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Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39

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Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology

College students' moral evaluations of illegal music downloading Marc M. Jambon ⁎, Judith G. Smetana Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, USA

a r t i c l e

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Article history: Received 20 September 2010 Received in revised form 24 August 2011 Accepted 7 September 2011 Available online 27 October 2011 Keywords: Moral judgment Social domain theory Illegal music downloading

a b s t r a c t Although unauthorized music downloading is illegal, a majority of college students have downloaded music for free online. Evaluations of illegal music downloading and their association with downloading behavior were examined using social domain theory in a sample of 188 ethnically diverse college students (Mage = 19.80 years, SD = 1.36, 56% female). All students treated prototypical moral events as moral on a domain classification task. Students treated illegal downloading as a complex moral issue and, less frequently, as a personal issue (but rarely as a conventional issue of law or authority); judgments varied when different concerns regarding the fair price of music and the structure of the music industry were made salient. Greater discrepancies between the actual price of music and what students viewed to be fair were associated with past illegal downloading, while a greater focus on downloading as stealing was associated with abstaining from downloading. © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

According to recent estimates, approximately 15–30 million American 18–24 year olds have used peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing programs such as The Pirate Bay and BitTorrent to illegally download copyrighted media, primarily in the form of digital music files, over the Internet (Leibowitz, 2006; Madden, 2009). Rates are significantly higher among college students, with approximately 60% to 90% of students reporting having engaged in illegal file-sharing activities (Levin, Dato-on, & Rhee, 2004; Lysonski & Durvasula, 2008). In 2008 alone, over 40 billion music files were downloaded illegally despite state, federal, and international laws prohibiting such actions (IFPI, 2009). Researchers studying illegal music downloading have typically framed it as a prototypical example of theft (for an exception see Wingrove, Korpas, & Weisz, 2011) and have therefore attempted to explain involvement in such deviant acts by searching for deficits in factors such as self control (LaRose & Kim, 2007) or respect for authority (Gerlich, 2005; Levin, Dato-on, & Manolis, 2007). Although the proposed causes of illegal downloading vary among studies, a consistent finding has been that more positive and accepting attitudes towards illegal music file-sharing are associated with past illegal downloading as well as future intentions to do so (d'Astous, Colbert, & Montpetit, 2005; Gopal et al., 2004; Levin et al., 2004; Lysonski & Durvasula, 2008; Wingrove et al., 2011). Consequently, a common underlying assumption is that individuals who illegally download music have less developed moral or ethical standards (Gopal et al., 2004; Levin et al., 2004, 2007). ⁎ Corresponding author at: Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, Meliora Hall, RC Box 270266, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA. Tel.: + 1 585 275 1021; fax: + 1 585 273 1100. E-mail address: [email protected] (M.M. Jambon). 0193-3973/$ – see front matter © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2011.09.001

These studies have operationalized ethical attitudes as a general, global trait or orientation that determines how individuals evaluate situations entailing moral and social norms. Because these global ethical dispositions are hypothesized to result in similar judgments across a variety of diverse situations, researchers have utilized measures that ask individuals to rate the wrongness or acceptability of acts that are often unrelated to illegal downloading, such as drinking a soda in a supermarket without paying or a small business stretching the truth on taxes (Gopal et al., 2004; Levin et al., 2004). The assumption is that individuals who have lower or less developed ethical standards will be more willing to positively evaluate and engage in deviant behaviors, including illegal music downloading (Gerlich, 2005; Gopal et al., 2004; Levin et al., 2007, 2004; Lysonski & Durvasula, 2008). Yet, research examining associations between college students' ethical attitudes and their orientations to music downloading have yielded mixed results. Gopal et al. (2004) demonstrated that scores reflecting lower ethical standards were associated with more favorable ratings of sharing music with others without payment. Additionally, Levin et al. (2004) found that college students who admitted to illegally downloading music had lower ethics ratings than students who had never downloaded illegally. Other studies using similar methods, however, have failed to find significant associations between these broad ethical attitudes and illegal downloading (Chen, Shang, & Lin, 2008; d'Astous et al., 2005; Lysonski & Durvasula, 2008). Null findings have been attributed to a “disconnect” between individuals' moral values and their behaviors (Lysonski & Durvasula, 2008). That is, some researchers have claimed that college students are simply not concerned with the ethical aspects of downloading and therefore do not see it as a moral matter. However, the lack of consistent findings may be because ethical orientations have typically been assessed as a global trait. Other


M.M. Jambon, J.G. Smetana / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39

research suggests that beliefs about illegal downloading may involve a complex set of moral and non-moral concerns. Several studies indicate that many individuals, particularly young college students, are unsatisfied with the current price of music (Gerlich, 2005; Leitman, 2004). Indeed, the price of music and its implications for the consumer are relevant to students' decisions to download music for free (Kwong & Lee, 2002). For example, Plowman and Goode (2009) found that concerns about price were among the strongest predictors of future intentions to illegally download music, even among students who had never done so before. In addition, Levin et al. (2004) found a moderate correlation between beliefs that CD's were not worth the high price record companies charged and previous downloading behaviors. These findings suggest that college students are concerned about their rights as consumers. Musicians' rights may also be an important consideration. On average, major record companies receive approximately 90% of the net profits from record sales, often holding complete ownership rights over the music and lyrics created by their signed artists (Borg, 2003; Miller, 2005). Furthermore, there is evidence that many college students hold negative views of the recording industry (Wingrove et al., 2011), believing they receive an excess amount of profit at the expense of the musicians who create the music (Kwong & Lee, 2002; Leitman, 2004; Levin et al., 2004). Therefore, the belief that the music industry treats its musicians unfairly may have an influence on the way individuals approach illegal music downloading. In addition to beliefs about fairness in relation to consumers and musicians, college students also may view downloading as harmless and therefore as a matter of personal choice. Studying judgments of commercial software piracy, Friedman (1997) found that 11th and 12th graders viewed copying software for free as more acceptable than other prototypical forms of theft because they often had difficulty in identifying the harmful consequences of these actions for others. Unfortunately, most of the available research on music downloading combines items about artists' welfare with other concerns such as prosecution from the law and social approval (d'Astous et al., 2005; LaRose & Kim, 2007), making it difficult to assess the extent to which perceived harm is implicated in individuals' decisions to illegally download music. However, the few studies that have separated these concerns have found that a belief in the harmlessness of downloading is associated with more positive attitudes towards obtaining music illegally. In a qualitative study, Freestone and Mitchell (2004) found that Generation Y consumers (defined as individuals between the ages of 8 and 24 at the time of the study) were more likely than older cohorts to view downloading as acceptable because they believed it did not have any negative consequences for others. Similarly, Lysonski and Durvasula (2008) found that past downloading and future intentions to download were both associated with beliefs that illegal downloading did not result in harmful consequences for artists. Thus, in addition to concerns about the unfairness of the music industry, individuals also may construe downloading as a matter of personal choice. These studies suggest that evaluations of illegal music downloading involve a complex (and potentially competing) set of moral and non-moral concerns. Distinct domains in moral and social judgments College students appear to attend to the moral dimensions of illegal music downloading, but they weigh and coordinate different moral (and non-moral) issues in their evaluations. Social domain theory (Smetana, 2006, 2011; Turiel, 1983, 2010) provides one framework for understanding these different concerns and their associations with illegal downloading. According to social domain theory, individuals actively interpret and try to make sense of their experiences, drawing on different developmentally and conceptually distinct types of social knowledge when making judgments. Morality is therefore viewed as one of several different systems or domains of thought that coexist in

