Recently I participated in focus group research about intellectual property crime. Many of you know it better by names like counterfeiting and piracy. It involves actions such as illegal downloading of movies, music and software; purchasing knock-off purses or jewelry, and buying countless other fake products.
Now I, like many people around the world, know the concept of right versus wrong. However, people seem to have a unique way of distorting that principle when it involves intellectual property. I was surprised throughout these focus groups by people who acknowledged that they were doing something wrong while rationalizing their behavior to make it okay.
People in these groups talked openly about buying knock-off purses or buying that DVD on the street corner for $3. They rationalized their behavior because they were getting a good deal. Besides, they are law-abiding citizens in every other sense of the word; they go to church and pay their taxes.
Wow . . . did I hear you correctly? Is the fact that you are a church-going, tax-paying citizen enough to let you off the hook for breaking the law knowingly just to get a good deal?
It was akin to saying something like, “I know I was speeding, officer. But I’m running late. I pay my taxes on time and go to church so you shouldn’t give me a ticket.” It doesn’t matter the reason for your speeding or the type of person you are normally, you were breaking the speed limit.
It was also interesting to learn that people felt okay to buy counterfeit products or pirated entertainment because they don’t perceive any real harm from it. In fact, they seem to think it is an accepted way of getting what you need for free or the cheapest price available.
I really thought that as we began the focus groups that people would not only say they knew that stealing someone’s intellectual property was wrong but that they would feel guilty about doing so. That was not the case at all.
After all the groups were completed I was left with one big question: If the lure of the bargain or free items is so strong, what can be done to stop people from buying counterfeit products or pirated entertainment and software?