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Study Suggests Connecting With Fans, Public Shaming More Effective Than Legislation At Combating Piracy

PleaseBuyIn an age where piracy is commonplace, using legal tools to combat it has proved largely ineffective. A new study suggests that publishers are better off connecting with fans and providing them with a compelling reason to purchase music instead.


Guest Post by Timothy Geigner on Techdirt

We have talked about the power of connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy, along with using public shaming, as tools for combating piracy in its various forms. Tools far better, in fact, than twisting in litigious winds hoping that the construct of law will be sufficient to curb natural human behavior... and finding out that it isn't. What these routes offer content producers is a way to ingratiate themselves with their fans, building a community that not only wants to buy content themselves, but also will decry any attempt to pirate that content by others. Morality is shaped by the herd, in other words, so having the herd on your side finds content producers a powerful ally.

But philosophy like that doesn't penetrate industry in and of itself. Perhaps, then, data and academic studies may. The International Journal of Business Environment recently released just such a study suggesting that content providers are far better off reaching out and connecting with fans, including those pirating their works, rather than trying to fight piracy legally.

According to Eva Hofmann of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, UK and Elfriede Penz of the Institute for International Marketing Management, at Vienna University of Economics and Business, in Austria, the unauthorised sharing of digital content is well-entrenched in popular culture. However, they have discerned a difference in the way those downloading pirated content and the legal downloaders decide on how to obtain the content they desire from the Internet.

The researchers note that inherent in the problem for copyright holders is that digital goods can be duplicated endlessly without loss of fidelity, making piracy easy but also suggesting that the value of such goods as being less than traditional, physical items in the realm of content, such as CDs and DVDs.

CopyrightThis nicely outlines why piracy exists at the levels it does: there is something natural in deciding that something that can be reproduced infinitely in a digital manner at no cost differs from a physical good that cannot. It's the reason why piracy and theft simply aren't the same thing. This doesn't make copyright infringement or piracy morally acceptable, of course, but it explains why the moral equation for those doing the piracy is inherently different. Everyone knows this intrinsically, even if some major content industry players want to pretend otherwise.

The study's abstract itself suggests that the best method for combating this is to engage with the public to change that moral equation.

Respondent groups differ in the effect of social consensus on the decision-making process. Additionally, the entire issue-contingent model is important in internet piracy research. From a practical view and based on social consensus results, it is essential for companies to establish sentiments that unauthorised downloading is an unacceptable behaviour within a specific social group that is highly relevant to downloaders.

In other words, creating a real connection with fans that are also given a real reason to buy content alters the moral equation for those that seek out that content. If enough minds are changed in that manner, it will have an exponential moral effect as those fans of the producer both promote the buying of the content and speak out or subvert attempts to pirate it. It works on both levels: convincing more people to buy the product and creating a fan-base hungry for the content provider to succeed so as to get more content.

CwF + RtB, in other words, along with a fan-based army willing to publicly shame pirates.