individuals' thinking (Smetana, 2006; Turiel, 2010). Research from this perspective has consistently shown that children and adolescents distinguish between moral rules pertaining to concerns for the rights, welfare, and justice of others and social conventions, or the agreed upon social norms that serve to coordinate individuals' actions within the social system. Moral issues, such as violence and theft, are seen as wrong across different contexts (generalizable) and independent of rules and authority due to the intrinsic consequences such actions have for others. In contrast, conventional concerns, such as manners and etiquette, gain their meaning from the social context in which they exist and are therefore judged to be contextually relative and dependent on the existence of authority. For example, moral transgressions (like hitting) are judged to be wrong even in the absence of rules prohibiting them or if those in charge said it was alright to engage in the behavior, whereas conventional violations (like calling a teacher by their first name) are seen as acceptable if there are no prohibitions against doing so (Smetana, 2006; Smetana et al., in press). Moral and conventional concerns have also been distinguished from personal matters, which involve concern for privacy, control over one's body, and personal preferences and choices regarding issues as such as recreation, friends, and appearances (Nucci, 1981). Personal issues are viewed as not having harmful consequences for others and are judged to be up to the individual to decide; unlike morality and convention, personal issues are judged to be outside the realm of legitimate authority and societal regulation (Nucci, 1981; Smetana, 2011). Relatedly, prudential issues refer to concerns regarding health, safety, comfort, and harm to the self and are therefore viewed as an aspect of the personal sphere. However, because prudential issues do involve concerns about health and safety, they are often evaluated as more or less acceptable, unlike purely personal matters (see Smetana, 2006, 2011; Turiel, 2010 for reviews of domain distinctions). Although children and adolescents consistently differentiate these domains when judging straightforward, prototypical issues, many real life situations often involve overlaps or conflicts between different domains or concepts within the same domain (Smetana, 1983). Because people are thought to actively attend to the diverse features of their daily experiences, domain theorists have suggested that an understanding of moral judgments must take into account the specific concerns that individuals consider when dealing with complex events (Nucci & Turiel, 2009; Turiel, 2010; Wainryb, 2000). That is, individuals' thinking about a given issue depends in part on whether they view the event as falling entirely within one domain or whether they notice and attempt to coordinate multiple components of the situation. For example, recent research on adolescents' understandings of rights and civil liberties by Helwig (2006) has demonstrated that most individuals endorse rights (e.g. freedom of speech and religion) when they are not in conflict with other social or moral concerns. When asked to justify their responses, adolescents and adults reason about civil liberties as universal moral rights that should not be restricted. However, when these same rights are depicted as conflicting with other moral concerns, such as when allowing freedom of speech would result in psychological or physical harm to others, individuals often subordinate rights to these competing moral concerns. Helwig's program of research, along with other studies of adolescents' moral and social development (reviewed in Nucci & Turiel, 2009; Smetana, 2011; Smetana & Villalobos, 2009) has revealed that compared to younger adolescents, older teens and college-age young adults evidence a greater ability to take into account contextual variations in their judgments. In contrast to global trait approaches that view mature conceptions of civil liberties as upholding rights in all situations without exception (e.g. Gallatin & Adelson, 1971), Helwig's (2006) research has demonstrated that adolescents and young adults actively attempt to balance a variety of different concerns in their judgments. This leads them to subordinate civil liberties in some situations (as when they conflict with other moral concerns), while at the same time maintaining rights to be

M.M. Jambon, J.G. Smetana / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39

