Piracy, Self-Control Theory, and Rational Choice: An Examination of the Role
George E. Higgins
several researchers have shown that attitudes, low self-control, social
learning theory and deterrence theory to explain digital piracy. However, no
study examined whether rational choice theory mediated the link between low
self-control and digital piracy. Further, no study in digital piracy or
criminological literature had considered the role of value in such an
examination. Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to contribute to
the literature by examining the links between low self-control, rational
choice, value, and digital piracy. This study built on the mediating model
presented by Piquero and Tibbetts (1996). That is, this study assumed that
rational choice theory mediated the link between low self-control and digital
piracy. Further, this study assumed that some situational factors would
mediate the effect of other situational factors
Rational Choice theory, Digital Piracy, Low self-control, Social Learning
was defined as the illegal copying of digital goods, software, digital
documents, digital audio (including music and voice), and digital video for
any other reason other than to backup without explicit permission from and
compensation to the copyright holder (Gopal, Sanders, Bahattacharjee, Agrawal,
& Wagner, 2004). In particular, digital piracy had been illegal since the
Copyright Act of 1976 (Im & Koen, 1990) that had been amended in the No
Electronic Theft (NET) Act (Koen & Im, 1997). These acts made the copying and
distribution of digital media over the Internet a felony offense. These laws
had produced several court cases for pirating software, music, and movies from
the Internet (Motivans, 2004).
The World Intellectual Property
(WIPO) has developed several treaties to assist in the protection of
copyrights. Specifically, WIPO has three treaties that preclude the unlawful
taking of copyrighted material: The Copyright Treaty, The Performers and
Producers of Phonograms Treaty, and The Databases Treaty. Regardless of these
treaties, Rao (2003) showed that the international piracy rates increased in
the years of 2000 and 2001. Therefore, piracy is a worldwide behavior.
Because of the attributes of the Internet, piracy took place in almost
complete deceit making the tracking of rates nearly impossible. However, an
industry groups had estimated that software piracy accounted for nearly 11
billion dollars in lost revenue and contributed to loss of jobs and reduced
government revenues (Business Software Alliance, 2003).
Equally as important as the illegality and economic implications were the
perpetrators of this act. Hinduja (2001, 2003) and Hollinger (1988) argued
that software piracy was rampant among college aged students. This should not
be shocking as college students routinely used computers and highly priced
software (Higgins, 2005). These students were generally male and were
enrolled in the liberal arts. To date, several researchers had shown that
attitudes (Rahim, Seyal, & Rahman, 2001), low self-control (Higgins, 2005),
social learning theory (Skinner & Fream, 1997), and deterrence theory (Gopal
et al., 2004; Higgins,
Fell, 2005) could explain digital piracy. However, no study examined whether
rational choice theory mediated the link between low self-control and digital
piracy. Further, no study in the digital piracy or criminological literature
had considered the role of value in such an examination.
purpose of the present study was to contribute to the literature by examining
the links between low self-control, rational choice, value, and digital
piracy. This study built on the mediating model presented by Piquero and
Tibbetts (1996). That is, this study assumed that rational choice theory
mediated the link between low self-control and digital piracy. Further, this
study assumed that some situational factors would mediate the effect of other
situational factors. This contributed to the literature in two unique ways.
First, the study validated the Piquero and Tibbetts’s (1996) model. Second,
this study advanced rational choice, self-control theory, and the digital
piracy literatures by including a measure of value in the model as a form of
motivation. To make these contributions, this study presented self-control
theory and rational choice theory. The role of value in self-control and
rational choice theories is discussed and the methods, results, and discussion
are presented in order.
and Hirschi’s (1990) General Theory of Crime, now known as self-control
theory, is one of the most popular crime theories (Agnew, 1995; Tibbetts &
Gibson, 2002). The key component of their theory is low self-control. Low
self-control is the time-stable individual difference that regulates
behavior. Individuals with low self-control are the probable result of
ineffective or poor parenting practices early in life--before the age of
eight. Specifically, parents that are not effective or consistent in forming
an emotional attachment with their child will make the task of monitoring
their child’s behavior difficult. The difficulty of monitoring the child’s
behavior reduces the probability that the parents will recognize their child’s
deviant behavior. This will reduce the opportunity for parents to apply
non-corporal punishment for deviant behavior. Thus, these individuals are more
likely to prefer simple and easy tasks; prefer physical rather than mental
activities; prefer risky behaviors; prefer to focus on themselves; and prefer
not to control their temper. That is, these individuals are likely to have
low self-control and be more likely to disregard the long-term effects of
their decisions for themselves and for others (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990).
