Music piracy: ethical perspectives

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<ul><li><p>Music piracy: ethical perspectivesSteven Bonner</p><p>University College Dublin, Ireland, and</p><p>Eleanor OHigginsUniversity College Dublin, Ireland and London School of Economics,</p><p>London, UK</p><p>Abstract</p><p>Purpose This paper aims to examine the issue of illegal downloading of music under an ethicallens.</p><p>Design/methodology/approach The theoretical framework observed was one which includedthree independent variables: individual, situational and experimental elements. The dependentvariable of the study was legal vs illegal downloading of music. A 20-item questionnaire wascompleted by 84 respondents. The final four questions in the study were guilt-inducing questions(which the respondent was informed of in compliance with ethical primary research); the remainder ofthe questions were neutral in nature.</p><p>Findings The paper finds that the respondents illegally download despite viewing the act asimmoral. Respondents choose to morally disengage from the non-ethical nature of the act in an attemptto avoid feeling guilty about illegal downloading and also to avoid any blame being attributed to thempersonally. Many respondents feel the act of illegal downloading is simply todays reality and thatthere is nothing wrong or immoral about illegal downloading. Those who illegally download were lesslikely to attack the activity for being wrong. Active music fans were more likely to engage in illegaldownloading than passive ones. Being a student versus being gainfully employed did not affectdownloading behaviour.</p><p>Research limitations/implications A limitation of the study was the difficulty in getting peopleto disclose the truth about their own ethical violations. A related limitation was the difficulty inobtaining respondents, since participation in such a study meant revealing their music consumptionbehaviour. However, in the end, social networking proved to be a successful way of recruitingparticipants.</p><p>Practical implications The results cast light on the obstacles managers in the music businessface in eliminating music piracy.</p><p>Social implications The results show the reasons for the difficulties in eliminating thiswidespread crime, because of the ethical ambiguity involved.</p><p>Originality/value The study has the effect of explaining music piracy very clearly through theapplication of ethical/psychological theory. This has not been done before.</p><p>Keywords Ethics, Music industry, Copyright law, Computer crime</p><p>Paper type Research paper</p><p>1. Introduction: music industry backgroundMusic is an art form which has been a part of our human lives from before the time ofJesus Christ; a man by the name of Jubal is historically understood to be the firstcreator of musical instruments according to the Catholic Version (Old Testament) ofthe Bible (Genesis 4:21). Music is comprised of a collection of sounds which generaterhythm. The method in which music is created has evolved greatly over time and todayelectronically-created music has become common practice. Music in its purest form isderived from a collection of sounds which have been creatively assembled by an</p><p>The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at</p><p></p><p>Music piracy</p><p>1341</p><p>Management DecisionVol. 48 No. 9, 2010</p><p>pp. 1341-1354q Emerald Group Publishing Limited</p><p>0025-1747DOI 10.1108/00251741011082099</p></li><li><p>individual or a group of individuals for the sole purpose of invoking rhythm, whether itcomes from a drum, a guitar, a vocalists singing voice or indeed a multitude of musicalinstruments: piano, clarinet for example. Music could be perceived as the soundtrack tomodern peoples lives.</p><p>There are four major record labels which dominate the recorded music industry Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMIwho serve a multitude of different markets and geographical regions (The Irish Times,2009a, b). It is evident that the music industry has changed drastically with theinception of the internet as a powerful communication and information-sourcingmedium. Many record executives hold the view that the internet has destroyed thestandard business model which has been in operation for decades where thepurchasing of music occurred directly from ones local or favourite record store. It isworth noting that the format in which we listen to music today has evolved greatlyover the last four decades with vinyl being the prominent format up to the 1960s,followed by the emergence of the tape cassette in the 1970s, followed closely by the CDin the 1980s, and presently mp3 format in the late 1990s/2000s.