morality?'

Many studies use questionnaire-items which pose moral dilemmas, where morality is often measured in accordance with a famous model of moral reasoning by Lawrence Kohlberg. Hunt down the articles if you are interested in the methodologies used.

As a general rule though, when the same trend of results appears over several studies using different approaches, then it becomes accepted as probably being a genuine finding. As more and more studies reach the same conclusions, that's where things are headed on this one.

What do you think?

And why all this interest in morality? Well, it could form the basis of future anti-piracy strategies, getting under the skin to change attitudes long-term. Such is the argument by Chiou, Huang and Lee (2005) who remark that a moral focus could be the best approach to tackling the issue, not confusing legal messages or invasive technological advancements, with artists appealing to fans on a person to person level via blogging, for example.

Morality can also account for consistent demographic differences, where gender and age will be explored in depth over the next few blog posts.

As Marshall (2004) states: "The Napster wars will not be won by law or economics - even if Napster is shut down, new possibilities for online piracy will emerge. Technical solutions are therefore not the answer. The Napster wars can only be won by morality. The industry has to persuade the public that infringing copyright on the internet is wrong".

New! Twitter feed online @musicpiracyblog with daily updates.


Al-Rafee, S. and Rouibah, K. (2009). The fight against digital piracy: An
experiment. Telematics and Informatics, 27, 283-292.

BBC (2009). Net pirates to be 'disconnected' [online]. Available from: [Accessed 11 November, 2009].

Chiou, J., Huang, G. and Lee, H. (2005). The antecedents of music piracy attitudes and intentions. Journal of Business Ethics, 57(2), 161-174.

Kini, R.B., Ramakrishna, H.V. and Vijayaraman, B.S. (2004). Shaping of moral intensity regarding software piracy: A comparison between Thailand and US students. Journal of Business Ethics, 49(1), 91-104.

Marshall, L. (2004). Metallica and Morality: The Rhetorical Battleground of the Napster Wars. Entertainment and Sports Law Journal, 1, 1-3.

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