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Ethical considerations of using information obtained from online file sharing sites: The case of the piratebay

Aimee van Wynsberghe (Center for Telematics and Information Technology, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands)
Jeroen van der Ham (System and Network Engineering research group, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 10 August 2015




The purpose of this paper is to develop a novel approach for the ethical analysis of data collected from an online file-sharing site known as The PirateBay. Since the creation of Napster back in the late 1990s for the sharing and distribution of MP3 files across the Internet, the entertainment industry has struggled to deal with the regulation of information sharing at large. Added to the ethical questions of censorship and distributive justice are questions related to the use of data collected from such file-sharing sites for research purposes.


The approach is based on previous work analysing the use of data from online social networking sites and involves value analysis of the collection of data throughout the data’s various life cycles.


This paper highlights the difficulties faced when attempting to apply a deontological or utilitarian approach to cases like the one used here. With this in mind, the authors point to a virtue ethics approach as a way to address ethical issues related to data sharing in the face of ever-changing data gathering and sharing practices.

Practical implications

This work is intended to provide a concrete approach for ethical data sharing practices in the domain of Internet security research.


The approach presented in this paper is a novel approach combining the insights from: the embedded values concept, value-sensitive design and the approach of the embedded ethicist.



van Wynsberghe, A. and van der Ham, J. (2015), "Ethical considerations of using information obtained from online file sharing sites: The case of the piratebay", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 13 No. 3/4, pp. 256-267.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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