A recently published short article enquires into the motivations of file sharers – a topic always in the limelight – and especially now, with all the commotion happening around The Pirate Bay. I originally decided to read the article in order to learn about its methodology – structured, in-depth interviews with 40 file sharers qualitatively analysed -, and although in this respect the article disappoints (of course it’s understandable that the authors didn’t want to waste valuable space on the methodology), I figured I might as well write a short summary here.
So – according to the study, it is not only the availability of free content that motivates those who download from peer-to-peer networks. Rather, the most important factor seems to be that p2p file sharing provides an alternative (and, true, a very cost effective one) to satisfy needs not properly catered for by the “content industries” (sic).
E.g. it is through file sharing that constraints of time can be tackled (instant access to works released on other markets, and to works no longer or not yet commercially available); and, often, illegal downloading also serves the purpose of sampling works before purchase.
As for the uploading part, that seems to be motivated mostly by a sense of reciprocity between members of the community – the interesting thing is that this can actually spring to life even in spite of the extremely weak ties between members of virtual file-sharing communities. In this “ethic of the unethical,” the profit oriented exploitation of shared material is unanimously condemned, and the purchase of original material – in case one happens to like it after sampling – is recommended.
The article draws heavily on Lawrence Lessig‘s book “Free culture“; and his idea that the “second life” of cultural products is extremely important. Such products should be available even after their commercial lifespan, because this second life contributes to a great extent to the spread and stability of culture. Case in point:
The law protects copyright owners so they can continue to profit from their creative works, but nothing requires owners to continue providing access to works during long copyright terms – currently 95 years for much entertainment content.
…and the future?
Cenite, Mark, Michelle Wanzheng Wand, Chong Peiwen, Germaine Shimin Chan: “More Than Just Free Content – Motivations of Peer-to-Peer File Sharers”, Journal of Communication Inquiry, 2009.