Anti-piracy messages encourage MORE piracy — if you’re a man

Anti-piracy messages encourage MORE piracy — if you’re a man


Anti-piracy campaigns can actually cause more piracy — if you’re a man.

So say the cybercrime experts at the University of Portsmouth, who investigated efforts to deter illegal torrenting, streaming, and file-sharing.

To test the techniques, the researchers exposed 962 adults to threatening messages used in anti-piracy campaigns. They then evaluated potential changes in behaviour.

They discovered a cavernous gender gap. The messages led piracy intentions to decline by 52% in women, but they increased by 18% in men.

“The research shows that anti-piracy messages can inadvertently increase piracy, which is a phenomenon known as psychological reactance,” said lead study author Kate Whitman.

“From an evolutionary psychology point of view, men have a stronger reaction to their freedom being threatened and therefore they do the opposite.”

Unintended consequences of anti-piracy

The messages were verbatim copies of real-world anti-piracy campaigns. One was based on an advert by Crimestoppers, a national charity, which highlighted the risks of viruses, fraud, theft, and hacking.

Another reproduced a French government campaign, which threatened to terminate infringers’ internet access.

“We know already there are lots of gender differences in piracy as men tend to pirate more than women — they think it’s more acceptable and low risk,” Whitman said. “But what we wanted to look at in this research is whether the messages to tackle piracy had a different effect on men and women.”

They discovered that it did — in varying degrees. Among men with the most favourable attitudes towards digital piracy, the threatening messages increased their piracy even more.

Alongside the threats, the researchers also tested an educational message. Taken from the “Get It Right from a Genuine Site,” it emphasised the damage that piracy does to creators and the wider economy. Viewers were signposted away from piracy sites and towards legal platforms such as Spotify or Netflix.

It did not impact the behaviour of either men or women.

Whitman hopes the study influences policymakers, content creators, and anti-piracy advocates. She also warned them to avoid unintended consequences.

“There is clearly a need for a tailored approach in anti-piracy messaging,” she said, “but if messages can’t be accurately targeted to specific genders, they’re best avoided because they might send piracy soaring.”

You can read the study paper in the Journal of Business Ethics.


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