70% of the Public Finds Piracy Socially Acceptable

A recent study on moral standards and whether some law breaking is socially acceptable has revealed an interesting stance on file-sharing among the public. Of those questioned in the study, 70% said that downloading illicit material from the Internet is acceptable. Three out four, however, felt it was completely unacceptable to then sell that product for profit.

During the last decade the entertainment industries have tried numerous strategies to thwart Internet piracy. One of the most common, especially with the music industry, was to sue some file-sharers into submission thereby creating a climate of fear designed to deter others. Needless to say, that didn’t work particularly well.

The movie industry has largely concentrated their legal efforts largely on taking sites down but have also been active in trying to educate Internet users through various schemes that piracy is ‘wrong’ and causes real damage. On the whole, that hasn’t worked either, and a new study just released appears to back up the assertion.

The study, published by the Rockwool Foundation Research Unit, questioned participants on morals and ethics, and included discussion on which laws they believe are socially acceptable to break.

The Danish study, which ultimately concluded that moral standards are just as high as they were 10 years ago, covered issues such as tax evasion, insurance fraud, the morality gap between men and women and, to the interest of TorrentFreak readers, piracy.

In the piracy section respondents were asked to rate, on a scale from 1 to 10, whether they thought unauthorized downloading for personal use is a socially acceptable act. The researchers found that 7 out of 10 of those questioned felt, to a greater or lesser degree, that it is socially acceptable. 15-20% of the total group believed that piracy is totally acceptable.

A minority of just over 30% of the respondents voted at the very bottom of the response scale, an indication that they feel piracy is completely unacceptable.

Interestingly, despite the never-ending anti-piracy campaigns of the last decade, the attitudes of the public don’t seem to have changed much. When questioned for a 1997 study on whether it was acceptable to use pirate software, the same proportion – 3 out of 10 – said the activity was unacceptable.

However, in the new 2010 study, there is an interesting common moral denominator among respondents. When questioned on whether it is acceptable to download something and then sell it to a friend for profit, 3 out of 4 said that would be completely unacceptable.

The results of the study show that it is nearly impossible for copyright holders and anti-piracy groups to change the attitudes of the public in their favor. If they want piracy to decrease, their best bet is probably to focus on lowering the incentives for people to pirate, there seems to be more opportunities in that area.

The study can be found here (.pdf) in Danish.

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