</p><p>1.1 The importance of this issueThe widespread activity of illegal downloading of music is a business issue formanagement of music companies. An understanding of what drives this activity and thereasons for its persistence globally despite numerous attempts to eliminate it throughpowerful corporate and regulatory interests has implications for industry players. Thispaper investigates this issue through an ethics/psychological lens. It identifies the mainoffenders of this illegal activity and examines the underlying factors that underpin thecommitment of such violations, to help us understand why those responsible act in sucha dishonest way. The music industry has been in meltdown ever since the arrival ofNapster, a site where users could download music from any musical artist (if indeed theirmaterial was uploaded to the Napster site). This created pandemonium where usersstarted freely uploading and downloading music files at rapidly colossal rates.Conversely, digital sales are on the increase, and the Apple iTunes store is testament ofhow money can still be made; it just requires significantly more effort than before.</p><p>1.2 The current ethical predicamentThe questions and issues that pertain to illegal downloading may be of importance inunderstanding the true ethical stance of individuals in the twenty-first century,especially insights about their purchasing behaviour. Does the internet cloud peoplesperception of what is wrong and what is right, where cyberspace alienates ones trueexistence in reality? This is quite relevant contemporarily, particularly with suchincreasingly high usage of the internet across the globe where internet addiction isincreasingly rife. Only recently a story in Beijing surfaced about Chinese teenagersbeing sent to a boot camp to tame their obsessive internet behaviour. China has up to300 million internet users, which is more than any other country in the world and isunderstood to be one of the most internet-crazed nations. Colonel Tao Ran definedinternet addiction as spending more than six hours consecutively online per day forthree months, and he says its a symptom that other problems exist in the youngpersons life (RTE News, 2009a, b). Furthermore, if an individual is on the internet forprolonged periods, their tendency to illegally download may be quite high.</p><p>MD48,9</p><p>1342</p></li><li><p>2. The literatureThe literature shows how unethical behaviour in general comes about and is sustainedas individuals adopt psychological techniques to maintain themselves in a comfortzone, despite their unscrupulous conduct. To what extent does knowledge about theseunethical behaviours and attitudes in general apply to the question of illegaldownloading and how can it advance our understanding of this contemporary topicalissue?</p><p>2.1 Ethical originsWhy do people behave unethically, and often even without a feeling of guilt? Shu et al.(2009) shed light upon the act of dishonest behaviour in its purest sense, and thendelves into suggestions as to why people choose to morally disengage. Ethics iscommonly defined as the study of what is right and what is wrong and despiteindividuals cognitive efforts to make this distinction between right and wrong,individuals may still choose to continue engaging in dishonest behaviour. Why do theydo so? Individuals seek to minimise the gap that separates their moral standards fromtheir actual actions in various ways. Festinger stresses that when actions and goals donot align, individuals feel distress due to cognitive dissonance, which arises whenbeliefs are at odds with behaviour (Festinger, 1957). People will seek to ease thedistress they feel or otherwise experience, by either changing their own behaviour tobring it closer to their own goals or through moral disengagement (Baumeister andHeatherton, 1996). Essentially, moral disengagement occurs where one makes harmfulconduct personally acceptable by persuading oneself of the view that the questionablebehaviour is actually morally tolerable, which in turn makes them feel better (Banduraet al., 1996; Bandura, 1990). It has also been found that higher consumption of animmoral good affect the values held by the consumer so that the good is considered lessimmoral (Ostling, 2009).</p><p>It is quite plausible how an illegal downloader would find reason to engage in illegaldownloading. If a question is put to illegal downloaders about whether illegaldownloading is morally acceptable or not, the respondents are quite likely to findreasons which validate the activity, rather than find reasons which attack the activity.This is due to the fact that they themselves engage in the activity, and do not wish tofeel guilty or have blame attributed to them by others or indeed anyone, for quitesimple and logical human reasons to avoid feeling bad.</p><p>Hence, it is posited that:</p><p>H1. Individuals who illegally download will justify their illegal downloadinghabits thus eliminating any guilt they may feel regarding such activity.