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Digital piracy of MP3s: consumer and ethical predispositions

Steven Lysonski (College of Business, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)
Srinivas Durvasula (College of Business, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 2 May 2008




Illegal downloading of music has become an inexorable and rampant activity particularly among college students who have been little deterred by industry legal actions. The purpose of this research is to examine the present state of downloading and how ethical orientation and attitudes towards MP3 piracy impact such activities. The paper also aims to use ethical scenarios as a way of understanding the ethical reasoning in illegal downloading.


Key research questions are proposed that are related to illegal downloading. A sample of 364 university students was used to examine each research question. Statistical results are reported.


The results clearly show that downloading continues at a high rate today driven by a strong belief that it is not ethically wrong. Ethical orientation was found to be positively associated with awareness of the social cost of downloading, consequences of downloading, and ethical belief in downloading. Ethical scenarios show that ethical orientation is also associated with downloading activities and with stealing. Other results indicate that respondents believe that their peers are more prone to stealing music and downloading MP3s illegally. Fear of consequences does seem to have an impact on the propensity to download illegally.

Practical implications

The paper contributes to inform industry representatives that appeals to ethics or guilt are not likely to deter illegal downloading measurably. The use of punishment for downloaders may have a short‐term effect but other (more positive) measures are required.


No research has examined downloading of MP3s in the manner developed in this paper. The paper contributes to a better understanding of consumer behavior among those who download. The results provide insight into a serious problem in the recording industry that is likely to persist in the distant future unless sound measures are developed.



Lysonski, S. and Durvasula, S. (2008), "Digital piracy of MP3s: consumer and ethical predispositions", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 167-178.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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