A research study in the International Journal of Business Environment suggests that content providers must take a pragmatic view based on social consensus to persuade illicit downloaders that their behaviour is economically and ethically unacceptable behaviour among their peer group or other social group to which they belong.
According to Eva Hofmann of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, UK and Elfriede Penz of the Institute for International Marketing Management, at Vienna University of Economics and Business, in Austria, the unauthorised sharing of digital content is well-entrenched in popular culture. However, they have discerned a difference in the way those downloading pirated content and the legal downloaders decide on how to obtain the content they desire from the Internet.
The researchers note that inherent in the problem for copyright holders is that digital goods can be duplicated endlessly without loss of fidelity, making piracy easy but also suggesting that the value of such goods as being less than traditional, physical items in the realm of content, such as CDs and DVDs.
They say this makes the moral decision less onerous for illegal downloaders than were they to steal a CD or DVD from a high-street shop. Earlier studies have suggested that online piracy does not detrimentally affects sales of physical goods and that many so-called pirates actually spend more on entertainment overall. Nevertheless, the sale of CDs and related goods are in decline and the industry blames piracy largely for declining numbers of units shifted. Conversely, consumers often cite the high price of digital goods as justification for engaging in unauthorised downloading.
“In the era of digitisation, exchanging goods for material and immaterial compensation or for a feeling of sheer altruism remains an important human behaviour,” say the researchers. “But rather than tightening enforcement to protect their assets, content providers would benefit more by initiating communication with the illegal downloaders and profiting from global online networking rather than fighting it,” they suggest.