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The Law and Ethics of Digital Piracy

The Law and Ethics of Digital Piracy

Evidence from Harvard Law School Graduates

Event Description

Harvard Law School is one of the top law schools in the world and educates the intellectual and financial elites. Lawyers are held to the highest professional and ethical standards. And yet, when it comes to digital piracy, they overwhelmingly perceive file sharing as an acceptable social practice – as long as individuals do not derive monetary benefits from it. So should digital files be considered a commons? In this talk, Dariusz and Jerome will identify and discuss the social and economic contexts in which file sharing is considered more or less acceptable by law practitioners. In the process, they will foster a conversation on the possible changes in regulation that would allow us to catch up with the established social norm.

Notes from the Talk

Peer to peer file sharing in the early 2000s resulted in an explosion of digital media consumption. Out of this context emerged the legal challenge of thinking about copyright protections for “digital goods.” In their recent talk, Dariusz Jemielniak and Jérôme Herguex presented their research on the social acceptability of file sharing amongst international LLM students at Harvard Law School (note: this study was financed from Polish National Science Center grant no. UMO-2015/19/B/HS4/03223).

As Jemielniak explained, understanding how lawyers interpret copyright and digital piracy offers helpful insight into how perceptions of these issues are constructed within the broader culture.

Three questions guided their research: First, what is the ethical acceptability of file sharing practices? Second, are differences in acceptability dependent on region of origins - specifically on a country’s economic development? Third, are differences in acceptability dependent upon occupations? For example, does prior work experience in, or future interest in work in the public versus private sector affect perceptions?

Using surveys and semi-structured interviews, Jemielniak and Herguex found that overall, digital piracy is acceptable when it is used for private purposes, but unacceptable when it crosses over into commercial territory. Analysis based on country of origin showed that there were no statistically significant differences for this variable. However, within the occupational divide, overall, those aligned with the public sector found it more acceptable to file share than those in the private sector.

Jemielniak and Herguex see this research as a preliminary exploration of attitudes about digital piracy within the legal community. Moving forward, they plan to focus on two additional questions. First, within the current debate on file sharing and its ethics, why has the approach to copyright protection remained relatively stable? And second, what are potential avenues for future legal reform?

Notes by Donica O'Malley

About Dariusz

Dariusz Jemielniak is a Wikipedian, Full Professor of Management at Kozminski University, and an entrepreneur (having established the largest online dictionary in Poland,, among others). 

Dariusz currently serves on Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees. In his academic life, he studies open collaboration movement (in 2014 he published "Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia" with Stanford University Press), media files sharing practices (among lawyers and free knowledge activists), as well as political memes' communities. 

He had visiting appointments at Cornell University (2004-2005), Harvard (2007, 2011-2012), and University of California, Berkeley (2008), where he studied software engineers' workplace culture.

About Jérôme

Jerome is an Assistant Research Professor at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), a Fellow at the Center for Law and Economics at ETH Zurich, and a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. From 2011 to 2014, Jerome spent three years as a Research Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center, where he did most of his Ph.D. work.

Jerome is a behavioral economist operating at the boundaries between psychology, economics and computer science. In his research, he typically couples experimental methods with the analysis of big data to uncover how psychological and cognitive traits shape our behavior over the Internet, with a particular focus on online cooperation, peer production and decision making. He is strongly involved with Professor Yochai Benkler in the Cooperation project. He is also involved with the Mindsport Research Network, which he helped launch together with Professor Charles Nesson.

Jerome completed a Ph.D. in Economics at Sciences Po and the University of Strasbourg. He holds Master’s degrees in both International Economics and International Affairs from Sciences Po, and a B.A. in Economics & Finance from the University of Strasbourg.

Jerome originates from the French region of Alsace. He has lived in France, Egypt, the U.S., Jordan and Switzerland. Jerome speaks French, English and Arabic and is heavily interested in public policy and international affairs.

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Past Event
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET

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