Music Pirates are Immoral Cheapskates, Or Are They?

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Millions of people are downloading copyrighted music every day, using file-sharing software such as BitTorrent and LimeWire. Some argue that the music industry has brought on this behavior by refusing to innovate. Others, including the RIAA and some lone researchers beg to differ, and see other reasons for this deviant behavior. So who's right?

A recently published study by researchers from Duke University and the Department of Justice reveals that music pirates are just immoral cheapskates who have no fear of lawsuits. But do these claims really hold? Let’s take a look at the study and the findings the researchers present.

The researchers surveyed a few hundred undergraduate students who were asked if they would buy the single “Right Round” from rapper Flo Rida for X amount of money. The price tag for the song was based on the last two digits of their social security number, ranging from 0 to 98 cents. The regular 99 cent price was excluded.

The students further had to indicate the likelihood of being faced by a lawsuit from the RIAA and what the expected settlement costs would be. On top of this, they were asked to fill out a morality questionnaire along with questions regarding their download behavior, all anonymously.

With this data in hand the researchers were able to draw some interesting conclusions.

First of all, they found that the students who were said to have pirated their latest track, were willing to pay less for the “Right Round” song. For every $0.01 students were willing to pay more, the likelihood decreased that their last song was pirated by 0.3%.

Even though the researchers claim that this means that pirates are cheapskates, it could also mean that pirates don’t like the song “Right Round” from rapper Flo Rida that much. Perhaps they have different music tastes?

Taste aside, the researchers conclude that dropping the price of a single track to $0.63 would decrease piracy by 50%.

Besides the pricing issue, the study also showed that pirates (compared to non-pirates) think the chance of getting sued by the RIAA is relatively small, and that the settlement fees are lower. The usual conclusion from this data would be that pirates are well informed since their guesses were closer to the real answer, but the researchers twist it somewhat different.

“If the goal of the RIAA was solely to deter piracy, it should not have abandoned its policy of suing the people it caught pirating digital music,” they write, referring to RIAA’s promises to stop mass-lawsuits against copyright infringers.

The latest insight from the study is that those who indicated that they had pirated their latest addition to their music library scored lower on the morality ‘proxy’ scale. However, the researchers note that the mean and modal respondents score very high on morality, which basically means that pirates are more normal (morality wise) than those who pay for music.

To summarize, the study makes it look like pirates are immoral cheapskates, but all it really suggests is that the music industry should lower the price of downloads if they want to sell more music and increase their net profit.


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