Why People Pirate Movies, TV Shows, Games And Books

There is a disturbing lack of evidence about why people choose to share copyright content online, as well as about whether the practice harms the entertainment industry and society or if it is a benefit. That is a real problem as we try to legislate in this contentious area.

Picture: Andy Armstrong

The industry wants to come down hard on piracy but a 2011 review of intellectual property warned the UK government not to lose sight of the main aim of copyright law, which is to incentivise creators.

In a recent deal struck between internet service providers and the entertainment industry, people who unlawfully download music, film or software could soon start to receive letters advising them against the practice.

The UK government also aims to update its much lobbied, much debated copyright legislation on June 1 -– although the minster for intellectual property has announced further delays to two key exceptions for "private copying" and "parody".

At the same time, the government is exploring whether to increase criminal penalties for online copyright infringement to a maximum of ten years imprisonment. Currently, the maximum sentence is two years. [Similar legal changes are being explored in Australia.]

Such a serious shift in enforcement requires strong evidence. Yet a review of the existing evidence commissioned by copyright centre CREATe shows that this is exactly what is lacking. We have relatively little idea about why people illegally share files or what effect the practice has on the entertainment industry.

It might be wise to find out why people break the law in this way, and which unauthorised activities in fact offer opportunities, before we decide how to punish them. Alternative responses could include better streaming services or making a stronger moral argument against piracy.

CREATe's study, conducted by a team of researchers at the University of East Anglia, is a scoping review of all the evidence that is available on the causes and effects of unauthorised digital copying by consumers, from a behavioural economics perspective.

CREATe's review threw up more than 50,000 academic sources that were potentially relevant for assessing unlawful file sharing. These covered music, film, television, video games, software and books. These were narrowed down to 206 articles which examined human behaviour.

The most striking finding was that what knowledge we do have about file sharing relates to music. There is less evidence about why people share films and software and very little at all on why people illegally share videogames, books or TV content.

We appear to be basing our responses to piracy in general on what we know about music, even though the people doing it could come from completely different backgrounds and have very different motivations.

Music lovers might share files unlawfully because that's what all their friends do, while those who share TV programmes might do it because they can't get access to the show in their own country. Those who share software might not be able to afford to buy it legitimately and those who share books might just think it's easy to do without being caught. The point is, we just don't know so we are stumbling around in the dark, legislating as we go.

Earlier research has looked predominantly at the effect piracy has on content sales and the willingness of pirates to pay if they were not able to access files unlawfully. What we should be doing is looking at their motivations. There is a comparative scarcity of studies that try to do so by employing observed behaviour as a measured outcome, whether from the experimental laboratory or from the natural world. This is clearly a problem.

From a behavioural economics perspective, CREATe's study identifies five "utilities" that may be distinguished that consumers derive from unauthorised copying. The debate so far has focused on the financial and legal utility -- the attraction of consuming for free.

But there is also the technical ease of unlawfully sharing and the potential herding effect that could occur if all your peers are sharing in this way. Consumers might also find the unlawful route is the only viable option if they want to access niche or new content.

And while the moral aspects of piracy are familiar rhetoric, we still don't know very much about how consumers of unauthorised content actually feel about the moral implications of what they do. Do they think about artists or only record labels and film studios when they unlawfully access entertainment?

Only 20 years ago, copyright law and policy was a matter for expert lawyers representing publishing, music, film and perhaps software. International conventions were negotiated behind closed doors and attracted little public scrutiny. But the digital age has changed all that. Technology firms have emerged as new intermediaries and civil society is taking a greater interest. In a networked world, the consumer is now the focus of copyright laws that for centuries had regulated the behaviour of competing firms.

What to do about copyright infringers has become an ideological question. So far, evidence that did not fit the desired world view has simply been discarded. The industry says it has its own evidence about the damage illegal file sharing does to sales, but the underlying data is often kept private.

Both the industries affected by piracy and the legislators seeking to tackle it should be interested in robust evidence about how we predict unauthorised copying. Here, no one benefits from a distorted worldview. Each proposed new measure should be evaluated carefully against its desired behavioural effects. That's the only way to create a system that works for companies, artists and the people who listen to music, watch films, use software and play games.The Conversation

Martin Kretschmer is Professor of Intellectual Property Law at University of Glasgow. Daniel Zizzo is Associate Dean for Research, Faculty Of Social Sciences, Head of the School of Economics and Professor of Economics at University of East Anglia. Martin Kretschmer is Director of CREATe, the RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy. CREATe receives core funding from AHRC, EPSRC and ESRC. In his career Daniel Zizzo has had external funding from from the AHRC/RCUK, the Australian National University, the Bank of England, the British Academy, the Department of Health/NIHR, the ESRC, the Nuffield Foundation, the OECD and University Technology Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


    If they want to curb piracy, the best way is to remove DRM. It's painful, and makes life very hard for people that buy their products.

