Online and Offline Content Piracy Activities: Characteristics and Ethical Perceptions

Online and Offline Content Piracy Activities: Characteristics and Ethical Perceptions

Troy J. Strader (College of Business and Public Administration, Drake University, Des Moines, IA, USA), J. Royce Fichtner (College of Business and Public Administration, Drake University, Des Moines, IA, USA), Geoffrey D. Bartlett (College of Business and Public Administration, Drake University, Des Moines, IA, USA) and Lou Ann Simpson (College of Business and Public Administration, Drake University, Des Moines, IA, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/ijt.2014070103
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This study identifies several factors that influence an individual's ethical perceptions of other user's content piracy activities. It addresses the relationship between the characteristics of various online and offline content piracy activities and the extent to which individuals perceive these activities to be ethical. It also considers the knowledge and experience individuals have regarding digital technologies to see whether it impacts their ethical perceptions. This paper finds that the more time it takes to copy content, and the higher the value and quality of the copy, the less ethically acceptable these activities are viewed. It also finds that when users have higher levels of digital technology experience and understanding they view all of these activities as relatively more acceptable. Implications and conclusions are discussed for content companies and future research.
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The content industries include books, magazines, newspapers, music, movies, games, and other forms of information and entertainment products. These industries are a significant part of the overall economy. Each year the amount of content available worldwide grows, and people spend more time consuming it. It is estimated that in 2013 Americans spent more than 4400 hours consuming media and per-person spending across all content industries for the year was approximately $900 (Laudon & Traver, 2014). Traditionally, each industry has offered its content in a different format. For example, books and magazines were printed, music was available on albums, cassette tapes or CDs, and games could be played at arcades or at home on a game console and television. In the past decades, though, these same companies have recognized that all of their content has a common characteristic – it can be digitized. Digitization of content is a double edged sword because it opens up a whole new world of opportunities and threats.

Growth in consumer Internet use and improvements in digital technologies over the past two decades has provided companies in these industries with unparalleled opportunities for cost reduction and access to new markets. They can convert their traditional products into digital forms that can be distributed online to nearly two billion people worldwide. But, this same marketplace is also the source of one of the primary industry threats. People can now make high quality copies and share this valuable content with very little cost and effort. These activities are typically described as either digital piracy or online piracy, though they could also be referred to more generally as content misuse. In the following discussion, these activities will be referred to as either digital/online piracy or just piracy.

Piracy of software has been a problem for decades (Conner & Rumelt, 1991; Givon,, 1995; Swinyard,, 1990), but the same problem now affects all of the content industries. Despite growth in legitimate content sites, the volume of pirated movies, TV shows, music, books and video games online continues to grow at a rapid pace (Verrier, 2013). According to a 2013 report from NetNames, in January 2013 more than 320 million users around the world illegally sought copyrighted content and this was up 10% from November 2011 (Verrier, 2013). While digital books are relatively newer than other forms of digital content, they are not immune to the same piracy problems. According to a 2013 report, 92% of e-book readers in Russia got their books through illegal download, while in the US the e-book piracy rate was about 12% (Indvik, 2013). Despite technical and legal protections for digital content, users continue to pirate content because it is easy and they can rationalize their behavior (Moore & McMullan, 2009). Understanding the factors that impact their attitudes and perceptions is critical to understanding and reducing this misbehavior.

In this study we identify individual’s ethical perceptions when they consider whether it is appropriate for other user’s to engage in various forms of content duplication and access. This is a study that addresses issues of interest for technoethics research. Technoethics is a term used to encompass all forms of applied ethics issues focused on technology related human activities (Luppicini, 2009). Within the technoetchics research framework, this study is most closely associated with issues related to Internet ethics and cyberethics. Digital devices enable creation, storage, and duplication of content and the Internet provides an infrastructure for distributing content. However, not all of these activities are necessarily ethical or legal. In this study we address the issues from the perspective of individuals who are judging the ethics of other user’s behavior. The study primarily addresses the following two questions:

  • 1.

    What are the characteristics of content duplication/access activities that impact people’s ethical perceptions of other user’s behavior?

  • 2.

    Does a person’s digital technology experience and understanding influence their perceptions of other user’s behavior?

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