universally applicable. Taken together, and in contrast to the view that college students are morally deficient, research from this perspective suggests that students may overwhelmingly judge prototypical moral violations (including theft) as wrong on the basis of their harmful consequences for others. However, they also may weigh and coordinate different moral concerns (or moral and non-moral issues) when making judgments about complex events such as illegal music downloading. The current study In the present study we used social domain theory to examine judgments and justifications regarding illegal music downloading in a sample of late adolescent college students. First, students were given a classification task adapted from previous research (Nucci, Guerra, & Lee, 1991) to examine their normative moral (and other social) judgments. In this task, individuals are asked to classify prototypical examples of moral, conventional, prudential and personal acts by selecting a justification response found in previous research to be associated with that domain (see Nucci, 1981; Smetana, 2006; Turiel, 1983). If college students who illegally download are “morally deficient” as some have claimed, they would be expected to misclassify moral acts as non-moral or be unable to correctly classify the other acts in the expected categories. However, we hypothesized that regardless of their downloading behavior, all participants would distinguish among prototypical moral, conventional, prudential, and personal issues in their classifications. The main aim of the present study was to examine the multifaceted nature of college students' thinking about illegal music downloading, with a focus on the issues that students themselves have identified as important (Bahanovich & Callopy, 2009; Leitman, 2004; Madden, 2009). Consequently, we assessed their judgments and justifications in situations that varied the salience of different concerns. Specifically, we were interested in how variations in the structure of the music industry and in the price of music influenced students' moral judgments. To assess the influence of concerns regarding the structure of the music industry, participants evaluated illegal music downloading in the abstract, with no mention of who receives profits from music sales, and in two other conditions varying whether the record companies or musicians primarily profited from record sales. We hypothesized that, reflecting the opinion that the recording industry is unfair and musicians ought to be receiving more of the profits (Leitman, 2004), participants would judge illegal downloading as most acceptable when the industry was described as profiting and least acceptable when the artists were described as doing so. In addition, we expected that students would reason more about the unfairness of the system and their personal prerogatives when the recording industry profited than in the other two conditions. In turn, we hypothesized that students would reason about downloading as an act of stealing more when artists were described as profiting. According to social domain theory and research, moral transgressions are judged to be wrong independent of rules or sanctions (Smetana, 2006; Smetana et al., in press). Therefore, across the different conditions, participants judged the acceptability of downloading music for free if there were no laws prohibiting such actions. While overall we expected downloading without paying to be viewed as more acceptable if there were no laws against it, we hypothesized that a moral concern for the musicians creating the music would lead individuals to view “legal” downloading without paying as significantly less acceptable when musicians, as opposed to the industry, were described as profiting from the sale of music (and therefore having the most to lose from ‘legal’ downloading without paying). Participants evaluated illegal downloading if those who stood to profit most from record sales (which, again, varied by condition)


had given permission for individuals to do so if they desired. Recently, a number of high-profile music groups have successfully (popularly and financially) made entire albums available online at no cost or allowed fans to “pay what you can” (Madden, 2009). Free access to an artists' music online also has been beneficial to less well-known musicians, in part because it is seen as providing an avenue to disseminate one's music to a broader audience (Madden & Lenhart, 2003; Mortimer et al., 2010). Yet, given the research cited earlier that many college students believe artists should have more control over their own work and that record companies wield unfair power over musicians (Kwong & Lee, 2002; Leitman, 2004), individuals should not view permission to download as equally legitimate in all cases. Therefore, we expected that the acceptability of downloading would be greater when individuals were described as being given permission to download. In contrast to the previous two hypotheses, however, we expected illegal downloading to be viewed as more acceptable when the musicians gave permission, as compared to when the record companies authorized it. Although there is a common perception that youth are unwilling to pay for music and believe that it ought to be free (Bhattacharjee et al., 2003; Gerlich, 2005; Levin et al., 2004), little research has directly assessed what individuals actually think a fair price for music should be. Therefore students indicated their fair price beliefs and also judged and justified illegal downloading when the high price of music was removed as a salient concern. We hypothesized that compared to their initial acceptability judgments, students would view illegal downloading as more wrong and more likely to be viewed as stealing when the price of music was lower. We also expected that justifications regarding the rights of consumers would be endorsed significantly less when price was removed as a concern. However, it was unclear how manipulating the structure of the music industry (across the three conditions) would interact with variations in the price of music; therefore we made no hypotheses regarding how these judgments would differ across the different conditions. Finally, we explored whether moral evaluations were associated with illegal downloading over and above individuals' affinity for music. Large-scale surveys and developmental research have shown music to be important to adolescents and college students (Bahanovich & Callopy, 2009; Larson, 1995). Additionally, researchers have assumed that a desire for music is one of the main driving forces behind decisions to illegally download among individuals with high speed internet access (Bhattacharjee et al., 2003; Gerlich, 2005). In the current study we expected music fanship to be associated with past illegal downloading. We also hypothesized, however, that beliefs regarding the unfairness of both the music industry and the price of music, and whether downloading was viewed as an act of stealing or as a personal choice, would be uniquely associated with past illegal downloading over and above the effects of music fanship.

Methods Participants/sample The sample consisted of 188 college students (M = 19.80 years of age, SD = 1.36) recruited from psychology courses at a private university in the Northeast United States. The sample was 54% female, and the ethnic composition was representative of the university population as a whole: 64% Caucasian, 18% Asian, 6% Hispanic, 4% African American, 1% Indian/Alaskan, and 7% Other (or refusing to answer). Most participants (86%) lived on campus, where high-speed broadband Internet access is readily available. Previous research has shown that online file-sharing is ubiquitous among young college students with access to broadband Internet services (Bahanovich & Callopy, 2009; Bhattacharjee et al., 2003; Madden & Lenhart, 2003); therefore it was expected that most participants were exposed to illegal music downloading.


M.M. Jambon, J.G. Smetana / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39

