Why Internet Piracy Research is Unclear


Piracy rate statistics are murky at best. Industry involvement in collection makes numbers hard to interpret and bias likely. But research on Pirates themselves remains murkier still.

Law and Property
Though we use the term “intellectual property”, copyrights were never really described in a ‘property’ context. The inception of copyright (Statute of Anne, 1710) granted “monopoly” and “responsibility” but not “ownership” outside of a contractual context. Even the more emotionally charged “moral right” to intellectual works, entrenched in French history, never equated IP with physical property. As authors like Gray (2012) have pointed out that the desire to maintain this analogy results in poorly modelled behaviours. Theories devised around theft or bootlegging, grounded in the physical world, are assumed to be applicable without clear justification that the actions are equivalent.

The Undefined “Pirate”
Describing the ‘typical’ pirate has become equally difficult. Research concludes that pirates are non-religious, young and poorly morally developed but also that there is no religious association, pirates span the age spectrum and there is no correlation with moral development. For each study claiming one thing there is typically another claiming the opposite.

Currently demographic discrepancies are unexplained but some unfounded assumptions can be identified that might be responsible. First, “piracy” is often used without explanation. Legal debate over definition is on-going yet participants are assumed to be able to clearly categorise their own behaviour. Secondly, all “piracy” is typically treated equally. Do pirates download a film balanced against each album? Does a film pirate who never downloads music or a book pirate who downloads nothing else represent behaviourally distinct groups?

Web Science offers potential for research that recognises piracy as a distinct behaviour without physical analogy and can recognise its social context, separate from legal and technical definition.

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