Digital Piracy: A Necessary Evil for Students in Egypt?
By: Mohamed Bedda 900161918
The American University in Cairo
Table of contents
Digital piracy is one of the most controversial ethical issues around to date. Over the years, it has been deemed an illegal act, yet few countries have actually considered enforcing consequential laws upon it. When it comes to college students, particularly in Egypt, digital piracy is just another handy gadget in their everyday life. What is it that makes students avert piracy as being a misdemeanour? Does morality not play a role when it comes to a somewhat “essential” deed like piracy in some cases? Can religion be used in a country like Egypt as an incentive to lessen piracy rates? This research aims to dive behind these questions and hopefully answer them. A survey consisting of 10 questions was carried out to explore the opinions and perspectives of students in Egyptian universities. A total of 97 responses were examined and discussed with rather unexpected results. As the respondents’ choices clearly indicated that they believe that the most plausible solution for reducing piracy is not by using a religious approach, but rather implementing stricter and more consequential laws regarding digital piracy in Egypt.
Digital Piracy: A Necessary Evil for Students in Egypt?
Digital piracy has been around for the better part of the past 20 years and ever since has been one of, if not, the biggest nuisance in the software industry. It is interpreted as the unlawful action of duplicating computerized merchandise without authorization from or payment to the copyright holder (Yu, 2012). The piratable products include, but are not limited to, music, movies, tv shows, videogames and everyday softwares like Microsoft Office Word and Spotify. Over the years, digital piracy has been one of the most controversial topics when it comes to morality. Legally speaking, it is considered a crime, however, ever since its inception, the ethicality surrounding digital piracy has been a blurred line that the world has yet to fully agree upon. So why is it that people, especially students, do not refrain themselves from the alleged theft? Is it simply a matter of realizing the severity of the action? Or is there more that lies beneath the surface?
Students’ Moral Evaluation
Financial constraint. When it comes to the reasons behind software piracy, people often rationalise this behaviour as a result of financial constraint (Konstantakis, Palaigeorgiou, Siozos, & Tsoukalas, 2010). Money limitations has always been a determinant factor in this topic, but can it really justify the activity that indirectly causes some people their livelihood? In other words, piracy is basically stealing profits from the proprietor’s pockets. Szde Yu’s findings however unraveled an interesting view on this point; some students argued that if digital piracy did not exist to begin
with, they still would not have purchased the wanted product. Alluding to the conclusion that copyright holders would not have profited anyway (Yu, 2012).
Ignorance. Some students are simply unaware of the implications that might occur if one was to be caught with the possession of an illegal software. According to Konstantakis and company, some students seemed comfortable with their unawareness, whereas, others displayed potential abstinence if they were to understand the consequences (Konstantakis et al., 2010). In short, they consider their ignorance a form of innocence.
Nothing to steal. An interesting yet a bit foolish reason students usually use, is how these products are not physical objects, just a bunch of code and electrical impulses (Bowie, 2005). People tend to overlook the copyright part of the equation. It is not about owning an illegal copy, but rather taking royalties from the copyright holder.
A good cause. Another justification students often use for illegally downloading these softwares, is that they do not want their grades to suffer as a result of financial situations or unavailability of a certain helpful program in their country. Also, they claim that the fact that they will not use it for profit justifies it (Khalil & Seleim, 2012).
Unavailability. One of, if not, the most legitimate and compelling reason to pirate products, is the inaccessibility of the means to purchase said product in a person’s country. This is a meaningful justification to go on as the student cannot steal what is not available for him to buy. In other words, if the copyright holders did not anticipate gaining any fortune from citizens of a certain country, then there is no potential royalties stolen if the citizens decide to pirate the product (Piolatto ; Schuett, 2012).
Effect on Copyright Holders
In regards to those whose royalties are allegedly being stolen, their standpoints are split into two groups. As showed by Piolatto and Schuett, when it comes to music artists, popular ones tend to benefit more than their less known counterparts (Piolatto ; Schuett, 2012). For example, it is much more difficult to locate and download a song by an obscure artist than by a famous one, as there will not be enough people who shared it or even uploaded it. However, it is suggested that newer artists prefer their content downloaded and listened to as much as possible in order to increase their fame; regardless of whether acquired legally or not, and as long as they hold the copyright (Bowie, 2005). Moreover, some artists might not be able to make concert appearances due to age, sickness or even a decline in popularity; making royalty income their only source of income (Khalil ; Seleim, 2012). In other cases, when it came to video game developers, a study was conducted to test for the frequency of pirated games through monitoring the BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing protocol. The specimen incorporates 173 games and in a gathering period of three months from late 2010 to early 2011. The results were astounding with a total of 12.6 million users identified (Drachen,Veitch ; Bauer, 2013). The point of this study is to showcase how video game developers, of whom work exceedingly hard to produce these breathtaking games that have evolved over the years into a genre of their own, suffer from extreme injustice. While there is no possible way to prove that each of the 12.6 million users would have bought the game had piracy not been around, it is highly unlikely that none of them would have.
