Sunday, 13 April 2014

Why pirate? The most important article on digital piracy you will read in 2014

I have to tip my hat here... This is some really well put together research.

In this critical and timely CREATe working paper, 'Determinants and Welfare Implications of Unlawful File Sharing: A Scoping Review', Watson, Zizzo and Fleming (2014) review the findings from hundreds of research articles on digital piracy (so you don't have to). Their method included sorting through over 54,000 sources to review the findings from those which met their strict inclusion criteria.

The authors conclude that: "current knowledge of file sharing is dramatically skewed by sector and method", echoing a recurring criticism on this blog. The authors further observe that the majority of research does not draw from actual data, and calls for more experimental and longitudinal research.

Beyond acting as an excellent critique piece, the research forwards five motives for why individuals engage in file-sharing: these include a) financial and legal utility, b) experiential utility, c) technical utility, d) social utility and e) moral utility.

If one were to measure individual pieces of research on a 'best of the year' type basis as with album releases, this would be number 1 on the list of important works so far in 2014. It rests well alongside my own research due to appear in print in the journal Convergence in May in encouraging researchers to take a step back and really evaluate what's going on.

It's not perfect, as the authors rightly acknowledge (I had trouble interpreting the graphs), but this research is a landmark in digital piracy research for it's methodology. The time and effort which has went into this research is also illustrative of how academic research can best serve the literature base (only academics can ever have the time to do this sort of thing). To further expand on this point, Williamson, Cloonan and Frith (2011) argue that academics:

"Should assert more aggressively that as academics we have not only methodological expertise but also, on the whole, more knowledge of our specialist field than its practitioners - we understand its broader context, we can draw on comparative international and institutional material, we have a longer historical perspective, we have the advantages of disinterest, we are not constrained by encrusted conceptual frameworks" (p. 471)


Williamson, J., Cloonan, M. and Frith, S. (2011). Having an impact? Academics, the music industries and the problem of knowledge. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 17(5), 459-474.

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