</p><p>2.2 The outcome bias in the realm of ethicsDo people judge the ethicality of two parties differently, despite the fact that theirbehaviour was the same? And if so, under what conditions are peoples judgments ofethicality influenced by outcome information? Extending prior work on the effect ofoutcome severity on judgments (Berg-Cross, 1975; Lipshitz, 1989; Gino et al., 2008a, b;Mitchell and Kalb, 1981; Stokes and Leary, 1984), it was found that people judge thewisdom and competence of decision makers based on the nature of the outcomes theyobtain. For instance, in one study participants were presented with a hypotheticalscenario that questioned respondents on whether or not a surgeon should perform a</p><p>Music piracy</p><p>1343</p></li><li><p>particularly risky operation. Upon reading about identical decision processes, it wasconfirmed to respondents as to whether the patient they were questioned upon lived ordied, and in turn respondents in this hypothetical study were asked to rate the qualityof the surgeons decision to operate. Interestingly it was found that when the patient infact died, participants decided it was a mistake to have operated in the first place(Baron and Hershey, 1988).</p><p>2.3 The identifiable victim effectThe identifiable victim effect refers to the tendency of people to be far more concernedabout showing more sympathy towards identifiable victims, rather than statisticalvictims (Shu et al., 2009). Merely informing people that a specific victim exists willactually lead to an increase in ones caring of them. Surprisingly, this occurs withoutany information being given to the caring person about the victim (Small andLoewenstein, 2003). The victim in the context of this study is of course the band/artistand indirectly the recording company. Researchers Loewenstein et al. (2006) explainwhy people show more concern for identified victims than for statistical victims fortwo reasons: affect-based and cognitive-based reasons (Kogut and Ritov, 2005a; Jenniand Loewenstein, 1997). Small and Loewenstein (2005) posit that on the affective level,identification lessens the social distance between victim and responder. Specificallyspeaking, the same situation should generate more sympathy when it involves just theone identified victim, rather than when it involves many non-identifiable victims thisbeing what they refer to as the singularity effect. On the cognitive level, Friedrich et al.(1999) emphasize how the singularity of victims explains the identifiable victim effect.They make use of the term psychophysical numbing which they say refers to thetendency for people to value lives less as the number of lives at risk increases.Moreover, the authors argue that identifying a singular victim leads people intobelieving that the single life affected actually represents an inconsistent percentage ofthe total threat. Therefore, by accentuating exactly which artists are most targeted,regarding their loss of income due to illegal downloading, some guilt may be inducedon the illegal downloader, particularly if they are an avid fan of the particularartist/musician under consideration.</p><p>2.4 Taming dishonestyDishonesty is hard to perceive since every person is solely in control of their ownthoughts and ideas. Moreover, despite societys ability to shape an individuals mind,doing good in the spirit of universalism will not affect an individual mindset if theyare not motivated towards such virtuous behaviour. In a paper concerning thedishonesty of typically honest people, Mazar and Ariely (2006) say that dishonesty canbe affected by internal and/or external incentives or motivators. A standard economicsperspective offers one possible reason for rampant dishonesty in our daily lives external reward mechanisms, which accentuate how ones probability of being caughtand the magnitude of punishment are the only ways to overcome dishonesty (Mazarand Ariely, 2006).</p><p>Such punishment for illegal downloading may exist in the form of:. A very hefty fine, as seen to the extreme in the media of late; notably the Thomas</p><p>verdict infringement in the USA, where a penalty of $1.92 million was imposedon Jammie Thomas-Rasset (CNET News, 2009).</p><p>MD48,9</p><p>1344</p></li><li><p>. The potential for obtaining malicious viruses from the actual act of downloading(some of these files are on the internet for a reason; to trick people into amultitude of virus-related issues).</p><p>. Tarnished reputation, and a lowering in the eyes of right-thinking people.</p><p>. Potential loss of precious computer material and a potential ban from internetconnectivity from ones chosen internet provider. Moreover, it is plausible that ifthe three-strike rule were imposed by Eircom and all other internet providersalike, then users may be banned from all providers in such extremes.</p><p>2.5 The acquisition decision: pirate or buy?The central issue lies with the acquisition decision; the decision whether to attain musicvia legal means or illegal means. Chiou et al. (2005) explored this in a direct way.Idolisation of pop singers is based mostly on two important components: worship andmodelling (Raviv et al., 1996). Chiou et al. (2005) affirm that worship refers to an unusuallyintense admiration and reverence of an idol. Moreover, these researchers refer tomodelling, which is the desire to be like an idol, which may involve imitation of idolisedfigures by copying their dress, behaviour and subsequent codes of behaviour. Chiou et al.(2005) stress how behavioural expressions of idolisation can be se...</p></li></ul>