Wednesday, 4 July 2012

What pirates actually SAY

While much research on music piracy has employed survey methodology, there is an alternative approach..

Actually talking to music pirates.

There are very few studies which have adopted a qualitative approach, employing discourse analysis rather than statistical analysis. This probably stems from a combination of a traditional preference for quantitative analysis (itself a likely offshoot of learning Mathematics in School, not Discourse Analysis) and difficulty in securing ethical approval for studies which demand investigation of illegal activity.

Qualitative research has risen in popularity in recent years, with increasingly more sophisticated approaches including Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) helping to minimise the perceived subjectivity of interpreting qualitative data, as compared to quantitative data. In a nutshell, quantitative research learns a little about a lot of participants, where qualitative learns a lot about a far small number of participants.

To hone in on just two qualitative studies, we quickly learn from Holt and Copes (2010) that piracy engagement is a largely considered activity, not impulsive as with much criminal activity. This complements quantitative research which has found piracy engagement to be consistent with the theory of planned behaviour (see d'Astous, Colbert and Montpetit, 2005). The research by Holt and Copes (2010) also shows how through online interaction, pirates learn the norms and values of digital piracy, including how to minimise the risks associated with illegal downloading. On how to spot fake files, one participant comments:

"A good way is just to look at the seeders, I always do that. If a torrent has 10,000+ seeds and the next in the list only has 700+ then it is a 100% fraud, even if the 10,000+ have zero comments and the 700+ have 100+ comments".

Elsewhere, Nutall, Arnold, Carless, Crockford, Finnamore, Frazier and Hill (2011) identified different 'tribes' with unique characteristics. These include: loyalists, experience seekers, preachers, conventionalists, revolutionists and techys. Loyalists, for example were noted as placing their favourite artists on a pedestal, purchasing their albums on blind faith without reviewing them first. Acknowledging an overlap between tribes, the authors also observed key themes including the effect of fan loyalty on attitudes and downloading behaviours. Several participants described the strength of their affiliation to particular artists as encouraging legal sales because they 'owe it' to the them.

The few qualitative studies which have been conducted in this research area have been illuminating, both supporting previous findings and adding new ones.

What do you think about this approach? Do you think future research would do well to pursue a qualitative approach?

Twitter feed online @musicpiracyblog with daily updates.


d’Astous, A., Colbert, F. and Montpetit, D. (2005). Music Piracy on the Web - How Effective Are Anti-Piracy Arguments? Evidence From the Theory of Planned Behaviour. Journal of Consumer Policy, 28, 289-310.

Holt, T.J. and Copes, H. (2010). Transferring Subcultural Knowledge On-Line: Practices and Beliefs of Persistent Digital Pirates. Deviant Behavior, 31(7), 625-654.

Nutall, P., Arnold, S., Carless, L. Crockford, L. Finnamore, K., Frazier, R. and Hill, A. (2011). Understanding music consumption through a tribal lens. Journal of Retail and Consumer Services, 18, 152-159.

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