Procedure Participants filled out a four-part online survey that took approximately 20 min to complete. The survey consisted of separate sets of questions regarding music affinity and downloading behaviors, a domain classification task, questions regarding illegal music downloading, and opinions regarding what the fair price of music should be. The sections of the survey and the questions within each section were presented in the same order unless otherwise specified. With the exception of questions regarding legal music purchases, all questions about downloading were explicitly described as pertaining to obtaining music illegally from p2p file sharing networks. Students were provided with information describing the nature of p2p networks as well as examples of popular networks. Measures Domain classification task This task, adapted from previous research (Nucci et al., 1991), elicited participants' domain placement of 24 domain-prototypical behaviors, six each moral, conventional, prudential, and personal presented in a random order (see Appendix A for the items). For each item, participants chose one of five statements characterizing how they felt about the activity. Each statement corresponded to a judgment of right or wrong and a justification category previously found to be uniquely associated with each domain (Smetana, 2006; Turiel, 1983). The statements choices were: “Wrong because it harms someone else” (moral), “Wrong only if there is a rule, law, or social expectation about it” (conventional), “Wrong because it may harm you” (prudentially unacceptable), “Alright because it is a personal choice” (personal), and “Alright but foolish because it may harm you” (prudentially acceptable). Scores were calculated as the proportion of participants classifying each item in a particular domain. Finally, proportions for the five statements within each domain were averaged to create four domain categories (moral, conventional, personal, and prudential). Evaluations of illegal downloading Participants' evaluations regarding illegal music downloading as well as the impact of profit and price concerns were obtained in three repeated measures conditions. The first, referred to as the Baseline condition, assessed moral evaluations of downloading with no mention of who received the majority of profits from record sales. For this reason, all participants received this condition first. Questions regarding downloading (described below) were asked with no reference to who received the profits. The order of the next two sections was randomly varied to ensure there were no order effects on responses. In one section, referred to as the Industry Profit condition, participants were told to imagine that record companies received the majority (90%) of the profits from music sales. Although participants were not made explicitly aware of this information, this condition highlights the salience of the music industry as it actually exists (Borg, 2003). The third section, referred to as the Artist Profit condition, used the same language as the Industry Profit condition but instead described the musicians as receiving the majority of the profits. This assessed how individuals viewed a situation in which the musicians, not the record labels, financially benefited from the sale of music. For all evaluations, participants were instructed to answer the questions in reference to new or emerging artists (as opposed to well established musicians). The decision to frame the question in this context was based on research suggesting that some individuals may view well established, wealthy musicians in the same manner as record companies in terms of how fair the pricing of their music is to the consumer (Leitman, 2004). For each of the three conditions, participants rated on 3-point scales ranging from 1 (not acceptable) to 3 (acceptable) their opinions regarding the acceptability of downloading for four items. First, participants

rated the act of downloading music illegally from a p2p network (initial acceptability). Next, participants evaluated downloading without paying if there were no rule or law against doing so (law contingency). Third, participants evaluated the acceptability of illegally downloading music if those who received the majority of profits did not care whether the music was downloaded for free and gave individuals permission to do so (permission granted). Finally, the influence of high price concerns was assessed by asking participants to evaluate illegal downloading if music were said to cost $5.00/CD and 30¢/song as opposed to the current price of $15/CD and 99¢/song (lower cost). Participants were also allowed to choose justifications for their initial acceptability and lower cost evaluations. Theory, past research, and pilot testing were used to derive the different justification categories. The moral justifications were: unfair system (e.g., “those who are receiving the profits are doing so unfairly”), stealing (e.g., “it is unfair to those who should be receiving the profits”), and consumer rights (e.g., “it is unfair to the consumer that music costs so much”). The conventional justifications were: social norm (e.g., “everyone else is doing it”), concern for law/punishment (e.g., “you will get in trouble; it's against the law”), and no concern for law/won't get caught (e.g., “it's okay because there is no chance of getting in trouble”). The law justifications were separated to reflect the possibility that participants could apply this reason to justify both positive and negative evaluations. Finally, the personal justification referred to personal choice (e.g., “it's a personal choice”). Participants could choose up to two justifications for each question. Responses were scored in terms of the proportional use of each justification. Fair price ratings Participants indicated what they believed to be a fair price to pay for music on 5-point interval scales. For “CDs”, the scale ranged from 1 (free) to 5 (more than $15), and for “songs” the scale ranged from 1 (free) to 5 (more than 99¢). Because the two questions were found to be highly correlated (r = .65) and the scale intervals were equal, they were combined to create one fair price rating, with lower scores indicating a greater discrepancy between the actual cost of music and what participants believe to be a fair price to pay. Downloading behavior Participants rated on 5-point scales ranging from 1 (Never) to 5 (Everyday/Constantly) how frequently they had recently obtained music illegally and legally (e.g., “In the past 2 months, how often have you illegally downloaded music from a p2p network” and “In the past 2 months, how often have you legally purchased music from places such as iTunes, record stores, etc..”). Approximately half (48%) of the participants had illegally downloaded music within the past two months, with 52% indicating that they had legally purchased music. Therefore, both scales were coded dichotomously (0 = no and 1 = yes) to reflect participants' illegal and legal download status. If applicable, participants also indicated how many songs they had illegally and legally obtained. Music affinity Music fanship was measured using a 5-item self-report scale used in previous research (Kinnally et al., 2008) assessing the importance of music in individuals' daily lives. Participants rated each item (e.g., “I would rather listen to music than do anything else” and “Listening to music is one of the most important things I do each day”) on a 5-point scale (1 = disagree to 5 = agree). Ratings were averaged to create a composite music affinity score for each participant (α = .87). Results Domain classification task The prototypical moral items were primarily (77%) classified as moral, with a small proportion of responses (14%) classified as conventional.

M.M. Jambon, J.G. Smetana / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39

Likewise, the prototypical prudential items were primarily classified as prudential (79%), with most of the remaining items classified as personal (14%). Nearly all responses regarding the personal items (90%) were classified as personal. The majority of conventional responses (57%) were classified as conventional, although a substantial minority was treated as prudential (22%). Four one-way ANOVAs with illegal download status as the independent variable were performed on responses classified appropriately in each domain. As expected, these analyses revealed no differences between those who had and had not illegally downloaded in the ability to correctly classify domain-prototypical items. Judgments and justifications: The structure of the music industry Acceptability judgments A 3 (Question Type: initial, law contingency, permission granted) × 3 (Condition: Baseline, Industry Profit, Artist Profit) repeated measures ANOVA with question type and condition as within-subject factors was performed on participants' acceptability ratings. Significant main effects were found for question type, F(2, 368) = 113.72, p b .01, ηp2 = .38, and condition, F(2, 368) = 6.37, p b .01, ηp2 = .03. As expected, individuals were mixed in their overall evaluations of illegal downloading (initial acceptability, M = 2.05, SD = .54), although downloading was seen as more acceptable (less wrong) when there were no rules prohibiting it (law contingency, M = 2.43, SD = .57) and when permission had been given from those who profited from the sale of music (permission granted, M = 2.63, SD = .49). Additionally, participants viewed downloading without paying as least acceptable, overall, when musicians were described as receiving the majority of profits (Artist Profit, M = 2.31, SD = .49), compared to when there was no mention of profits (Baseline, M = 2.39, SD = .46) or when the record companies were portrayed as receiving the profits (Industry Profit, M = 2.40, SD = .53). Overall acceptability judgments did not differ between the Baseline and Industry Profit conditions. As hypothesized, however, these main effects were qualified by a significant Question Type × Condition interaction, F(4, 736) = 14.50, p b .01, ηp2 = .07. To examine how concerns regarding the structure of the music industry influenced different evaluations, repeated measures ANOVAs with condition as the within-subject factor were performed separately for each acceptability question. As expected, condition was significant in each analysis, Fs(2, 368) = 16.70, 6.42, 8.26, ps b .01, ηp2 = .08, .03, .04, for initial acceptability, law contingency, and permission granted ratings, respectively. Therefore, post-hoc Bonferroni t tests were performed to test significant effects. Means and standard deviations are presented in Table 1. For initial acceptability evaluations, participants judged illegal downloading to be less acceptable in the Artist Profit condition than in the Industry Profit condition. Both profit conditions differed significantly in the expected directions. Industry Profit ratings were significantly higher and Artist Profit ratings were significantly lower than the Baseline condition, where no mention was made of profits. This judgment pattern held even if there were no laws against file-sharing (law

