Skip to Content

The Effect of Public Perception on Music Downloading Habits

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Most students are familiar with music piracy due to the high profile injunction against the music sharing service, Napster, in 2001. The company was set up as peer-to-peer file sharing Internet service where users could upload and download MP3 files. The company ran into legal trouble when artists and members of the artistic community sued for copyright infringement.

Professor Karthik Kannan is currently exploring this relevant topic in collaboration with fellow faculty member Sandra Maximiano and a recent PhD graduate Matthew Hashim. The research project is still ongoing. Professor Kannan seeks to answer, how should information about digital piracy be targeted to the population of potential consumers? Should there be some way of targeting information to those who pirate or those who purchase?


Digital Piracy and Economic Game Theory


Professor Kannan tested the consumer thought process through a set of sessions in the experimental economics lab  at Krannert. Because engaging in piracy is analogous to free-riding a publicly available good, they framed the problem using a public goods game. They then observed participants engaging in levels of both free-riding and purchasing activity, and studied how targeted and non-targeted information about piracy affected their behavior.

Professor Kannan notes several surprising discoveries from this research. When a firm reveals piracy information to the public in a random fashion, piracy actually increases. It lends itself to the mentality that “if everyone else is doing it, I will do it too.” Individuals may justify to themselves that pirating music is acceptable if they believe a large proportion of the public is also engaging in the behavior.

However, if firms target information to either those who are frequently pirating, or to those who are frequently purchasing the good, there is significantly better control of the rate of piracy. Targeting information may prevent those who pirate from continuing the practice, and may also prevent the perpetuation of the idea that piracy is widespread and a socially acceptable behavior.

This research aims to alter the way music companies handle piracy issues and to whom their message should be targeted. One potential solution would be to display a message before a song starts asking the pirating individual to consider contributing $1. Another solution would be to focus messages about piracy to targeted populations of consumers or pirates through online press, discussion boards, and blogs. This complements a solution already in use -- to distribute “poisoned songs” that do not play correctly and make searching for music difficult.

In addition to assisting digital goods producers, such as the music, film, and software industries, this research serves as a point of interest to students as well. Students in Krannert may have a musical background, have involvement in the music industry, or may have been musical artists themselves. It also tackles the issue of ethics and technology.

Professor Kannan teaches the core MIS courses in both the undergraduate and the graduate programs at Krannert.

- Heather Owens (MBA ’12)