A number of states have passed laws that require motor vehicles to stop when a pedestrian uses a crosswalk. Many of those states also require pedestrians to use crosswalks, at least when trying to get to the other side of major roads.
New Jersey, the place I live and work, is one of those states. Although the laws are not particularly complicated, for some reason people consistently drive through crosswalks while pedestrians wait in the middle of the road. Drivers will tell you that pedestrians often forego crosswalks and just hike across major roads wherever they happen to encounter them.
I have no idea why drivers and pedestrians act like this. I just see it happen every single day.
Occasionally I'm in a car or trying to get across the street (using a crosswalk; I'm like that) and I hear people speculate on why drivers and pedestrians ignore the law. I have no idea whether the speculation is true, but it is almost always delivered with great certainty.
I bring this up to frame a recent post on TorrentFreak, "the place where breaking news, BitTorrent and copyright collide". It is a useful blog, one I have both used and covered from time to time when writing about piracy.
A recent post, "The morals of grabbing free content from the web", recounts a conversation about work first done by David Matza and Gresham Sykes around moral obligations and illegal acts. Published in 1964, their work found that people justify illegitimate behavior in five predictable ways:
- Denial of responsibility ("I was forced into it")
- Denial of injury
- Denial of the victim
- Condemnation of the condemners
- Appeal to higher loyalties ("It's for the greater good")
For most of these findings, the TorrentFreak post offers parallels that explain "why people pirate". It's not a groundbreaking list, and I've invoked most or perhaps all of these potential causes before.
On one level, I think the TorrentFreak post tells a helpful story. The dialogue that takes place around piracy does follow the pattern outlined by Matza and Sykes half a century ago.
On another level – the pedestrian in a crosswalk level – I struggle. For its part, TorrentFreak is certain in its explanations of why people infringe copyright. For their part, copyright owners are often equally certain, but with different answers.
Understanding why people act as they do seems more important than understanding how they justify it. We can assume that people driving by pedestrians in crosswalks are callous, angry or clueless, but they may also be blinded by the sun, unaware of the law or momentarily distracted. The reasons should govern the response.
Of course, that observation brings me back to the value gained in collecting data. If we can't agree on the reasons behind "denial of responsibility" or "denial of injury", it's hard to have a coherent discussion about the impact of piracy.