Over the years, there has been many attempts in reducing digital piracy rates. Jeong ; Khouja illustrate 4 unique policies that can be implemented in order to decrease illegal downloads.
Legal strategy. Probably the most used method by copyright holders, it is using the threat of lawsuits to strike fear into those who violate copyright laws. In which said lawbreakers can be subjected to various fines and potential jail time. This method is partially effective as everyone fears the risk of prosecution, however, it is hard to track peer-to-peer (P2P) servers as they are usually hidden and protected by Virtual Private Networks (VPN). VPNs provide anonymity for P2P users while pirating as they use proxy servers to hide one’s IP address and make it seem like they are in possibly a different country (Jeong & Khouja, 2013).
Educational strategy. Education can be a determinant factor in the shaping of one’s morality. In some cases, companies tend to provide consumers with public campaigns and advertisements to inform them of the unethical nature of piracy. This approach appeals to customers’ sense of morality and is more successful than the legal one (Jeong & Khouja, 2013). This verdict also corresponds with Al-Rafee and Rouibah’s claim of education being a dominant deterrent of piracy over law-enforcement one (Al-Rafee ; Rouibah, 2010).
Low price strategy. Decreasing the cost of a certain product can encourage customers to purchase rather than pirate. As most would not want to go through all the hassle of pirating a product if buying it was not going to affect them significantly (Jeong ; Khouja, 2013).
Value-added service strategy. Nowadays, value-added services exist in almost every genre of entertainment. In the videogame industry, companies are rewarding those who purchase their games with a plethora of special features. From free downloadable contents (DLC) to instant updates systems and launchers. In other cases, programs like Spotify and Visual Studio have free trials that expire after a certain period unless you posses the access code that is only obtainable through purchasing the program. These are examples of corporations providing their true customers with premium value-added services.
All in all, the moral aspect of piracy is a debatable topic that has very few justifications. However, the majority can agree that it is ultimately an unlawful deed. Aside from that, piracy has unusual impacts on different types of copyright holders. As it appeared to have benefited some while caused some minimal to substantial inconveniences. The true uncertainty lies in whether or not it can potentially be reduced. The most intriguing possibility is implementing awareness of it in a “religious” curriculum. Khalil and Seleim suggest that it is possible to integrate it to an educational system in Egypt (Khalil ; Seleim, 2012). Furthermore, studies by Al-Rafee and Rouibah showed that religion treatments produced significant results in reducing intention toward digital piracy (Al-Rafee ; Rouibah, 2010). Therefore, is it possible for religion to influence one’s intent towards digital piracy in a “religious” country like Egypt?
The study was administered randomly throughout several Egyptian universities, gathering a total of 97 responses across college students aged 18-22. Participants in the study took part voluntarily and the sample consisted of 62 males and 35 females of whom are pursuing degrees in engineering and business departments mostly.
The test was constructed as a google form that consisted of 10 questions in total. Prior to the survey, a confidentiality statement was made known; which contained the purpose of the study, guidance on how to complete the survey and contact information in case of inquiries. The survey primarily focused on developing a read on the participant’s stance with regard to digital piracy from a moral aspect. The participant’s personal history with the phenomenon was also taken into account along with how they view Egypt from a religious standpoint. Moreover, suggestions from participants on how to reduce digital piracy in Egypt, which are crucial to the study, were also required.
Initially, participants were instructed to specify their gender, age and major of study. After that, they were asked 2 questions about past experiences with digital piracy in order to see if there is significant correlation between having tried it before and their opinion of it from an ethical viewpoint. Which makes sense, as the following 2 questions emphasized on obtaining the participants’ take on the morality of the subject and its effect on our society’s ethical stance. Moreover, for the next 2 questions, respondents had to scale how consequential they find anti-piracy laws in Egypt, along with how religious they view Egypt as a country. Finally, it was required of each participant to provide a recommendation on how digital piracy can potentially be reduced in Egypt.
The main aim of this research is to form a proper idea on how we can reduce digital piracy amongst college students in Egypt. In order to obtain that, we must take into consideration the views and opinions of such students, and that is where the survey comes into action. First off, the participants were asked about the frequency of their practice of the activity. Out of the 97 participants, 69 respondents admitted to pirating on a regular basis, 23 respondents replied with sometimes and only 5 respondents denied ever doing so. (Refer to figure 1.)
Figure 1: How often do you pirate products?
Moreover, when they were presented with different piratable categories and asked about which one they pirate the most. The results came about with music being the top pirated product with more than half of the participants choosing so. Followed by a close match between movies and tv shows with movies being slightly ahead. Lastly, only 6 of the respondents chose video games as their most pirated product. (See figure 2).
Figure 2: What do you pirate the most?
Apart from questions about the respondents’ affiliation with the deed, when asked about their take on the morality of it, 45 participants replied with unethical, 29 said it’s complicated while 23 recognized it as an ethical act, as seen in the figure below. (Refer to figure 3).
Figure 3: What is your view on the morality of digital piracy?
