Consumer Behaviour: The Issue of Illegal downloading


The central theme of this literature review is to critically analyse consumer behaviour theory and clearly justify the reason for dubious, criminal, deceptive or fraudulent behaviour of individuals aged under 30. The literature review also centers on critical thinking using industry examples and provides other supporting evidence based on different authors viewpoints. In this paper, the comprehensive discussion focuses on illegal downloads issue and demonstrates the application of theory to the chosen topic area.

Illegal downloading issue and statistics

There always has been a lot of discussions amongst different writers, authors and journalists about illegal downloading, also known as copyright theft or piracy of video, audio, games and other electronic products. The report, supported by the Intellectual Property Office, found out that almost one in six (18%) of internet users aged 12 or over accessed digital entertainment media using an illegal service. (The Guardian, 2013) The popular perception of those hurt by piracy is large companies and pop stars whose personal wealth is legendary, firstly noticed by Gursey (1995). In 2013, Philip Pullman stated that illegal downloading is ‘moral squalor’ and theft, similarly as reaching in to someone’s pocket and stealing the wallet. He also claimed that authors and musicians with a low budget still put a lot of effort and time doing their job in order to financially support themselves and, meanwhile, satisfy their audience. This argument was earlier supported by Rob and Waldfogel (2004) who found out that each downloaded album reduces purchases by approximately 20 per cent but raises individual consumer welfare. In contrast, Gurnsey (1995) stated that ‘piracy is not the only form of copyright theft’. (p.1) He suggested that while piracy represents the systematic and large scale abuse of copyright, at another level there is the casual everyday abuse of copyright which occurs in millions of homes, schools or universities and business enterprises across every country in the world. The Economic Times defined piracy as the unauthorized duplication of copyrighted content that is sold at significantly lower prices in the ‘grey’ market. Thus, for too many, both politicians and consumers, audio piracy is still perceived as a largely victimless crime. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, amended by the Copyright and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Act 2002, currently protects copyrighted materials. People who distribute and download copyrighted recordings without permission face civil actions for potentially thousands of pounds of damages. (The Independent, 2009) Yet it 1995, Gursey claimed that ‘the sad fact is that the market for piracy is largely based on greed’, and if people accept this situation as inevitable part of human life, there always would be a low-cost market with illegal materials like audio, software, video in the next ten years. In fact, software firms frequently spend thousands or even millions of dollars in creating the programs, however many people illegally download it from unauthorised sources what has become a key issue for the computer industry. Evidence for in support of this assumption was found by five firms: Atari, Reality Rump, Top Ware Interactive, Techland and Codemaster in 2008. These computer game companies have suspected thousands of internet users who shared illegal downloads and sent warning notices to pay £300 fine in order to avoid the court. According to Daily Mail, a number of people had to pay approximately £16,000 after being taken to court by TopWare computer game manufacturer. (Revoir, 2008) Another unpleasant example, published by The Guardian in 2012, illustrates woman who was accused by Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for downloading and distribution of 1,700 music files and she had to pay $9,250 for each illegal downloaded material. Today, due to the technical change and innovation in hardware and broadcasting, there is a continuous battle as rights owners seek to control and remuneration for the use of their work. Piracy, or illegal downloading, still remains a significant issue in every industry. (Lee, 2012)