With this disregard, low self-control manifests itself in several ways. One
way is in the form of criminal behavior. For Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990),
crime is an act of force or fraud that an individual pursues to satisfy their
interests. Crimes are attractive to those with low self-control because crime
shares many of the characteristics of low self-control. For instance, crimes
are risky, immediately gratifying, easy and simple to perform (Gottfredson &
Hirschi, 1990). Thus, low self-control should have a link with digital
piracy. That is, individuals with low self-control may not be able to delay
purchasing their own copy of the digital media. The individual with low
self-control is not likely to honor the trust in the licensing agreement
between the creator of the digital media and the copyright holder. Digital
piracy is not necessarily a physical act, piracy may provide a thrill. Given
the simplicity of the Internet, digital piracy is simple and easy to perform.
far, the literature is supportive of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) theory.
Specifically, the majority of the empirical research indicated that low
self-control has at least a moderate link with criminal behavior (Pratt &
To date, two studies have
directly examined and shown that low self-control--measured using self-reports
and mother reports--remains relatively stable over time (Arneklev, Cochran, &
Gainey, 1999; Turner & Piquero, 2002). Some researchers showed that low
self-control had a link with digital piracy (Higgins, 2005; Higgins & Makin,
2004a, b; Higgins, Wilson, & Fell, 2005, in-press; Higgins & Wilson, in-press).
Based on previous researchers results it is expected that low self-control
will have a direct effect on digital piracy, these researchers have not
considered the complete role of rational choice theory in self-control theory,
nor have these researchers examined the role of value in the context of
Cornish and Clarke (1986) presented that rational choice had three
components. The first component of the theory was that individuals would
perform criminal acts if they believed that these acts would be to their
benefit. This sort of determination required a basic decision-making
process. Although the process of making this decision would be bounded by
limited information (Simon, 1957), criminal decision-making would be a
rational processing of the cost (i.e., the pain) and the benefits of the act
(i.e., the pleasure, thrill, or excitement). When the individual viewed that
the criminal act would provide more of a benefit than a cost, the individual
would perform the criminal act.
Second, Cornish and Clarke (1986) suggested that rational choice theory
required a crime-specific focus. The crime specific focus was necessary to
capture the idiosyncrasies of different needs that were attached to a criminal
act. In addition, this type of focus brought attention the situation or
context of a criminal act rather than to the individual. The crime specific
focus allowed for sensitivity to the differences in the information necessary
for different crimes. Cornish and Clarke (1986) argued, “[T]o ignore these
differences might well be to reduce significantly one’s ability to identify
fruitful points of intervention . . .” (p. 2).
Third, an important distinction was made between criminal involvement and the
criminal event. Criminal involvement and criminal events identified decisions
that an individual made to participate in crime. On one hand, criminal
involvement is the process that an individual used to become initially
involved in a particular crime, to continue, and to desist (Cronish & Clarke,
1986). This decision required a substantial amount of information. This
information came in different stages of the decision-making process and was
not always directly related to the behavior (i.e., some of the information may
have been pro-social as well as criminal). On the other hand, the criminal
event is the decision to participate in a specific crime. This type of
decision was short-term and relied on information that was related to the
immediate circumstance or situation.
While under scrutiny from many researchers, rational choice theory had enjoyed
varied empirical research support for academic dishonesty, sexual assault,
theft and drinking and driving (Bachman, Paternoster, & Ward, 1992; Hickman &
Piquero, 2000; Nagin & Paternoster, 1993; Piquero & Tibbetts, 1996; Tibbetts,
1997; Tibbetts & Myers, 1999).
Three streams of research were available that concerned the integration of
self-control theory and rational choice theory (i.e., theoretical, moderating,
and mediating). Theoretically, self-control theory was presented as being
predicated on rational choice theory (Birkbeck & Lafree, 1993; Gottfredson &
Hirschi, 1990). Empirically, researchers showed that low self-control was
moderated by rational choice or deterrence type measures to explain crime and
delinquency (Wright et al., 2004). Other researches showed that rational
choice theory partially mediated the effect between low self-control and crime
and deviance (Higgins & Marcum, 2005; Nagin & Paternoster, 1993; Tibbetts,
1997; Tibbetts & Myers, 1999). To date, only one study examined the role of
deterrence/rational choice for digital piracy (Higgins,
& Fell, 2005). They found that certainty rather than severity had reduced the
likelihood for digital piracy. In the present study, it is expected that
external beliefs would have a link with digital piracy. Further, it is
expected that rational choice measures (i.e., shame, morality, and prior
behavior) would have a link with digital piracy.