    When music stopped being sold with DRM, sales increased significantly. There were no more barriers, to using purchased music.

    Movies & TV Shows when purchased have so many issues getting to play on a wide range of media players.

    Takes a lot longer to transfer purchased books with DRM to your device, than it does to transfer books with no DRM.

      Not just DRM, but geolocking of content stores.

        Even if piracy were non-existent, DRM would still be there to ensure that they could continue to price discriminate (charge countries a premium in richer countries where they can afford to pay more).

        Last edited 18/05/14 5:07 pm

          There's plenty of DRM-free music available to purchase. It's simply the geo-blocking (by IP address or credit card) that makes it less accessible.

      DRM increase the price of video, books etc. I don't like the idea of DRM. It's not the internet spirit.

    I have a friend who knows a guy who once heard from his mates that people download movies because it's free... I don't believe it for a second!

      it's true. But during watching you may see many ads.

    Ok ok I download a movie for free ONCE, and here's why... When Iron Man came out it had an M rating and some violent scary scenes for my young son, so he wasn't allowed to see it. However all his mates were and all the marketing and toys were focussed on my young boys my son's age... Something I can never work out is why they make M rated movies that are marketed to a younger audience in the shops? So what I did was download a decent cam version of Iron Man and edited it down to a PG version. Lots of action and explosions but no sex or human death. He loved it and never knew what was cut out (just 9 minutes in total)... And he got to bra to his mates he saw the movie. So what's the message here? Hollywood Film Studios, make PG versions of all your action films, if I can do it so can you!

    Ps. I went out and bought the dvd after it finished at the movies.

      You're awesome, that is a terrific idea. Half the time the M/MA content doesn't actually add anything to the story, its just added because its in every other movie. At the moment for our family movie night I just show my kids classic 90's Disney movies as I know they are wholesome and won't have excessive violence.

      Even though legally M rated content is allowed to be shown to minors under the age of 15 in public places, this include interactive media like video games. But I applaud what you did, if only there were more parents like yourself doing real parenting.

      Watch out, your son might get a dose of reality.

        Yes because having a guy fly around in suit of armour powered by a cold fusion device that's implanted in his chest that he made from leftover pieces of a missile, saving the world in the name of Peace, Freedom and the 'Murican way (including booze and call girls) is really a dose of reality.

    This subject has been hammered to death in these articles... Either the Big media companies grow a brain or they will just spend more and more on copyrights and lose in the end anyway...!

    *Best price
    *Best customer service
    *Widest range of selection
    *All available 24/7 at your fingertips

    If another service can make at least one of these better then they will get my service. Netflix great price and decent range, Amazon has the best customer service I have ever seen from a large company. Spotify/Youtube has most of the music I don't own already and it's free.


      It's the fastest, easiest, simplest, way of getting the content I want. Why on earth would I choose a slower, harder, more complicated option like say - picking up the phone and calling a selection of retailers to find out who has what I want in stock, then driving over there to purchase it, then driving home, and purchasing some kind of DVD player in order to display the product?

      From the computer I already own, I can search for what I want, find it, and start downloading in less than the time it would take to find my car keys. With the media I want ready to watch in less time than it would take to drive to and from a retailer.

    why i pirate?
    quite simple
    it is an availability thing.

    I have a netflix subscription, and i use it all the time.
    but there are shows that it is just stupid here in australia
    we are at least 2 months behined with some shows (big bang), they started with fasttracked, then just let it go and slide.
    they play the same old episodes in no order at all, over and over, (i.e, i have seen one episode about 5 times this year already).
    mythbusters is another one.

    and there are some really good shows you can't get here.

    if they won't provide it, i will go elsewhere and get the shows.

      Totally agree with you.

      I also use some dvd ripper tools to backup my dvds. I donwload the software free from wei-soft.com.

      someone may think it's a pirate. but I don't agree. I copy the dvd to my harddisk with a software called dvd ripper, I can use my ipad and other portable device to see my videos.

    Piracy is supply and Demand, you demand it, can't get it legally for a fair price, pirate it, it's the main reason i pirate Game of Thrones, i had foxtel once that was enough, give me another way to get it straight after us broadcast that is not itunes and they will get my money

    although all those movie companies can thank piracy i watch there crappy movies, no piracy, no watch, either way they ain't getting my money

    Last edited 19/05/14 9:38 am

    People pirate because they don't have respect for other people, corporations, artists, developers, marketers, salespeople and because they have too much time on their hands...