Fraudulent behaviour of individuals aged under 30

In 2008, more than 40 billion music files were illegally downloaded although state, federal and international laws restricting these actions (IFPI, 2009). According to WARC research (2014), almost 50 per cent of children between 8 to 15 years old admitted that they were able to download or access any content for free from the internet. This age group also showed an above-average propensity to agree that using file-sharing websites was easy (6%) and a usual thing to do (7%). It has also been mentioned, that a similar amount of people 16 to 24 years old stated that online content should be free and the report noted that ad-supported services, such as Spotify, YouTube and Blink box, tended to be the most popular with this age group. A number of authors (Summers, Schwarzenegger, Ege and Young, 2014) noticed that particularly in the music and TV industries, user behaviour has been influenced by the opportunity to download material for free. However, Ulsperger, Hodges and Paul (2010) claimed that college students in the U.S. tended to be more critical and serious about CDs shoplifting from the store comparing with illegal music downloading online. In turn, Levin et al. (2004) further identified that college students who illegally downloaded music and other files for free had lower ethics ratings than students who had never downloaded illegally. According to James McCoy, YouGov Research Director, children and teenagers in this generation grew up with digital material and now have an access to what they want, when they want it and sometimes not paying for it. (WARC, 2014) Similarly, Plowman and Goode (2009) agreed that concerns about price factor were one the strongest predictors of future desire to illegally download music, even amongst students and pupils who had never done this earlier. Consequently, all these research showed that students with more favourable attitudes and higher perceived behavioural control were more likely to download illegally than those who had less favourable attitudes and lower perceived control. Additionally, Cronan and Al-Rafee believed that moral obligations influenced digital piracy intentions.
Ethics, or moral philosophy, has been defined as a system of what is good and what is bad, however, people might still continue to engage in dishonest, criminal or dubious behaviour when trying to make a decision between right and wrong. People engage in an action that is admitted unethical or harmful and usually do not believe that what they are doing is right because “everybody does it”. (Ethics Alarms, 2015) From a psychological perspective, the more people are involved in illegal downloading or any other issue, the sense of responsibility and fear decreases noticeably. According to the authors’ viewpoints above, people between 16 to 24 years old believe that those companies or websites which provide illegal content should be severely punished rather than those who access the content. Such thoughts make people not feeling guilty or bad when downloading free music, movies or software from the internet as they believe they do not break the law and do not go against social and personal moral values. Solomon, et al. (2013) propose that ‘humans are social animals’ and look at others’ behaviour for signs about what to do in publics. They also suggested that people desire to ‘fit in’ or to identity with desirable individuals or groups is the primary motivation for many of consumption behaviour. Sometimes, however, many reference groups are involved in negative influence on consumption behaviours, e.g. illegal downloading.
Interestingly, educational levels also play a massive role in the likelihood that somebody pirates content. According to The Telegraph survey, it has been revealed that 3% of pupils who left school at the age of 15 had illegally downloaded material in the previous 12 months, rising to 6% of those who studied to between 16 and 19 years old, 10% of students who continued their education until they were around 20 years, and 27% of those students who were still studying beyond that age. (Sparkes, 2013) This has been more discussed by Solomon et al. (2013): people learn that every actions they take, result in rewards and punishments, and this response influences the way they respond in analogous situations in the future. Similarly, Blythe (2013) agrees and continues that illegal downloading shows how punishment fits into the learning process. So, the idea of sending a warning letter to internet users who illegally download or distribute materials, is based around operant conditioning (concept of reinforcement). Moreover, the ABC model of attitudes and hierarchies of effects best describes different behaviour and intentions to do something towards the particular product or service. The low-involvement hierarchy (Do, Feel, Think), properly illustrates a typical consumer who download stuff illegally but do put too much effort into evaluation of his/her decisions and potential issues it may cause. (Solomon, et al., 2013) Consumers does not have a strong preference for the brand over another, but instead acts on the basis of limited knowledge and then forms an evaluation only after the audio or video has been illegally used. Internet let individuals stay anonymous users, what makes it harder to detect the deviant behaviour. There is no face to face contact so internet users do not feel guilty for downloading illegal material and they are more likely to stay unpunished. In 1999, Albers-Miller highlighted the point that ‘when there is a lack of fear of punishment, people do engage in inappropriate behaviour.’ (Inderbitzin, Bates, Gainey, 2012) It is further discussed, that consumers are naturally want to minimise risk (Blythe, 2013), however, the perception of risk can be “traumatic” (Chaudhuri,2006) For example, in 2014, Mirror newspaper released an article about two teenagers Robinson and Graham who ran a website that allowed users to download music tracks for free before the official release. Despite the fact that website creators have tried to hide their identity online, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), police and Homeland security have found and taken them to court. Both teenagers were jailed from one to two years. (Kennedy, 2014) It may also be a case that people perceive risk differently (Blythe, 2013), based on their age, confidence and other factors. A number of authors (Byongook, McCluskey, McCluskey, Perez) proposed that youths with low self-control are more likely to engage in the illegal downloading in any form. According to a general theory of crime, generation Y spends more time using computers what creates strong addiction and may cause criminal behaviour. (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990)
The above mentioned examples illustrate Freudian theory, where person’s selfish and illogical id is entirely oriented towards immediate satisfaction. It operates according to the pleasure principle that behaviour is led by the primary desire to maximise pleasure and avoid pain (Solomon, et al., 2013), what mostly describes people behaviour under age of 30 who illegally download internet content without thinking of potential negative consequences.
Worldwide solutions to an issue over time and parental influence