the self-control and rational choice literatures, some researchers had
integrated the two theories (Nagin & Paternoster, 1993; Tibbetts, 1997;
Tibbetts & Myers, 1999; Wright et al., 2004). Wright et al. (2004) showed
that rational choice theory moderated the link between low self-control and
delinquency. Other researchers, using similar statistical methods (i.e.,
multiple regression with interaction terms) showed that the effects of low
self-control were mediated by rational choice measures.
particular, Piquero and Tibbetts (1996) used responses to a factorial survey
from college students and structural equation modeling to examine the
mediating role of situational characteristics, low self-control, and crime
(i.e., drinking and driving and shoplifting). Their results showed that a
large portion of the effects on crime were indirect through the situational
characteristics. Importantly, Piquero and Tibbetts’s (1996) results showed
that some situational characteristics (i.e., perceived pleasure and perceived
shame) influenced other situational characteristics as well as by low
self-control. To conclude, Piquero and Tibbetts (1996) supported Cornish and
Clarke’s (1986) and Bernard and Snipes’s (1996) contention that propensities
(e.g., low self-control) would precede situational characteristics.
While these researchers advanced our understanding of the linkage between low
self-control and rational choice theory, additional research was needed to
understand the role of value as a situational characteristic. Given the
fluctuations of rational choice theory due to the changes in the behavior,
additional research was necessary in the context of digital piracy.
The Role of Value in Rational Choice and Self-Control Theories
Rational choice theory is based on subjective expected utility. Baron (1988)
defined utility as,
concept of utility respects the variety of human goals. It represents
whatever people want to achieve. Some people do not want pleasure as much as
they want other things (such as virtue, productive work, enlightenment,
respect, or love--even when these are painful things to have). The utility of
an outcome is also different from the amount of money we would pay to achieve
it (p. 287).’
definition is rooted in utilitarianism moral philosophy. Deci and Ryan (1987)
argued that behaviors are deemed as right when behaviors provide happiness,
but wrong when behaviors provide the opposite of happiness. The subjective
expectancy utility (SEU) theory assumes that individuals will seek to maximize
the utility and subjective probability because the behavior will provide
happiness. Thus, SEU is a theory of decision-making in various contexts and
situations where options may be available. SEU provides that individuals are
likely to perform behaviors that provide happiness.
Felson (1979, 1993) argued that value was an individual’s perception of gain
(i.e., perception of happiness) from a particular target or behavior.
Consistent with the SEU view, Deci and Ryan (1991) argued when an individual
identifies with the value of an activity, he or she takes full responsibility
for the performance of the behavior.
The purpose of the present study was to address the gap in the literature by
presenting the first systematic examination of self-control, rational choice,
and value in the context of digital piracy. This exploratory research
contributed to the self-control theory, rational choice theory and digital
piracy literatures. Regarding the self-control theory literature, the present
study went beyond previous efforts that integrated rational choice using a
pleasure or thrill measure as the main benefit (Nagin & Paternoster, 1993;
Piquero & Tibbetts, 1996; Tibbetts & Herz, 1996; Tibbetts & Myers, 1999).
Regarding the digital piracy literature, the present study was the first
effort to examine the mediating role of rational choice theory in the link
between self-control and digital piracy that included a measure of value.
Further, the present study provided important information for college
administrators and other policy-makers that may reduce instances of digital
After Institutional Review Board and Human Subject Protection review, data for
this analysis were collected during the fall 2004 semester. Specifically, the
researchers gave a self-report questionnaire to college students at a
southeastern university in the United States. The students were from
different majors enrolled in two courses that were open to all majors and four
courses that were only open to justice administration majors. The researchers
asked students who were present on the day of the questionnaire administration
to take part in the study during the class period. The researchers told the
students of the voluntary nature of the study, and that all responses were
anonymous and confidential. This set of procedures produced 386 surveys;
however, after list wise deletion for missing cases, 382 completed surveys
remained for analysis. The use of a student sample in some studies of
deterrence theory may be problematic because the students may not perform the
types of crimes being studied (Wright, Caspi, Moffitt, & Paternoster, 2004).
In the present study, college students were the proper sample because previous
research showed that this was the group of individuals that frequently
performed software piracy (Hinduja, 2003, 2001; Hollinger, 1988; Husted,
The factorial design approach combined the strengths of experiments and
probability sampling. This allowed a researcher to develop unique qualities
about a given situation without forcing the researchers to tax their
respondents (Rossi & Nock, 1982). In the present study, there were four
possible unique combinations (i.e., factors) derived from certainty and
severity in the software piracy vignette. Using a vignette format, each
student would have to rate all four of the combinations to determine the
independent effects of the measures, which would not be very efficient. The
factorial design allowed the researchers to infer to this population by
randomly assigning the vignettes and the factors to the students. Random
assignment for this study was achieved by using a random numbers table.
