Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Christians and Piracy

Occupying an office that has been occupied by several people over the years means I get a lot of mail, namely scholarly journals. On my desk is the latest copy of The Christian Business Academy Review, a publication devoted to "publication of faith-based articles that focus on Creative Instruction, Curriculum Development, Professional Issues, and Research in Business Education."

There is a paper presented by Lewer, Gerlich, and Lucas titled (link:) "The Impact of Christian Education and Curriculum on Illegal Media File Sharing Attitudes and Behavior." From the abstract (bold, italics mine):
"The purpose of this paper is to examine the ethics and economics behind file sharing and to empirically test the role a Christian education has on file sharing. The empirical results are interesting and find that Christian education has no effect on ethical attitudes or actual stealing behavior, and suggest that faculty at Christian colleges cannot assume that discussions about Christian principles and moral attitudes will automatically be seen in the student behavior that follows."

The authors surveyed 302 students at 3 universities (one public) and controlled for race, gender, age, and religious affiliation and intensity. Students were given a set of 14 statements and asked on a scale of 1 to 5 whether they strongly disagree (1) or strongly agree (5).

While the majority of small private Christian college students surveyed (84%) professed Christianity and attended church an average of 3.12 times a month, they showed no difference from non-Christian students at the public university in their attitudes toward statements like:

"It is morally wrong to copy CDs or DVDs for friends."
"It is morally wrong to download unauthorized music, movies, or TV shows from the Internet."

In fact, the Christian students felt significantly more strongly than non-Christians that:
"I resent the anti-copying features some record labels have started putting on their CDs."
and "The threat of being sued will not keep me from illegally sharing files."

Christians tended to disagree that the government could stop piracy, whereas State students felt government was capable. (Reminds me of the modern-day definition of an Evangelical: a person who is pro-life and believes in lower taxes and less government).

"The curriculum at a Christian college or university is designed to emphasize the intergration of faith into the students' process of thinking, learning, and ultimately, practice or behavior."

Using a Logit model with the survey results as the dependent variable, the authors find that only higher age and having a stronger locus of control (believing that you can control your own destiny) are the only things that seem to correlate with stronger attitudes against piracy.

Looking at the survey questions asking whether students have downloaded both pirated movies and music, the study shows that older females are less likely to actually download pirated wares.

The authors conclude that Christians have conformed and that Christian education isn't helping this area. This is the type of stuff that we talk about at my university, the type of thing we'd like to teach business students to avoid.

I was in college at the time illegal Napster was just starting, before you could download mp3s for 99 cents, in a time where high-speed internet was new and the boundaries seemingly endless. Everyone was pirating everything. I later decided to buy the CD of whatever music I downloaded that I liked and to buy the movie when it came out on DVD.
(I now haven't bought or downloaded music in years. I don't own an IPod and the only CDs I listen to are audiobooks).

In markets overseas there are often no legal movies, everything is just well-copied but sold like new. I knew some missionaries who refused to buy or even watch any pirated stuff, I knew others who bought it but threw it away before returning Stateside. I know others who still have theirs. In Moldova we saw that Christians overwhelmingly believe that using Bit Torrent software is ethical, legal, and even necessary. We had to draw our own conclusions at the time, deciding not to use Torrents at all when we returned to the States. But it's always a temptation.

There's a huge ethical "gray area" about participating in piracy overseas and Romans 14 seems to win the day. It pains me to hear of church mission trips that eagerly splurge on the black market to bring home as much pirated software as possible.

It's something we as believers need to discuss. In America, there's no question what the laws are. Why do Christians disobey them? Is anyone preaching about piracy from the pulpit? So long as the marginal cost of the risk of being caught and sued is less than the marginal benefit, Christians seem content to download and even have a "stick it to the man" mentality.

Any thoughts?

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