Two issues to consider in digital piracy research: the use of likert-like questions and the theory of reasoned action in behavioral surveys.

Author:Woolley, Darryl J.


One effect of the advent of the information economy is the ease with which consumers can access digital products without purchase. People are able to borrow product media for copying or download digital products without paying a licensing fee. This has undoubtedly hurt producers of digital products. The Business Software Alliance estimates that piracy cost the software industry $59 billion in 2010 (BSA, 2011). The Recording Industry Association of America estimates that music sales dropped 53 percent from 1999 to 2010 (RIAA, 2011). Some have asserted that piracy of digital products has the potential to completely restructure their industries (Dvorak, 2003).

The impact of digital piracy has motivated intense academic research. Some of this research has been economic (Shin, Gopal, Sanders, & Whinston, 2004) or demographic (Sims, Cheng, & Teegen, 1996), but much of it has been behavioral and rooted in the study of ethics. Although occasionally a paper may be based on another paradigm such as moral development (Logsdon, Thompson, & Reid, 1994), by far the most papers are based on the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) (Christensen & Eining, 1991) or its child, the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) (Cronan & Al-Rafee, 2008). These papers support the application of the theories, finding that attitudes toward digital piracy and social norms perceived toward piracy are associated with the intent to pirate or piracy behavior. This research has been conducted through administration of surveys that are analyzed using either regression or path analysis. The variables, both independent and dependent, are latent factors or variables constructed from multiple questions on the surveys. In this paper, I evaluate what I believe to be the state of research in digital piracy based on TRA using surveys constructed with latent variables. I will make several propositions regarding what I believe to be the state of research, and I will test one propositions.


TRA states that people's intent to embark upon some action is a function of their attitude and of social norms (Ajzen, 1991). Theoretically, attitude is the interaction of how important an outcome of the behavior is and how likely that outcome is perceived to be. In practice in digital piracy research, attitude may be a measure of people's opinions about the morality of the behavior, expected benefits, or perceptions of fairness. Social norms is the interaction of what people perceive to be the attitudes of other people toward the behavior and how important those attitudes are. In research it is usually tested as opinions about the attitudes of other people.

I have written a couple of papers myself using this model, finding that social norms only has an effect when norms from peers are queried but not norms from authority figures (Woolley & Eining, 2006), that attitude and social norms are correlated to each other, and that attitudes toward music piracy are more favorable than attitudes toward software piracy (Woolley, 2010).

Upon reflection, however, I cannot help but ask, "So what?" Indeed, I believe it is time for a new research paradigm to dominate research...

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