When you download pirated ebooks from file sharing websites, should the publishers count these as lost sales? Does piracy constitute theft and should people be punished? An in-depth study among 50 Harvard lawyers shows that downloading pirated content is widely tolerated and even supported by some. It is certainly not seen as a form of theft by these legal experts. Based on these findings, the researchers call for a paradigm shift where entertainment providers focus more on convenience, accessibility and affordability.
The goal of the research was to find out how these legal experts view current copyright regulations and the acceptability of digital piracy. In addition, they were asked about their thoughts on the future of copyright. This type of research approach is not easy to summarize in a graph or table. However, it allows the researchers to ask more detailed follow-up questions to expose finer nuances and beliefs. The results were published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology and offer unique insight into the liberal copyright and piracy views of these lawyers.
“Our study reveals that law professionals, with raised professional ethics standards and expectations toward law-abiding behavior, highly above average understanding of law, and higher than average socio-economic status, do not equate digital piracy with physical theft, and are generally very tolerant or even supportive of it.”
Throughout the paper, the researchers draw several conclusions, “there is the shared sense that digital goods differ from physical goods, and that this constitutes a basis for new societal norms to emerge: while they ‘would never do anything illegal elsewhere’ , pirating digital content is treated morally differently and morally acceptable.”
The full paper includes many more examples and context. The overall conclusion is that most of the Harvard lawyers don’t see piracy as something that’s by definition problematic. According to the researchers, this could be a strong indication that it might be time for a new paradigm. Tougher laws are not likely to be successful so content creators and publishers should find ways to change their businesses.
One of the big reasons why people download digital content is due to localization and rights. The publisher might issue an audiobook or ebook in one market and not make it available in others. This leaves people who want to listen or read the title in a predicament, where they can’t buy it, because there is nobody to buy it from. The only resort is to pirate it. In other cases companies like Amazon or Kobo might lose the digital rights to sell the book you bought and remove it from your e-reader. It might then only be available through another service. Just because you bought it and was removed, does this mean downloading it from a pirate website is morally correct?
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.