Is music downloading the new prohibition? What students reveal through an ethical dilemma

Abstract

Although downloading music through unapproved channels is illegal, statistics indicate that it is widespread. The following study examines the attitudes and perceptions of college students that are potentially engaged in music downloading. The methodology includes a content analysis of the recommendations written to answer an ethical vignette. The vignette presented the case of a subject who faces the dilemma of whether or not to download music illegally. Analyses of the final reports indicate that there is a vast and inconsistent array of actions and underlying feelings toward digital music downloading. The findings reveal inconsistencies between participants’ recommendations (what the subject should do) and their attitudes and opinions on the matter (what they would do in a similar situation). These inconsistencies support the notion that as technology evolves, it creates discrepancies between the way things are and the way the law expects them to be, leaving society in a muddle, trying to reconcile the two. What remains to be seen is whether the discrepancy in the case of music downloading becomes extreme enough that the law changes to accommodate an increasingly prevalent behavior, or whether new business models will emerge to bridge the gap between legality and reality.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded in part by a PSC-CUNY grant #67792-00-36 and a Doctoral Student Research Grant from the CUNY Graduate Center. The authors gratefully acknowledge the capable research assistance of Robert Palermo of Iona College.

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Correspondence to Shoshana Altschuller.

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Altschuller, S., Benbunan-Fich, R. Is music downloading the new prohibition? What students reveal through an ethical dilemma. Ethics Inf Technol 11, 49–56 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-008-9179-1

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Keywords

  • Music piracy
  • Ethical dilemma
  • Content analysis
  • Case study