In 2011, audio, movie and other software companies started to work on a detailed proposal for a voluntary system whereby broadband providers (such as BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media) block hundreds of websites promoting online piracy (Bradshaw, 2011) as the UK’s creative industries contribute £71bn to the UK economy and support about 1.68 million jobs. (BBC, 2014) According to Gibbs (2014), the launch of Vcap (the voluntary copyright alert programme) in 2015 will help to identify the IP addresses of users who download illegal material for free. Further actions involve sending a warning letter about the suspected infringement to the registered subscriber of particular broadband connection. Similarly, the identical scheme has been already developed in the United Stated. Hill (2013) claims that Mark Monitor, the United States anti-piracy group with 100 employees, automatically catch the IP addresses of those who use AT&T, Cablevision, Verizon and other internet providers. Another earlier example by Gurnsey (1995) claims that Russia has been made a significant progress in curbing piracy. Russia had introduced laws which included the hardest penalties seen anywhere in the world for large copyright theft: to close servers located in their territory and websites that promote illegal distribution. (Kim, 2012) Each of these industry examples and solutions make an important contribution to the understanding of the role of learning and memory. Some authors (Solomon, Bamossy, Askegaard, Hogg) claim that memory involves a process of gaining information and keeping it for a long period of time so that it will be available when required. So, once an internet user faced with a problem of illegal downloading and received a large sum of money to be paid for this act, he is more likely to remember this unpleasant experience and tend not to repeat such situations in the future. It is a very useful method of educating people not to infringe copyright.
A British study suggests that there are four main types of “pirates”, the serious ones actively and very often seeking out occasions to pirate (‘Devils’), the opportunistic ones that will rarely take a chance on pirating but not very often (‘Chancers’), pirates who are not actively pirating but accept receiving pirated material (‘Receivers’), and the ‘Angels’ who ignore any sort of pirating. (Cockrill and Goode, 2012) According to these classifications, different penalties in various forms reach internet users worldwide. A number of authors claim that parents play a huge role in the education process and are the key source of their children behaviour. 85 per cent of children in Australia have admitted that they never had a conversation with their parents about this issue. (source: The same viewpoint has been investigated by Solomon (2013) that children learn by watching their parents’ behaviour and imitating it. At a very early stage children see how their relatives obtain the things they need, so parents who pirate content are more likely to have children who do the same. In turn, Humphries (2011) provides an example of a 15 year old boy who faced up to two years in prison for downloading 24 films from BitTorrent at school. As long as parents and teachers are not clear about what is moral behaviour in the internet sphere and are not enough active in their children’s life, it will be quite difficult for adults to convey normative behaviour to children and teenagers.
According to the U.S. Guardian newspaper, piracy is most acute on college and university campuses where students have high speed internet as well as have more free time than money. Only a couple of universities have responded to the complaints of illegal downloading, while most of them stayed neutral to this issue as they believe that piracy issue must be dealt by police. (MacAskill and Conor, 2007)
Individual factors

Blythe (2013) claims that one of the problems with understanding consumer motivation is that people are usually unable to be specific what has driven them to a particular action. Solomon et al. (2013) add that personal and cultural factors combine to create a want which can be satisfied in any number of ways. According to the online survey by Australian news (2010), it has been revealed that convenience was as much of a motivating factor as money for people who illegally downloaded or streamed media. Later, a similar view has been published in WARC article (2014) which claimed that price is still the major motivator in the decision to use file sharing sites. Moreover, 50 per cent of adults and 50 per cent children who download free content from internet admitted that the main reason for such behaviour are cost saving factor, convenience and easy accessibility. Blythe (2013) further believes that sometimes people make wrong decisions, and rationalise their real motives afterwards rather than admit their mistake. Equally, people who are motivated by illegal and immoral needs, are extremely likely to keep it only to themselves. Gottfredson and Hirschi concludes that low self-control is the cause of crime and criminal activities and that an individual with low self-control is less likely to resist the easy, immediate gratification that crime and deviant behaviours provide.



In conclusion, more than 20 years ago illegal downloading, or piracy, has become a starting point to a massive issue by 2015. It has become one of the major threat to the music, movie and software industry. Many authors agreed that illegal downloads of audio, video or software material and peer-to-peer (P2P) content sharing problem are more likely to happen with people under 30. Children and teenagers usually have no clue about what is personal moral values, risk and do not think of potential negative consequences in the future. The above studies also discussed the point that educational level and parents’ behaviour has a significant impact on how likely the individual will be involved in criminal, dubious, deceptive and fraudulent act. A number of different industry examples prove the fact that copyright theft, or illegal downloading, can lead to severe punishments such as prison sentence or monetary fine, depending on how serious the problem is and the type of piracy. A lot of literature concludes that illegal downloading and distribution of pirated materials in any form still remains one the most significant issues due to its complexity in technological sense and consumer individual behaviour.


One thought on “Consumer Behaviour: The Issue of Illegal downloading

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s