Two decades ago, piracy was booming at university campuses where high-speed Internet access was readily available.
This threat was quickly recognized by copyright holders, who swiftly took action in response.
The RIAA and MPAA, for example, helped to lobby in favor of more strict legislation including the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). This law requires institutions to issue an annual anti-piracy warning to all students and to create a policy to “effectively combat” infringement.
Despite these measures, piracy hasn’t disappeared from campuses completely. A new paper published by researchers from Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas shows that it remains a common pastime.
Piracy Habits Among Private and Public University Students
The researchers conducted a survey among public and private university students and specifically focused on the legal and illegal consumption of movies online. This allowed them to see how common piracy is and if there are any differences between private and public universities.
Generally speaking, private university students are believed to have more money at their disposal. As such, they should be less likely to pirate, assuming that cost is a critical factor.
“The logic is that students who have more disposable income who come from a more afﬂuent family and can attend an expensive private university should easily be able to legally stream or buy movies,” the researchers write.
“Conversely, students who come from a lower SES background would be assumed to have less disposable income and therefore piracy would be a good ‘free’ alternative,” they add.
A Counterintuitive Finding
However, the researchers found the exact opposite. While the data indeed show that students in private universities are tied to wealthier families, they also pirate more. In some cases, twice as much.
“This study finds that students sampled from the expensive private university pirated significantly more than from the public university, even when considering different factors,” the paper reads.
A quick glance at the statistics indeed shows a clear difference. Among the private university students, more than 40% admits to downloading movies from unauthorized sources. For students from public universities, this was just 19%.
Similar differences are also observed for streaming movies from unauthorized sources (48% vs. 28%). For movies downloaded through peer-to-peer networks, the difference is smaller (18% vs. 14%) but that question only covered movies that were not yet available for purchase.
The paper doesn’t give any overall piracy statistics, but it shows that piracy remains prevalent, particularly among private university students. The same students who tend to be wealthier and on average have a higher socioeconomic background.
What About Paid Streaming Services?
That cost is not a crucial factor becomes clear from the fact that students at the private university also have more access to paid streaming services. More than 94% have access to Netflix, and roughly a third have access to HBO, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
At public schools, fewer students have access to these paid streaming services. However, they are more frequent YouTube users, which is free.
The research also found the known gender effect. That is, men are more likely to pirate than women. However, the differences between private and public university students remain intact. In fact, female students at the private university downloaded more than men at the private one.
Legal Options Help to Curb Piracy
Finally, while piracy remains common at universities, there’s also some positive news for copyright holders. As it turns out, legal viewing options do help to lower the piracy rates.
“Nearly half of respondents indicated they have to some degree stopped pirating movies due to the availability of inexpensive streaming services compared to only approximately 17% who was relatively not affected.”
It’s worth noting that the data come from two universities, so the results should not be generalized to the entire population without caution.
The survey data also can’t explain the difference in piracy habits, which is something follow up research may be able to delve into. However, it does confirm that piracy is more complex than most people assume. It’s certainly not just about money.
The paper titled: “A comparison of a public and private university of the effects of low-cost streaming services and income on movie piracy” is available here