contingency question); individuals rated Artist Profit downloading as significantly more wrong (less acceptable) than downloading in the Industry Profit condition. Although in the expected direction, the differences between the two profit conditions and the Baseline condition were not significant (ps N .10). While the initial acceptability and law contingency questions produced similar patterns in evaluations, as hypothesized, the pattern of acceptability judgments for the permission granted question was reversed. That is, when given permission to download by those who received the profits from the sale of music, students viewed illegal downloading as more acceptable when the musicians who create the music, compared to the record companies, granted permission to do so. Downloading when the industry had given permission was also viewed as less acceptable compared to when there was no mention of profits, although there was no difference in ratings between the Baseline and Artist Profit conditions.

Initial acceptability justifications The proportions of justifications endorsed for initial acceptability judgments are presented in Table 2. The three conventional justifications (social norm, concern for law/punishment, and no concern for law/ won't get caught) each represented less than 10% of all justifications used in each condition and thus were dropped from the analyses. An initial repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) on proportionate use of the remaining justifications (unfair system, stealing, personal choice, and consumer rights) by condition revealed a significant effect of condition, Wilks' Lamda F(8, 168) = 7.37, p b .01, ηp2 = .26. Follow-up repeated measures ANOVAs with condition as the within-subject factor were performed on the proportional use of each category; significant effects were found, Fs(2, 35) = 21.42, 3.80, 7.57, 6.28, p b .05, ηp2 = .11, .02, .04, .04, for the unfair system, stealing, personal choice, consumer rights justifications, respectively. As expected, participants endorsed the unfair system category significantly more in the Industry Profit compared to the Baseline and Artist Profit conditions. Use did not differ in the Artist Profit and Baseline conditions. Contrary to hypotheses, stealing justifications did not differ between the Industry and Artist Profit conditions. However, endorsement of the stealing category was higher in the two conditions where profits where made salient compared to the Baseline condition, although the effect was marginal for the Industry Profit condition after adjusting for pairwise comparisons (p b .06). Also contrary to expectations, students endorsed personal choice justifications significantly less in the Industry Profit condition than in the Artist Profit and Baseline conditions. Finally, consumer rights justifications were endorsed significantly more when there was no mention of profits (Baseline N Artist and Industry Profit), while proportional use between the two profit conditions did not differ.

Table 2 Initial acceptability and lower cost justifications by condition (proportions). Initial Justification

Table 1 Mean (SD) acceptability judgments, by condition. Condition Baseline Initial Law contingency Permission granted Lower cost

2.06 2.43 2.69 1.86

(.60)a (.65)ab (.58)a (.68)a

Industry profit 2.19 (.69)b 2.50 (.62)a 2.53 (.64)b 2.10 (.67)b

Artist profit 1.90 2.35 2.68 1.95

(.67)c (.69)b (.57)a (.70)a

Note. Three-point scale (1–3). Means in the same row with different subscripts differ. p b .05.


Unfair system Stealing Consumer rights Social norm Concern for law No concern for law Personal choice

Lower cost


Industry profit

Artist profit


Industry profit

Artist profit

.11 .29 .20

.22 .35 .13

.09 .37 .15

.09 .34 .10

.16 .33 .11

.07 .33 .12

.06 .09

.05 .05

.05 .06

.09 .07

.07 .07

.07 .07













Note. Numbers in each column may not add up to 1.00 because of rounding.


M.M. Jambon, J.G. Smetana / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39