      No, no time needed. Just received a notification on my phone that GOT has downloaded. Downloaded automagically thanks to SickBeard and co. I'll fire it up on XBMC when I get home.

      I will watch it with no ads, and at my convenience on the player I choose.

      I want to pay for it. I have all the respect in the world for the actors, writers and others involved in the production. I have NO respect for paying $80+ a month for one show.

      If HBO give me a location to send 3 or 4 bucks per episode or a season fee in the same price region to 'legalise' it, I'll happily do so. Until then .. they will get nuttin!

        They give you the option to buy the DVD for $40 which is 10 episodes , so $4 a pop.

        You just want it now and have no patience so you will steal it.

          Snape kills Dumbledore.
          Now imagine if your waiting to read the book or watch the movie, thats been available in every country but yours - you have to wait 3 months. How pissed of would you be, reading a comment from a complete stranger that ruins the plot twist that you never saw coming???

          Multiply this by every episode of a hit tv show that airs weeks and months after the US, when it used to be available a few hours later.

          You just want it now and have no patience so you will steal it.

          Too damn right I'm not going to wait several months or more.

          So I've stolen it right? Someone is missing their copy and can't watch it because I took it... It doesn't matter how many times the 'S' word is used incorrectly, it doesn't make it true.

          There IS a pretty good chance I'll pay for the DVD/Blu-ray when it's released. I own the others. Sorry, I have licensed COPIES of the others on a disc that I own.

          Unfortunately this doesn't 'legalise' the copies I have now, or even the copies that I've ripped/rencoded from my Blu-rays to my media centre to watch more conveniently.

          Because the law is STUPID. And HBO is STUPID. Just shuddup and take my money! Sell me what I want NOW, for less than $80 month.

            Great!!! I think we just buy the right of watching, not a disk or something else.

    People pirate because they cant get it when they want and for the price they want. they feel if the supplier doesn't cater to their exact needs they can just steal it.

    Thankfully for society this doesn't transcend into the "physical" world or anarchy would reign.

    Why I pirate?
    - availability (some shows i like aren't on FTA or Foxtel at all or if they are they are 4-5 years behind the US in some cases - yes even now)
    - on demand anytime I want
    - can play on any device i want
    - mobile broadband is too expensive to stream everything (not everyone watches TV in a lounge room anymore)

    Let's take something like Neighbours - Australian produced show, on every weekday. If I am working late or for some other reason miss an episode, I can get on a private torrent site and download it in less than 2 minutes. Yes tenplay.com.au is also an option but have you actually used it? The quality isn't that great and it's difficult to find the show I want.
    Plus I need to connect a VPN if i'm overseas (and if you desire to watch the show from overseas on a mobile device - forget it - that app has all sorts of dodgy permissions, not just GPS, that allows ten to find your location, and if it's in any doubt at all, the app will refuse to open!)

    If 10 allowed me to pay them $10 a month to download DRM free copies of neighbours I would happily purchase that. Of course they never will for many reasons, but that's why I pay a private torrent site.

    Our legislature shouldn't be bought into legislating against every workaround possible - it reduces our quality of life (through lack of entertainment).

    Last edited 19/05/14 3:01 pm

    I don't see why it isn't possible for suppliers to cater to our exact needs.
    Why can't I log on to my computer when I get home, open up a program or a web page, click on what I want and have it download? Or, have it set up to download while I'm out as soon as it is released overseas. Wait, I can, and it's all free. I would pay money for a service like that though. It's coming from a more reliable source and it would be guilt free.
    Seriously, why can't we have that? I don't understand.

    You cannot buy StarFox 2 for the Super Nintendo because it was never released
    BUT thank goodness, someone managed to dump the finished rom from the cartridge, and someone else managed to dump the beta which had a lot of interesting stuff

    Want to play Zelda 64 v1.0 with red blood and the islamic symbols and prayers that were later removed? You'll need a rom for that, or spend a lot of time tracking down an original copy on ebay, and Nintendo doesn't get a cut of that

    And then there's games where the dev has gone bankrupt, the source code has been lost, there are no plans to re-release a certain old title, or licence disputes mean you'll never get to buy a legitimate copy. Try buying Goldenye 64 or Killer Instinct Gold for your Wii or Wii U, I'll wait...

    Roms are an important way to preserve gaming culture
    And they're technically illegal

    Funnily enough, there's an opinion piece in today's AFR arguing precisely that music is showing how giving users what they want isn't effective at combating piracy. Read it for LOLs.

    ok guys clearing it up now... if you have bought say iron man 2 and the pirate it because you lost it it is completely legal if you have a copy of something and then download it for personal viewing it is legal

    so it isn't stealing or anything like that if you have already bought it and if you download then buy it isn't legal but it isn't stealing

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