The Era of Digital Pirates and Why Anti-Piracy Ads Have Failed to Make a Difference


Andrew Masson is an IPilogue Writer and 2L JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.


Was a $46.3 billion piracy problem accelerated by the ad campaigns that attempted to stop it? Gilles Grolleau and Luc Meunier believe this could be the case in their article published on July 7, 2022.  Today, anti-piracy commercials might be a meme,   but Grolleau & Meunier attempted to critically analyze why the ad (and similar ones) may not work. The article does not provide empirical evidence but rather offers insights and reasons as to why commercials may not have effectively deterrent piracy.

The authors based their arguments on 3 major issues with the current anti-piracy ads:

  1. The ads over-emphasize piracy’s prevalence.

When an ad stresses how widespread a problem is, it risks people seeing piracy as a social norm. This in turn limits societal pressure to change behaviour. This same trend has been shown in similar commercials about drug/alcohol abuse, suicide, and pollution.

  1. The ads should not emphasize the high number of victims.

If everyone is a victim, then no one is a victim. Well-identified individual victims are more likely to gain sympathy than a general group.

  1. The ads should not use a shotgun approach to arguments.

is the use of a few strong arguments would more effectively curb piracy than a mix of strong and weak arguments. Although people may think that adding more arguments will improve the total package, the opposite is true if the arguments are not strong. If one strong anchor argument is diluted with moderate add-ons, people perceive the total package as less than the anchor argument alone.

The authors provide some strong points and applied established theories from other fields to piracy, they overlook some factors that may important to the argument. One fundamental difference between piracy and traditional forms of stealing (carjacking, purse stealing, etc.) is that the owner is not deprived of their property in the traditional sense. They incur a loss of profits from the reproduction of that product. This factor may also explain why piracy is not easily deterred through traditional methods of arguing and advertising. Overall, this article highlights the problems that digital media and ownership will keep producing in the legal system and the difficulties that arise when applying traditional legal concepts in modern society.

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