Internet Scallywags: A Comparative Analysis of Multiple Forms and Measurements of Digital Piracy

Article excerpt

Abstract: Internet-based digital piracy has recently become a widespread occurrence. Despite this growth, few studies have attempted to apply criminological theory to the crime. This study tests the explanatory power of two criminological theories, general deterrence and differential association, on Internet piracy of music, software and movies. Data used in this study were collected from 541 undergraduate college students from a mid-Atlantic university. Separate models were estimated for willingness to and involvement in digital piracy. The results show that variables derived from differential association theory, such as peer activity and parental support, as well as several control variables including gender, connection speed, income, and place of residence, are predictive of digital piracy. Distinctions between willingness and actual involvement are discussed. Implications for future research and potentially more effective prevention strategies are also addressed.

Keywords: differential association; social learning; deterrence; digital piracy; cybercrime

In recent years, copyright violations in the form of digital piracy have increased dramatically. This has been especially true since peer-to-peer (P2P) programs became popularized in 1999. One study found that the United States, despite having a relatively low and stable rate of piracy, experienced a loss of over $6.8 billion in 2005 from software piracy alone (Business Software Alliance 2006). Music piracy is also quite prevalent with more than 27 billion media files transferred each year through P2P programs (House of Representatives 2004). Studies of changing piracy rates indicate several benefits from decreasing the prevalence of piracy. For example, a decrease by ten points in the piracy rate of the United States could add over 100,000 new jobs and increase tax revenue by $21 billion (IDC 2005). Despite the widespread occurrence and great financial impact of digital piracy, however, very few empirical studies have systematically assessed factors related to digital piracy.

The primary purpose of this study is to test the explanatory power of two criminological theories, general deterrence and differential association, on digital piracy of music, software and movies. This study theoretically and methodologically advances research on digital piracy in several related areas. First, while measures of general deterrence and differential association theories have been previously examined in a handful of studies (e.g., Higgins and Makin 2004a; Skinner and Fream 1997), prior research has been limited in the types of piracy assessed. Online music piracy, for example, has only rarely been included in tests of criminological theories (e.g., Hinduja 2006). It is thus unclear whether findings from previous research can be applied to all variations of piracy or only the specific type investigated.

Second, only a small number of control variables have been considered in previous research. This study takes into account the effects of ten relevant variables, several of which, such as income and place of residence, have not been included in prior research of digital piracy. Finally, prior studies have used involvement in piracy and willingness to pirate interchangeably. This study conceptually distinguishes the former from the latter and empirically tests both under separate models to produce comparable results, thus enhancing our understanding of factors that lead to digital piracy and offering valuable implications for policy makers and practitioners.


In the broadest of terms, digital piracy is the act of duplicating digital files without the permission of the copyright holder. More specifically, piracy is typically considered any act of reproducing a copyrighted work in violation of U.S. copyright law (Copyright Act of 1976). Digital piracy, by extension, is a specific variant of this broad category involving computers as a means to commit the act and generally includes music, software, and movie infringements, though other forms exist such as reproductions of books. …