Judgments and justifications: The cost of music Fair price Consistent with expectations, the majority of our sample indicated that the current price of music is unfairly high, with 90% of participants suggesting that music should not cost more than $10/CD or 30¢/song. However, only a small minority (5%) indicated that they believed music should be free. Lower cost acceptability judgments In order to assess whether removing the concern for high prices influenced individuals' acceptability judgments, a 3 (Condition) × 2 (Price Question: initial vs. lower cost) repeated measures ANOVA, with price question and condition as within-subject factors, was performed on participants' acceptability ratings (see Table 1). To avoid redundancies with previous analyses, the main effect of condition was not considered. The omnibus ANOVA yielded a significant main effect for price question, F(1, 182) = 12.19, p b .01, ηp2 = .06, indicating that across conditions, illegal downloading was judged to be less acceptable if music was cheaper (M = 2.05, SD = .54) compared to when there was no mention of price (M = 1.96, SD = .58). However, this was qualified by a significant Price Question × Condition interaction, F(2, 364) = 7.64, p b .001, ηp2 = .04. Follow-up tests revealed that manipulating price concerns resulted in lower acceptability ratings in the Baseline, F(1, 185) = 29.78, p b .01, ηp2 = .14 and Industry Profit conditions, F(1, 182) = 4.83, p b .05, ηp2 = .03, but there was no difference in the Artist Profit condition. Lower cost justifications As found previously, the three conventional justifications each accounted for less than 10% of lower cost justifications in each condition and were therefore dropped from further analyses. An initial omnibus 2 (Price Question) × 3 (Condition) repeated measures MANOVA was performed to examine whether removing the salient concern for price changed the way students reasoned about illegal downloading. To avoid redundancies with previous analyses, we focus only on the main effect of Price Question (which would indicate different patterns of justification use due to the manipulation) and the Price Question × Condition interaction (indicating that this effect differs by condition). The MANOVA yielded a significant main effect of Price Question, F(4, 167) = 7.53, p b .01, ηp2 = .15, although this was qualified by the significant Price Question × Condition interaction, F(8, 163) = 2.53, p b .01, ηp2 = .11. Followup repeated measures ANOVAs by price question and condition were conducted on each justification category. Findings from these analyses are presented for each justification category in turn. Unfair system. A significant main effect of price question, F(1, 170) = 9.52, p b .01, ηp2 = .05, showed that, across conditions, appeals to an unfair system decreased when music was said to cost less (ΔM = −.04). This effect was qualified by the significant Question Type × Condition interaction, F(2, 340) = 3.31, p b .05, ηp2 = .02, showing that the decrease in unfair system responses was only significant in the Industry Profit condition (ΔM = −.07, p b .01). Stealing. There was a significant Price Question × Condition interaction, F(2, 340) = 4.34, p b .05, ηp2 = .03, revealing that appeals to stealing justifications increased when concerns about price were removed in the Baseline condition (ΔM = .05, p b .05), but there were no differences in stealing justifications between the price questions in the two profit conditions. Consumer rights. A significant main effect of price question, F(1, 170) = 11.13, p b .01, ηp2 = .06, showed that, across conditions, appeals to the rights of consumers decreased when music was said to cost less (ΔM = −.05), although this was qualified by a significant Price Question × Condition interaction, F(2, 340) = 6.29, p b .01, ηp2 = .04.

This showed that decreases were only significant in the Baseline condition (ΔM = −.10, p b .01), with no differences in consumer rights justification use in the two profit conditions. Personal choice. A significant main effect of price question, F(1, 170) = 13.14, p b .01, ηp2 = .07, indicated that, across the three conditions, appeals to downloading as a personal choice increased when music was said to cost less (ΔM = .05, p b .01). The Price Question × Condition interaction was not significant. Associations with illegal downloading As discussed previously, approximately half of the participants (48%) reported having illegally downloaded music within the last two months, with a median of 15 songs. Rates were similar for legal purchases, with 52% of participants indicating that they had bought music, with those who had done so purchasing a median of 13 songs. In addition to music affinity and fair price beliefs, justifications representing more than 10% of responses were examined in connection to illegal downloading. As the main goal of the study was to examine variations in individuals' reasoning in response to manipulated concerns, and participants were limited to two justifications per response, it is possible that all of the salient concerns regarding downloading may not have been captured with any single question. Therefore, each justification category was averaged across the three conditions as well as across the two acceptability questions (initial and lower cost) to create a mean justification use score for each category. Means, standard deviations, and correlations for the relevant variables are shown in Table 3. As expected, individuals who illegally downloaded showed higher levels of music fanship. Although fair price ratings (lower scores indicating a greater discrepancy between the actual price of music and what individuals rated as a fair price) and stealing justifications showed significant, negative bivariate correlations with illegal downloading, justifications pertaining to an unfair system, consumer rights, and personal choice were not significantly associated with illegal download status. Therefore, a sequential binary logistic regression was conducted to assess the unique associations between music affinity, fair price ratings, stealing justification use, and illegal download status. The results of the analysis are shown in Table 4. Music affinity was entered in the first step and, as expected, was shown to be a significant predictor of illegal download status. Moral judgments, entered in the second step, significantly improved the model. Controlling for music fanship, individuals who had greater discrepancies between the actual price of music and what they believed to be fair (lower fair price ratings) and students

Table 3 Illegal downloading, music affinity, fair price beliefs, and overall proportional justification use: Correlations and descriptive statistics. 1. 1. IDL statusa 2. Music affinity 3. Fair price rating 4. Unfair systemb 5. Stealingb 6. Consumer rightsb 7. Personal choiceb M (SD) Range

– .16⁎ −.21⁎ −.05 −.22⁎⁎ .04 .09 .48 (.50) 0–1







– .15⁎ .08 .09 −.13† .09 3.15 (1.07) 1–5

– −.14⁎ .30⁎⁎ −.34⁎⁎ .10 2.74 (.70) 1–4

– .02 .05 −.24⁎⁎ .12 (.17) 0–1

– −.15⁎ −.25⁎⁎ .34 (.27) 0–1

– −.15⁎ .14 (.18) 0–1

– .24 (.28) 0–1

Note. IDL = illegal download. a IDL status: 0 = has not illegally downloaded, 1 = has illegally downloaded. b Scores represent mean proportion of justification use across all conditions and questions. † p b .10. ⁎ p b .05. ⁎⁎ p b .01.

M.M. Jambon, J.G. Smetana / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39 Table 4 Logistic regression predicting past downloading from music affinity and moral evaluations. 95% confidence intervals for odds ratio Change in Χ2 Step 1 Music affinity Step 2 Fair price Stealing

Model Nagelkerke R2






Odds ratio







−.51 −.33

0.60⁎⁎ 0.72⁎

0.42 0.52

.85 1.00

Note. The B's and odds ratios are from the final step and are based on z-score transformations of each variable. ⁎ p ≤ .05. ⁎⁎ p ≤ .01.

who endorsed the stealing justification less were more likely to have illegally downloaded over the past two months. Discussion Although the unauthorized sharing of music files is prohibited by state, federal, and international laws, many late adolescents and emerging adults continue to illegally obtain music online. To better understand their reasoning about these behaviors, we examined college students' evaluations of illegal music downloading using the framework of social domain theory. Overall, the findings showed that students treated illegal downloading as a complex issue entailing conflicts between competing claims. Manipulations in information about the nature of the music industry and the price of music were systematically associated with variations in judgments. In addition, moral beliefs were uniquely associated with past illegal downloading over and above the extent to which individuals viewed music as important in their lives. The results from the domain classification task revealed that, as expected, the college students in our sample were able to distinguish among prototypical moral, conventional, personal, and prudential events. Importantly, this ability did not differ between students who had and had not illegally downloaded, casting doubt on the claim (Gerlich, 2005; Gopal et al., 2004; Levin et al., 2007, 2004) that youth who engage in illegal music downloading are more ethically and morally deficient. However, in line with our proposition that music downloading represents a complex moral issue for many college students, highlighting moral concerns about the structure of profit distribution in the music industry and the perceived unfair price for consumers was shown here to influence judgments in systematic ways. Consistent with previous surveys showing that many college students believe that musicians do not receive enough of the profits from the sale of their own music (Kwong & Lee, 2002; Leitman, 2004; Levin et al., 2004), illegal downloading was judged to be most wrong when artists were described as receiving the profits and least wrong when the industry was described as doing so (which reflects the current business model in the music industry). The notion that the music industry is seen as inherently unfair was also supported by two other findings. First, differences between the profit conditions persisted even in the absence of a prohibitive law, suggesting that the wrongness of downloading was more independent of rules (a criterion of morality according to social domain theory) when musicians stood to lose the most from it. Second, this pattern reversed when individuals were allowed to download by those who received the majority of profits. That is, they judged illegal downloading to be more alright when musicians were the ones granting permission, suggesting that the recording industry was viewed as having less legitimate authority over the product than the artists who create it. Research has consistently shown that individuals who judge music to be too expensive are more likely to illegally download songs online (Kwong & Lee, 2002; Plowman & Goode, 2009). Some researchers


have viewed this association as primarily an economic matter, assuming that the ability to acquire high-quality music for free has ultimately led to a devaluing of the product being sold (Bhattacharjee et al., 2003). While this may certainly play a role, the results of the current study suggest that individuals are also actively concerned with balancing the need to pay for music with their own rights as consumers. As reflected in their fair price ratings, the vast majority of participants thought that the current price of music was unfairly high. This was mirrored in their acceptability judgments as well, with youth judging illegal downloading to be significantly more wrong when cost was removed as a concern. Thus, rather than simply reflecting purely pragmatic or economic concerns, these responses also revealed a decidedly moral orientation. They also challenge the common perception that youth today do not believe in having to pay for music (Bhattacharjee et al., 2003; Gerlich, 2005; Levin et al., 2004). In fact, nearly all participants (95%) believed that music should cost at least something. While college students are concerned about the unfair price the industry charges for music, they also seem to see the merits of paying for goods received. Although the acceptability ratings show that evaluations of downloading are influenced by competing moral concerns, participants' justification use revealed a more complex picture. As expected, individuals were more likely to view illegal downloading as stealing if music was cheaper. However, endorsement of this justification did not differ between the Industry and Artist Profit conditions. In fact, concerns with stealing were the predominant justification, accounting for a third all responses. Some researchers have suggested that individuals who illegally download notice but are unconcerned with its repercussions, or that students may simply not believe that the record companies need the money that is lost (Levin et al., 2007). An alternative explanation is that individuals are attending to the fact that illegally acquiring music involves taking something without paying, but they are also actively attempting to coordinate this belief with other important moral concerns regarding the rights of both the musicians and themselves as consumers. Support for this interpretation comes from the pattern of findings regarding the unfair system and consumer rights justifications. Participants appealed less to an unfair system in the Artist Profit as compared to the Industry Profit condition, in spite of the identical profit differential (90% compared to 10%). It seems that concerns about the music industry do not simply reflect an aversion to inequality in profit share, but rest on a belief that musicians are being treated unfairly. Similarly, removing the high price of music resulted in decreases in appeals to the rights of consumers. Interestingly, lowering the cost of music also resulted in fewer appeals to an unfair system in the Industry Profit condition, suggesting that addressing one important concern such as the high price of music may have implications for how individuals evaluate the recording industry in general. This may also explain why appeals to consumer rights decreased when the structure of the music industry was made salient in the profit conditions (compared to baseline). Taken together, these findings are in line with the notion that individuals actively try to make sense of their worlds (Smetana, 2006, 2011; Turiel, 1983). Furthermore, this flexibility of thought reflects the developmental capabilities of late adolescents and young adults to balance and coordinate different types of concerns in their moral judgments (Nucci & Turiel, 2009). In addition to balancing multiple moral concerns, appeals to personal choice were also fairly common, accounting for nearly 25% of responses in the Baseline condition. This may at first be counterintuitive given that an important feature of personal issues is that they do not have harmful consequences for others (Nucci, 1981). Moreover, use of personal choice justifications varied by condition and question, but in the opposite direction than expected. That is, we expected students to appeal to personal choice more when the record companies were said to receive the profits and less when music was said to be cheaper. Instead, we found the reverse, with individuals viewing it as more of a personal prerogative when conflicting concerns (for an unfair system and high price) were removed. It seems that college students appear to view downloading as both an act of stealing and as a harmless matter of personal preference.


M.M. Jambon, J.G. Smetana / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39