Furthermore, the participants’ point of view on whether or not digital piracy affects our society’s moral stance was accounted for with almost half of the participants at 48.5% believing that it has no effect at all on our society’s moral stance. Followed by 38.1% suggesting that it does have an effect, but a minor one nonetheless, partially opposing that of the remaining 13.4% who believe that it has a major impact on our society’s morality. (See Figure 4).
Figure 4: Do you see piracy having an impact on our society’s moral stance?
The following findings show the respondents’ opinion on how consequential digital pirating is in Egypt and how religious they find Egypt as a country. Through a Likert Scale, participants expressed their perspective in rather surprising results. As in, most participants viewed digital piracy in Egypt as being completely inconsequential while Egypt being midway between unreligious and extremely religious.
Finally, when asked about the most ideal solution for reducing piracy, the results were relatively close to one another. The results came in with implementing stricter piracy laws surprisingly being the top option at 32%, followed by using religion to spread awareness at 27.8%, companies adding bonuses to rightful buyers at 18.6%, the use of education to reduce the process at 14.4% and eventually, companies lowering their product prices at a mere 7%. (Refer to Figure 5).
Figure 5: Which do you think is the best method for reducing piracy in Egypt?
Starting off, the results from the respondents on their personal history with piracy was as expected, as it showcases how the anomaly has grew and spread with over two thirds of the respondents admitting to being avid practitioners of digital piracy. Alluding to the importance of confronting the problem. Moreover, participants displayed a strong preference in pirating music in comparison with movies, tv shows and video games respectively. Which comes as little to no surprise, seeing as how the music industry is arguably the most prominent source of entertainment worldwide.
The part where the respondents were asked about the ethicality of digital piracy is where things got interesting. As almost half of the participants deemed it unethical. Which is quite odd considering over two thirds practice it regularly. This brings us to the conclusion that students are aware of the immoral nature of piracy but they choose to ignore it. In other words, ignorance of ethicality is not a significant factor in the commonness of piracy in Egypt.
When asked about digital piracy’s influence on our society’s moral stance, once again, almost half of the participants did not see it having any impact whatsoever. Drawing a hypothesis that they might consider Egypt’s moral stance already such a wreck that digital piracy would not make that big of an influence.
Onto how consequential participants see piracy laws in Egypt, the results were as predicted; nearly everyone conveyed how there is literally no legal repercussions. Alluding to how the lack of understanding of the issue’s seriousness might have played a detrimental role in the evolution of piracy in Egypt.
Furthermore, participants’ opinion on how religious Egypt is as a country somewhat correlated with the aforementioned hypothesis of its moral stance. Since the highest score obtained through respondents was lower than the highest one available on the scale, and more importantly, how the participants’ average rating was somewhere between a 2 and a 3 out of 5. One can safely assume that they do not consider Egypt that religious of a country. Which is a bit of an eye-opener, considering the initial argument of the research was how we can utilize Egypt’s religious essence to convince people of the immoral and degenerate nature of piracy.
To top it all off, the most shocking revelation of the study was that a larger part of the participants expected stricter laws to have a bigger impact on the frequency of piracy rather than the use of religion. Although they were close in numbers at 31 and 27 participants respectively (See figure 5), it does raise the question: Has Egypt become that mediocre, that digital piracy ethics is a negligible cog in the wheel of morality?
The study contained a number of hindering elements, for example, the amount of time the survey was open for, merely 3 days, making the process a bit restricted. After wrapping up the survey and taking in the data, it was realised that some questions could have used some refinement while others should have been replaced with more useful ones. First off, it would have made things easier to know which university the participant is from, in order to determine whether the habitat has anything to with their opinions about the subject. Furthermore, the part where the respondents were asked to state their major should have been selective so data can be collected more accurately.
In conclusion, digital piracy is not an easy wrongdoing to tackle, as it exists in almost every country. However, in Egypt it appears that college students do not consider it as wicked or serious as other criminal acts. But apparently, most of that ideology stems from their already corrupted vision of the country’s moral stance. The idea of religion acting as a catalyst for the extermination was the most probable and viable solution prior to the study. But after acquiring numerous perspectives on the subject matter, it seems that it might not have been the most ideal solution. As in, most participants of the study agreed that there might greater potential in reducing piracy rates if the government were to take it seriously and implement severe regulations on the activity. All things considered, college students in Egypt have proven to be well-educated about the idea of morality but their actual morality proves corresponding to that of their country.
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Appendix A: Online Survey Questions
2. Enter Age:
3. What is your major of study:
4. How often do you download songs, games, softwares illegally?
5. (If you chose b or c in the previous question) What do you pirate the most ?
6. What is your view on the morality of digital piracy?
7. Do you see piracy having an impact on our society’s moral stance?
Yes, very much.
Yes, but not so much.
Not at all.
8. On a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being not serious at all ; 5 being extremely serious), How legally serious do you think digital pirating is in Egypt?
9. On a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being almost unreligious and 5 being very religious), How Religious do you find Egypt?
10. From the following, Which do you think is the best method for reducing piracy in Egypt?
Making piracy laws more strict.
Companies lowering their product prices.
Companies adding bonuses to those who legally purchase their products.
Using education to spread awareness.
Using Religion to spread awareness.