University of Oxford

Project Description

Empirical assessment of the effectiveness of levers to regulate file-sharing behavior in peer-to-peer networks

Project Abstract

Problem statement: Purpose of this paper is to assess the impact of the levers, which influence behavior and attitude of university students on intellectual property rights in file-sharing networks. Despite tight prosecution of private file-sharing activity over the Internet, intense campaigning against �piracy�, and stricter protection of �intellectual property� by national laws, both legal and illegal file sharing networks still enjoy wide popularity. Recent surveys show a widening gap between legal norms and actual user behavior, especially among the younger population.
Nowadays most legal scholars agree that the Internet as well as user behavior on the Internet can indeed be regulated. According to legal theory, legal norms, social norms, economic incentives and actual architecture can be used to influence users� behavior. The role of the nation-state as the primary power of regulation is questioned by the rise of global networks of the economy, communication, and knowledge and information. Instead super-national standard setting bodies like IEEE or W3C, public companies like Cisco or KaZaa, private associations of publishers and producers like the RIAA, but also the global network of activist peer communities connected by invitation-only Torrent servers, discussion groups, and email lists, exercise de facto regulative power by manipulating any or all of the four levers.
Surveying a sample of university students about their online behavior and their perception of the influencing factors, the effectiveness of the presented four levers will be assessed. Building on the gathered data I will try to explain why the current initiatives to restrict the use of file-sharing networks have been widely unsuccessful.

3. Data: The paper will be based on quantitative data gathered by an online survey among Oxford and OUC students. Students will be asked to provide information about:
� Knowledge of the current legal situation concerning file-sharing networks
� Current file-sharing behavior
� Legal, social, economic, and architectural factors which influence their behavior
A potential bias will be inherent in the selection of the sample, since my personal, the OII�s and OUC�s network will consist of highly knowledgeable students with respect to the surveyed subject matter.

3. Method of data collection: The survey will be constructed using a trial account of Question Pro, a professional online survey platform. Invitations will be sent out using my facebook network, the MCR/JCR mailing list of St. Peters and other OII affiliated colleges, an appropriate UOC mailing list, and potentially the OII mailing list.

4. Hypotheses and analytical model: (See problem statement above)
� Demise of the power of nation-states to regulate
� Exercise of de facto regulative power by super-national and private organizations
� No correlation between knowledge of legal situation and actual behavior: Legal norms ineffective lever
� Small correlation between threat of being sued by the record industry and actual behavior: National legal norms with economic threat weak lever
� Medium correlation between network policy of university and actual behavior: Local legal norm with economic threat effective lever
� High correlation between access control imposed by university and actual behavior: Architecture very effective lever
� High correlation between peer group behavior and actual behavior: Social norms very effective lever
� Failure of recent initiatives due to wrong mix of levers employed

6. Theory implicit: As a result I will conclude that there is either a set of effective levers to re-align users� behavior with legal norms or that there is a need to change the law and economics of digital media production

7. Relationship with broader framework: The regulative framework used in this proposal is taken from general theory of regulability in the extended version adjusted by Lawrence Lessig to address the question of regulability of the Internet. The problem is social enforcement of legal norms has been theorized by Carl Schmitt and other constitutional theorists.
Terry Fisher has analyzed the gap between user attitudes and actual behavior, and describes different legal, economic or architectural solutions to close the gap. He concludes that a change in the law and economics of digital media distribution would create the biggest benefits for society.

Surveys released for this project: