Understanding the Determinants of Unlawful File Sharing Behavior: An Experiment

Authors: Piers Fleming (University of East Anglia), Melanie Parravano (University of East Anglia) and Daniel John Zizzo (Newcastle University)

We present a laboratory experiment motivated by the need to get better causal understanding of unlawful file sharing in order to acquire a better understanding of the effect (or lack of effect) of policy interventions to reduce such behavior.

We find that traditional Beckerian trade-offs in terms of penalty and risks of getting caught do act as deterrents; this supports the view that the mixed evidence of the effectiveness of such policy interventions in the context of unlawful file sharing is due to successful avoidance behavior rather than simply ignoring the penalties and risks. Making salient the role of copyright holders/vendors may, however, be useful; in our experiment, if the copyright holders/vendors have made an effort, less unlawful product acquisition takes place (by around 5%).

The largest behavioral effect comes from social norms. In separate sessions, different participants use a four-points scale to make evaluations on the social appropriateness of unlawful file sharing choices in the different scenarios faced by consumers. We estimate that one point more of social appropriateness increase unlawful product acquisition in our experiment by around 30-40%. This suggests the potential usefulness of policy measures that try to shift the perceptions of such social norms.

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