File sharers ‘think they’re Robin Hoods’

Many illegal file sharers believe they are the ‘Robin Hoods of the digital age’ and are motivated by altruism and a desire for notoriety, according to analysis of  people motivations illegally download digital media.

The research by Joe Cox, from the University of Portsmouth Business School, is the first study to distinguish between the characteristics, motivations and behaviours of different types of file sharers.  Cox used Finnish national survey data, which captured file sharing habits, socio-economic status and attitudes towards legal and the illegal file sharing of 6,103 respondents from across a range of income brackets. Ninety-five per cent of the respondents were male and the average age was 28.

“Some file sharers see themselves as masked philanthropists – the Robin Hoods of the digital age. They believe their activities shouldn’t be considered illegal, which means finding the most appropriate form of deterrence and punishment is extremely difficult,” said Cox.

Cox separates file sharers into two groups – ‘leechers’ and ‘seeders’. Leechers are those who download digital media illegally from other parties, but who are not explicitly making content available in return. Seeders are those who have acquired the material in the first instance and are making it available to leechers.

He said; “the seeders who are sharing the material appear to have little obvious gain and are certainly not doing it for any financial reward. My research shows they are motivated by feelings of altruism, community spirit and are seeking recognition among other members of the file sharing community. I think it’s likely some benefit is also derived from a feeling of ‘getting one over on the system’ too.”

“Seeders seem to consider the expected cost of punishment to be minimal, which is largely due to the low perceived likelihood of detection. It’s as if they believe the peer esteem they’ll generate from their infamy will outweigh any of the costs associated with their activities.”

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