Explaining Deviant Peer Associations: An Examination of Low Self-Control, Ethical Predispositions, Definitions, and Digital Piracy

By Wolfe, Scott E.; Higgins, George E. | Western Criminology Review, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Explaining Deviant Peer Associations: An Examination of Low Self-Control, Ethical Predispositions, Definitions, and Digital Piracy


Wolfe, Scott E., Higgins, George E., Western Criminology Review


Abstract: Digital piracy is an emerging criminal behavior. Criminological research has been successful in explaining intentions to commit digital piracy using several different theories. Social learning and self-control have been two of the theories that have consistently been able to explain digital piracy. Importantly, differential association has been shown to be an invaluable measure in predicting involvement in digital piracy and other crimes. However, no study to date has attempted to show what variables specifically contribute to associations with digital pirating peers. Regression models are used to examine this question and results offer interesting interpretations. Age, sex, low self-control, and ethical predispositions were shown to be associated with digital pirating associations. However, when definitions were incorporated into the model these effects disappeared. The results of the present study advance our understanding of digital piracy and social learning theory and pave the road for research on other types of criminal behavior.

Keywords: peers; differential association; social learning theory; digital piracy

Digital piracy is an emerging computer-related crime in the twenty-first century. Digital piracy is the unauthorized copying of digital goods-software, digital documents, digital audio (music and voice), and digital video-for any reason, other than to back-up, without permission from and compensation to the copyright holder (Gopal, Sanders, Bhattacharjee, Agrawal, and Wagner 2004). Two forms of digital piracy involve software and music (International Federation of Phonographic Industries [IFPI] 2006). It has been estimated that 37 percent of all music CDs purchased worldwide are pirated, resulting in a 4.5 billion dollar loss to the music industry (IFPI 2006). Additionally, around 20 billion individual song tracks were illegally uploaded or downloaded in 2005 (IFPI 2006). The economic impact of music piracy has been described as "the greatest threat facing the music industry today" (Chiou, Huang, and Lee 2005:161). In the context of software piracy, this behavior has been shown to account for the loss of software sales, jobs, wages, and tax revenue (Business Software Alliance 2003; Peace, Galletta, and Thong 2003; Seale, Polakowski, and Schneider 1998). The Business Software Alliance (2003) estimates that software piracy causes 13 billion dollars in lost revenue to the software industry annually.

Digital piracy is considered a copyright violation and was made a criminal offense by The Piracy and Counterfeiting Amendments Act. The distribution of copyrighted materials via the internet was defined as a felony by The No Electronic Theft Act (Koen and Im 1997). While the illegality of digital piracy is clear, the criminal act continues to be performed. The heavy reliance on and use of the personal computer in today's society has allowed digital piracy to exist fairly easily. Wall (2006) argues that the Internet facilitates digital piracy because it allows for anonymity, it bridges transnational gaps, it creates the impression of ownership of ideas rather than property, it is relatively easy, and it allows the offense to take place detached from the copyright holder, thereby creating a sense of a victimless crime. Further, with many modus operandi available to commit digital piracy (e.g., CD burning, peer-to-peer networks, LAN file sharing, digital stream ripping, and mobile piracy [see IFPI.org for a discussion of these techniques]), legal battles and public awareness campaigns have been shown to be "insufficient to gain widespread public compliance with the law" (Tyler 1996:224).

Rather than using valuable resources on interventions that do not seem to work, it may be advantageous to examine the factors believed to influence individuals to commit digital piracy (Al-Rafee and Cronan 2006). Accordingly, the criminological literature has focused on examining such ideas as individual propensities (Higgins 2005; Higgins, Fell, and Wilson 2006; Higgins and Makin 2004a, 2004b; Higgins, Wilson, and Fell 2005; Wolfe, Higgins, and Marcum in-press), behavioral intentions (d'Astous, Colbert, and Montpetit 2005; Gopal et al. …

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