Our long-running series of what file-sharing studies are really saying is nearly at a close now. The second to last study we’ll be reviewing from Taiwan wound up with a conclusion that seems to be continuing on in the theme of businesses need to adapt to the digital age. It also found that people use multiple networks to obtain content.
This particular study is called “Investigating the User Behavior of Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Software”. It was published towards the end of 2011 in the International Journal of Business and Management.
The abstract, in part, says:
The purpose of this research was to examine the user behavior of peer-to-peer file-sharing software. A methodology of naturalistic inquiry that involved qualitative interviews was used to collect data from 21 university students in Taiwan.
The results of the study revealed that a substantial amount of P2P file-sharing software is available to users. The main reasons for using P2P file-sharing software are to save money, save time, and to access files that are no longer available in stores. A majority of respondents use P2P file-sharing software to download music, movies, and software, and the respondents generally perceive the use of such software as neither illegal nor unethical.
In light of all the previous studies, the only thing that’s really new here is that this is s study that took place in Taiwan. So, its interesting just how similar the file-sharing experience is in another completely different country.
The study contains some literature review that covers a variety of topics about file-sharing like how file-sharing works, the origins of file-sharing (ala Napster) and the following:
In addition, Sandulli (2007) explored the factors that affect P2P music download activity with a survey of 4060 users from Spain who used P2P to download music. According to his research results, the factors of price, assortment, discovery, community, and download of music using P2P are negatively proportional to the purchase of music CDs. This means that, when the price of a music CD is expensive, when there are more options to download music online, when music is easy to search for, and when downloading is popular in a community, users tend to use P2P to download music.
the study then tries to differentiate itself from other studies by explaining the following:
Unlike previous research, this study investigated the user behavior of P2P file-sharing software using the naturalistic inquiry method, which creates thick description that will provide readers with a better understanding of the user behavior of P2P file-sharing software.
What this wound up being ultimately was a series of interviews. Compared to the previous studies, I’ll give this study credit for being more unique in this way since most relied on surveys, mathematical models or a mixture of the two (although, we should point out that, at the end of the study, the biggest problem ended up being that the interviews were time consuming. So this method isn’t necessarily free from flaws, but it is a different approach nevertheless. The study noted that after 21 interviews, a certain “saturation” point was reached where no new information or data points were really collected.
Some of the findings were somewhat interesting:
The respondents mentioned that they initially came into contact with P2P file-sharing software mainly through reports on such software in newspapers, magazines, and online forums. After this initial contact, the respondents started to pay attention to P2P file-sharing software. Some people were interested in this software because they saw their classmates or friends using it; some people came into contact with P2P file-sharing software because the teacher introduced it in class.
According to the interview data, the P2P file-sharing software used by the respondents included three major types: BitTorrent, eDonkey/eMule and FOXY. Among these, eMule was developed based on eDonkey and they share similar features, so this study will group them as one type. BitTorrent has the support of various software including Azureus, BitComet, BitLord, BitSpirit, utorrent and others. These software applications share a common characteristic; that is, they are all free to use. They were voluntarily developed by a group of programmers and then placed on a website as a free download.
To my knowledge, FOXY isn’t as well known in North America, but a quick look on Wikipedia suggests it’s a Gnutella2 client.
The reason for using multiple networks and protocols appears to be capitalizing on the different strengths of each. One might be better at download speeds while another might excel in file availability of certain types of files to name one possible reason.
Another finding, when talking about the legality of sharing copyrighted material was this:
Whether this behavior is legally authorized is a topic of debate for the copyright
industry and for P2P software operators. Users’ awareness of legal norms is similarly ambiguous. Based on our interview results, some respondents were aware that their download behavior infringed upon copyright or intellectual property law and should be punished. However, others believed that they downloaded files for personal use with no commercial activity, so the activity was not illegal and they had no fear of being caught.
For those that knew that what they were doing could be considered illegal in Taiwan, there was this additional result:
Even though the respondents knew that downloading copyrighted files was illegal and carried a risk of being caught, the interview respondents persisted in downloading. This is because the respondents in this study were college students with no income or little income. Copyrighted software may have been too expensive for them to afford, so they preferred to take the legal risks
Another result was that some felt that after some operators lost their court cases related to copyright infringement, there was a fear that this could lead to less innovation and development.
Here are some highlights of the conclusion of this study:
Regarding legal awareness, there were considerable differences among the respondents. Some respondents believed that their behavior was illegal, while others thought it was not illegal and that the law was unclear. For respondents who downloaded copyrighted files even though they knew it was illegal, they probably did so because they were college students with little discretionary income. Thus, they could not afford the purchase price of the files they wanted, which led them to download illegally.
Although Taiwan’s copyright law clearly states that the behavior of uploading or downing copyrighted files using P2P software violates “the right of reproduction” and “the right of public transmission,” some respondents in this study still believed that the behavior of downloading copyrighted files was not illegal. It is therefore evident that a large gap exists between public awareness and copyright laws. Thus, we suggest that government
agencies should strengthen public awareness of copyright law. More education on legal information should be provided in schools.
Currently, many business groups whose copyrights have been infringed upon have taken legal action against the illegal operators of P2P file-sharing software. However, it is indisputable that P2P file-sharing transmission platforms perform a powerful function that attracts users. Businesses may want to try a different tactic, to actively seek a business model that can take advantage of this innovative technology to add value to the enterprise and create market opportunity.
I find it interesting that while this is in a completely different country, there seems to be a familiar story here. Old entertainment companies fighting technology while people still continue to use file-sharing for authorized or unauthorized purposes – and concluding that rather than enforcing copyright, it is recommended that the entertainment industry seek new business models instead.