File-Sharing Prospers Despite Tougher Laws

New and tougher laws are always on the agendas of rightsholders. They tend to believe that through legislative change and the strict application of law the habits of millions of file-sharers can be changed. But a new survey of 15 to 25 year-olds shows that despite the threats, file-sharing levels remain stable because those carrying it out feel they are doing nothing wrong.

Most probably due to Sweden’s historic connections with The Pirate Bay, many Swedes consider file-sharing to be an activity deeply embedded in popular culture.

Determined to break the plundering habits of these misguided souls, the US movie and recording industries have continuously meddled in the country, lobbying for tougher responses to file-sharing.

The results have been notable, not least the implementation of IPRED and the Data Retention Directive plus numerous prosecutions of file-sharing site operators and their users. But do tougher laws actually encourage people “to do the right thing” or even change their perception of what that thing is?

According to new findings from the Cybernorms research project at Lund University, the introduction of aggressive legislation has done little to reduce levels of file-sharing carried out by young people.

“In Sweden we saw a moderate drop in file sharing in 2009 when IPRED was implemented. Since then it has remained at approximately 60 percent among 15-25 year old people,” researcher Marcin de Kaminski told TorrentFreak.

“Our conclusion is that repressive actions that lack societal support may still have effects, but that the effects are limited.”

The problem for the copyright industries is that while they’ve been very effective in lobbying for more legal restrictions, they have failed to make ground in matching those frameworks with what people consider to be acceptable behavior.

“As a part of our research regarding cybernorms we try to understand and
describe informal social control,” says Kaminski.

“Our results show that young people feel no pressure from neighbors, friends, relatives, teachers etc. to refrain from file sharing. A higher degree of pressure or social control would most possibly have a clear impact on habits and practices regarding file sharing.”

Essentially, file-sharers do not believe they are doing anything wrong and while this remains the case the ‘problem’ is unlikely to go away. Kaminski told us that the research shows a slight increase in young people who file share on a daily basis, from 18% in September 2009 to 20% in January 2012. Additionally, more file-sharers are turning to anonymity services to hide their activities.

“File sharing is an interesting case illustrating the fact that repressive sanctions alone might have some effects on illegal practices, but that the effects first and foremost seem to be limited and secondly might be for the wrong reasons.

“Without support for repressive efforts in social norms the effects tend to result in a feeling of increased risk or danger – rather than [the activity being repressed] actually being considered wrong,” Kaminski concludes.

That said, tougher laws don’t leave file-sharers entirely untouched. But instead of stopping their behavior, they take measures to hide it. Previously, researchers from the Cyber Norms found that when compared to figures from late 2009, 40% more 15 to 25-year-olds are now hiding their activities online through VPN services.

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