It’s not moral or social obligations that will prevent people from unlawfully downloading and sharing creative files online, new research reveals.
It seems the risk of punishment and penalties can reduce this behaviour by nearly 40%, and consumers are less likely to share files based on how much creative effort went into producing them.
According to researchers at the University of East Anglia and Newcastle University, making consumers more aware of the effort that goes into producing creative material such as films and music may result in less unlawful file-sharing.
The research indicates an important factor in predicting unlawful file sharing was social norms, measured by participants’ opinions about the social appropriateness of the activity.
When the copyright holders were perceived to have made an effort, the level of unlawful file sharing decreased by about 5%, the study shows. Framing them as ‘victims’ and as deserving also made a difference and ‘consumers’ in the study did not risk file sharing.
The study’s authors, Dr Piers Fleming from UEA and Dr Melanie Parravano and Professor Daniel Zizzo from Newcastle University, aimed to better understand the social and moral causes of unlawful downloading, as well as the effect of financial penalty and punishment.
“While punishment risk and penalty size reduce unlawful behaviour, they are not the only factors that do so,” explains Fleming.
“If people see that someone has put effort in to producing something they are more likely to pay for it,” he says. “It’s possible that consumers don’t care about the creativity aspect, but we found they actually do to some degree.”
Fleming says the findings suggest making the rights and efforts of copyright holders prominent are useful to reduce unlawful file sharing.
“It would be beneficial to have policy measures that try to shift the perceptions of social norms by focusing on the producers and artists and what they do, for example around the time an album is being released, rather than the fact that people should just pay for the material,” he says.
Zizzo says increasing the probability of punishment and the penalty clearly reduced unlawful file sharing in the experiment.
“As the empirical evidence shows that legal measures to clamp down on unlawful file-sharing have a mixed track record, this suggests that this is not because consumers ignore legal deterrents, but rather because they try to circumvent and avoid them,” Zizzo explains.
“The findings on social norms are particularly interesting, and show how there may be a virtuous circle between changes in norms and changes in behaviour.
“Consider streaming as a growing suitable technical alternative to unlawful file-sharing, especially for music - the availability of a good technical alternative may reduce the ‘coolness’ of unlawful file-sharing,” says Zizzo. “This may reduce how socially appropriate it is perceived to be, which in turn could make it less popular and further reduce its ‘coolness’.”
According to the research, consumers did not seem to care whether the rights holders got a return and the wealth of the rights holder - determined by their fee - did not increase the probability of file sharing.
The observers were used to measure social norms. They looked at the actions available to the consumers and were asked to rate the social appropriateness of each on a scale ranging from very socially inappropriate to very socially appropriate. The researchers found that the observers’ opinions were highly predictive of the behaviour of the consumers in the study.
Around 80-90% of observers found buying somewhat or very socially appropriate, whereas around 70% found obtaining without paying somewhat or very socially inappropriate.