These antithetical views may be related to the nature of digital music. Downloading music involves copying electronic files which, unlike concrete forms of theft, does not result in the loss of physical property. Research on reasoning about illegal commercial software copying has shown that adolescents often do not believe that such actions result in harmful consequences because the original owners still retain possession of the property (Friedman, 1997). In addition, individuals often report illegal downloading in order to sample new music before deciding to buy it or downloading songs they otherwise would not have purchased (Bhattacharjee et al., 2003; Miller, 2005). Seen in this light, these seemingly contradictory beliefs can be reconciled. Future research should more closely examine how individuals coordinate these two conflicting concerns in their judgments regarding digital goods and media. We also examined whether moral evaluations would be associated with illegal downloading activity. In addition to the role of music fanship, fair price ratings and a focus on stealing were both uniquely associated with having illegally downloaded within the past two months. In contrast to research using broad, trait-like measures of moral functioning (Chen et al., 2008; d'Astous et al., 2005; Lysonski & Durvasula, 2008), these significant associations support the proposition that college students' moral evaluations are implicated in their everyday decisions to download. Although causality cannot be assumed due to the cross-sectional design of this study, the links between moral beliefs and past downloading do provide some insights into the reasoning of those who illegally download music. Specifically, the results are inconsistent with the assertion that interest in music and high speed internet access are the most important determinants of decisions to illegally download (Bhattacharjee et al., 2003; Gerlich, 2005). Furthermore, while past research has found that concern for the price of music is a strong predictor of downloading activities, it typically has been assessed in utilitarian or economic terms, such as gauging participants' willingness to illegally download in different situations of varying price (Plowman & Goode, 2009). The present study extended these findings by asking participants directly what they believed a fair price for music should be and found that moral appeals for a fair price were associated with past downloading. Appeals to an unfair system or personal choice, however, were not correlated with decisions to download. Although it is possible these concerns are simply not relevant for actual downloading behaviors, the null findings may reflect the nature of both the research design and the act of downloading itself. The main goal of the present study was to examine normative variations in how individuals reason about a complex, multifaceted issue when different concerns were made salient. Therefore, the current stimuli were not designed to capture overall general attitudes, which as we've shown most likely involve a variety of complex moral and non-moral components. Therefore, it is notable that appeals to an unfair system and personal choice were not limited to those who had downloaded illegally. Future research should further explore the specific connections between moral and non-moral factors affecting decisions to download that are not based on global, trait-like conceptions of morality. Limitations and future directions Our sample was ethnically diverse, and the prevalence of music use (including legal purchases) was consistent with large scale surveys of youth media consumption (Bahanovich & Callopy, 2009). The present sample was drawn from a predominantly middle class, private university setting, however, which may limit its generalizability to other populations. Additionally, although the pattern of findings obtained was strongly consistent with our theoretical expectations, it should be noted that many of the effect sizes here were small in magnitude, as is common in much social–cognitive research. Future research should explore judgments utilizing semi-structured interview procedures that would allow for a more sensitive examination of the dynamic reasoning process. The results of the present study could be interpreted as simply reflecting college students' shifting rationalizations and deflections of

blame regarding an illegal activity, as many have suggested (Gerlich, 2005; Gopal et al., 2004; Levin et al., 2007, 2004; Plowman & Goode, 2009). While the cross-sectional nature of the study does not allow us to examine whether illegal downloading leads to post-hoc rationalizations or changes in individuals' judgments and justifications, we do not believe this to be the case. According to social domain theory, individuals actively try to make sense of their social worlds. From this perspective, researchers must consider the information individuals use to inform their moral evaluations, regardless of whether the information is factually accurate or true (Turiel, 2010; Wainryb, 2000). Youth who download may or may not be aware of the veracity of their beliefs regarding the economic repercussions of illegal downloading for record companies and musicians or the actual cost of making and producing music. However, these types of beliefs do serve an important role in informing individuals' moral judgments, as research regarding a variety of complex social issues such as abortion, social exclusion, and corporal punishment has shown (see Smetana, 2006 for a review). Longitudinal research would be useful to determine how involvement in illegal downloading influences one's interpretations of the act over time. We focused on college students in the current study because they represent the age group most engaged in illegal downloading and, consequently, at the greatest risk of legal repercussions. However, this does raise questions about the broader developmental origins of their judgments and behaviors. Although little attention has been given to issues of intellectual property from a developmental perspective, research suggests that practices such as file-sharing among friends and digital plagiarism are common among middle and high school students (Bahanovich & Callopy, 2009; McCabe, 2001). Among our college sample, nearly half of our participants had illegally downloaded within the past two months, and unpublished data from our study suggests that students engage in other illegal digital sharing activities with even greater frequency. Given that over 90% of teens are online (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010), future developmental research must address how children and adolescents understand, reason about, and coordinate issues of intellectual property and digital ownership. As noted earlier, studies of children's and adolescents' moral and social judgments have found increases with age in their ability to attend to and coordinate conflicting moral elements of situations and to integrate morally ambiguous information into their evaluations (Helwig, 2006; Nucci & Turiel, 2009; Smetana, 2006; Smetana & Villalobos, 2009). Because these abilities are still developing into late adolescence, children and younger teens may differ drastically from older individuals in their understanding of issues such as intellectual property and digital ownership, which may lead them to be at an increased risk of engaging in illegal or risky behaviors online. Finally, our findings help to explain why downloading has continued unabated in the face of recent campaigns aimed at convincing the public that file-sharing is equivalent to more traditional forms of theft (d'Astous et al., 2005). For many college students, illegal downloading may be viewed as combating what they see as an unjust system that is biased against both the consumers and the musicians. Given what we learned here about individuals' perceptions of illegal downloading, future attempts to curb similar behaviors should take into account the pressing interests that are salient to those involved. Most students do not wish music to be free, as many commentators have argued. Rather, it appears that young college students do have intact moral judgment abilities, as evidenced by their performance on the domain classification task, and that they do indeed care about the morality of downloading. However, the rights of the consumers and artists, and not the record companies, seem to be of most concern. Regardless of whether file-sharing is viewed as an acceptable or appropriate activity by the music industry or the researchers who study it, a failure to seriously consider the perspective of those involved will result, at best, in an incomplete understanding of why individuals continue to illegally download music.

M.M. Jambon, J.G. Smetana / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 31–39

Appendix A. Domain classification items Moral

Spreading lies about a coworker Taking all of the credit on a project to which others contributed significantly Not allowing women to vote in a presidential election in the United States Refusing to hire someone solely on the basis of their race/ethnicity Stealing someone's wallet Spanking a child for no reason Conventional Addressing a judge in court by his/her first name instead of “Your Honor” Speaking out in a large lecture class without raising your hand Not paying overdue parking tickets Eating pasta with your hands at a business meeting Using foul language while talking to someone's grandmother Going to a funeral service in shorts Personal Staying up until 3:00 am watching a movie Watching t.v. while eating dinner alone Wearing a hat to a baseball game Calling your parents instead of sending them an email Going out with friends Dying your hair a different color Prudential Not wearing a coat outside when it's freezing Not brushing your teeth Riding a motorcycle without a helmet Not washing your hands before eating Eating fast food everyday Using smokeless tobacco products (chewing or dipping)

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