Wed. Apr 24th, 2024

A new study has revealed that threatening anti-piracy messages can actually lead to people pirating more digital content in some cases – although men and women tend to respond very differently to the messaging used.

Men were found to typically increase piracy behaviors after seeing messages that threatened legal action and other negative consequences over piracy, whereas with women the anti-piracy messages typically did have the intended effect.

The researchers behind the study, from the University of Portsmouth in the UK, say it shows the importance of different types of messaging for different genders – while also showing how the tone of campaigns matter.

“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,” says Kate Whitman, a behavioral economist at the University of Portsmouth.

“What we wanted to look at in this research is whether the messages to tackle piracy had a different effect on men and women.”

For the purposes of the study, which comprised 962 adult participants, three different types of messaging were used: two threatening campaigns outlining the legal and security repercussions of digital piracy, and one that was more educational and prosocial in its tone.

While the educational message didn’t have any noticeable effects on the levels of piracy, the more aggressive and threatening messages elicited a substantially different reaction between the genders. The most threatening message led to an 18 percent rise in piracy intentions from men – and a 52 percent drop in women.

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

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

This isn’t the first study to suggest that anti-piracy messaging leads to more piracy, and the results of the experiments also showed that those who were already most favorable towards privacy showed the biggest difference in their intentions to increase the amount of content they pirated after seeing the anti-piracy messages.

For the purposes of the study, piracy was considered to be downloading digital content through unauthorized means. It’s estimated to cost the movie, TV, and music industries tens of billions of dollars a year.

If that number is to drop, the researchers say, media companies need to think about how they’re getting people to think about piracy. Threatening messages may be the most dramatic option, but they might not be the most effective.

“This study shows that men and women process threatening messages differently,” says Whitman. “There is clearly a need for a tailored approach in anti-piracy messaging, but if messages can’t be accurately targeted to specific genders, they’re best avoided because they might send piracy soaring.”

Sources:
Published 24 January 2024 in Journal of Business Ethics Article; Psychological Reactance to Anti-Piracy Messages explained by Gender and Attitudes.
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-023-05597-5

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