When you download pirated ebooks from file sharing websites, should publishers count them as lost sales? Does piracy constitute theft and should people be punished? An in-depth study of 50 Harvard lawyers shows that downloading pirated content is widely tolerated and even supported by some. It is certainly not considered 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 objective of the research was to find out how these legal experts view current copyright regulations and the acceptability of digital piracy. Additionally, 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 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 views on copyright and piracy from these lawyers.
“Our study reveals that legal professionals, with high professional ethical standards and expectations for law-abiding behavior, a much above-average understanding of the law, and above-average socioeconomic status, do not do not equate digital piracy with physical theft and are generally very tolerant or even supportive of it.
Throughout the article, the researchers draw several conclusions, “there is a shared feeling that digital goods differ from physical goods, and that this provides a basis for the emergence of new societal norms: while they ‘ would never do anything illegal anywhere else’, digital piracy content is treated morally differently and morally acceptable.
The full document includes many more examples and contexts. The general conclusion is that most Harvard lawyers do not see piracy as problematic by definition. According to the researchers, this could be a strong indication that it might be time for a new paradigm. Stricter laws are not likely to succeed, which is why content creators and publishers need to find ways to change their businesses.
One of the main reasons people download digital content is location and rights. Publisher may publish an audiobook or eBook in one marketplace and not make it available in others. This leaves people who want to listen to or read the title in a difficult situation, where they cannot buy it, because there is no one to buy it from. The only recourse is to hack it. In other cases, companies like Amazon or Kobo could lose the digital rights to sell the book you bought and remove it from your eReader. It may then only be available through another service. Does the mere fact that you bought it and deleted it mean that downloading it from a pirate website is morally correct?
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and The New York Times. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.