San Diego Law Review

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This Article provides a survey of the current status of file sharing in the law. File sharing raises issues of copyright law, harm to sellers of media, and issues of morality (harming another financially) in general. The article addresses the effect that the perception of recording industry greed has on the decision to share files, as well as the perception of legality that the populous at large has about sharing files. The article thus takes both an introspective look at the status of the law regarding file sharing and gauges the current climate of motivations behind the behaviorally driven phenomenon. The authors of this article then take the next logical step and consider the effect that the law has had and is going to have on social norms, which define what acceptable behavior is. The discussion of the effect of law on social norms includes a consideration of empirical evidence for the skeptically minded. The second half of the article is a presentation of an empirical study that the authors themselves performed with 240 undergraduate students at a public university in the United States. The study was meant to provide some indication of the effect of law on student's thought about file sharing. The students were not intended to be a representative sample but rather generate preliminary observations. All of the students were asked what they thought about how students in general were going to behave in the future regarding file sharing, and filled out a questionnaire on the subject. The control group answered the questionnaire without additional information. The "Law only" group (the test group) was asked to answer in light of the additional information provided by a copy of the university policy stating that file sharing was against the law. This test group then was further subdivided into three groups, first a group that answered with the information that formal sanctions may be imposed on university members (official warnings and suspensions), second into a group that answered in light of informal sanctions (posting names of offenders on website) and finally one that answered in light of moral duties (exhortation to refrain from the bad offense). The article next discusses the result that merely citing the university policy that file sharing was illegal did not have much effect to the test group, but adding to that the idea of formal or informal sanctions did encourage a negative view of file sharing. The third group that was issued a moral exhortation had the same answers and views as the control group, the moral exhortations did not have an effect. The article then considers policy implications, including the implication that shaming sanctions such as posting the names on the website are at least perceived by the students in this study to be effective, which is something that is contrary to the results of other studies. The other policy consideration is that the RIAA's commercials where artists explain why they think that file sharing is wrong probably aren't going to have the desired effect because it seems that students at least don't buy into the theory of morality presented.

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