Important features of our study were the development of a believable scenario
and certainty and severity factors. We developed these pieces of our survey
in two ways. First, we were informed through the literature review about the
measures. Second, we developed our measures through administering a
thirty-item semi-structured survey, in a pilot study, to a small sample (n
= 30) of students (the target population) that were not included in the
final sample. Two points of emphasis were made in the semi-structured survey:
the hypothetical scenario and the extra-legal sanctions. Following previous
research (Higgins, Wilson, & Fell, 2005), the students were asked to rate the
believability of ten scenarios and the factors to be included in the study on
an eleven-point scale that ranged from not believable to 100% believable.
The students were also asked to provide information concerning the different
factors to be included in the scenario. We were concerned about the proper
levels to include in the scenarios so that we did not depart too far from the
perceptual nature of deterrence theory. The students were asked to rate the
perception of certainty that they would be caught performing the scenarios.
The students marked the certainty of being caught on an eleven-point scale
that ranged from not being caught at all to a 100% chance of being caught. In
addition, the students were asked to rate the perception of the severity of
the sentences that they would receive if they were caught. The students
marked their perception of severity of the offense on an eleven-point scale
with the following categories: “no fine,” “500 dollar fine ,” “1,000 dollar
fine,” “10,000 dollar fine,” “no jail or fine,” “1 month jail time,” “3 months
jail time,” “6 months jail time,” “one year jail time,” “three years jail
time,” “five years jail time.” These categories were in accordance with a
range of possible punishment severity from current legislation concerning
I chose to use
the most believable scenario from this pilot group. That is, 75 % of the
students (n = 23) in the pilot study marked that the following scenario
was at least 95 % believable.
taking a class that requires a lot of computer homework. The class is
important to your success in your major because other classes use the same
material, so you want to learn the material and make a good grade in the
class. You have all of the computer programs that you need for the class
EXCEPT for one. So, you go to the bookstore to purchase the software;
however, you cannot afford it. Others in the class have told you that they
own the program and would be willing to burn a copy for you.
chose to use a range of responses to develop the certainty and severity
factors that would be randomly assigned in the scenarios for the students.
The pilot study revealed that the range of 20 % and 80 % certainty contained
90 % of the students’ (n = 27) responses about the certainty of being
caught for software piracy. The responses from the pilot study revealed that
70 % of the students (n = 21) provided responses that ranged between a
$500 dollar fine and spending three months in jail. From the pilot study, in
our view, we were left with a partially student-generated (i.e.,
target-population generated) scenario and set of factors. We chose to
minimize the complexity of the survey and to use the end points of our ranges
as the factors. This resulted in a 2 (certainty levels) X 2 (severity levels)
factorial design. We recognized that some may not concur with our method of
selecting the scenario and factors for our study. They could argue that our
certainty and severity measure reduced variation in the perception of these
measures. However, we felt that this procedure was similar to Bouffard’s
(2002) suggestions for subject-generated information for rational choice and
deterrence studies. Therefore, we believed that the scenario was relevant to
this population. In addition, we felt that we identified a reasonable set of
factors that can be varied among the sample for the present study. Further,
the factorial design allows for variation among the factors for the students.
Similar to previous deterrence research (Pogarsky, 2002), the
dependent measure for this study was the students’ response to a single item,
“What is the likelihood that you would take the software under these
circumstances?” The students marked their responses on an 11-point scale that
was anchored by the responses “not likely” and “100% likely.” Higher scores
on the item reflected a greater likelihood that they would perform the act.
The measure of low self-control was the twenty-four item composite Grasmick,
Tittle, Bursik, & Arneklev scale (1993). The response categories for the
scale ranged from one (strongly disagree) to four (strongly agree). Higher
scores signaled lower levels of self-control. This scale had an internal
consistency of .83, and factor analysis with a screen test showed the scale
was uni-dimensional, similar to other deterrence and rational choice studies
(see Piquero & Tibbetts, 1996; Nagin & Paternoster, 1993).
The social and self disapproval measures were similar. To measure the expected
influence of social disapproval similar to Piquero and Tibbetts (1996), the
students were asked the following: “How likely is it that your family would
find out that you used a copy of the program in the circumstances described in
the scenario?” and “How likely is it that your friends would find out that you
used a copy of the program in the circumstances described in the scenario?”
The students addressed these questions using an 11-point scale that was
anchored by “not likely” and “likely.” To measure the expected influence of
self-disapproval, the students were asked, similar to Paternoster and Piquero
(1995), the students were asked, “How likely would you feel shame if you were
to use the copy of the program in the circumstances described in the
scenario?” The students addressed these questions using an 11-point scale that
was anchored by “not likely” and “100 % likely.” In addition, as in Bachman,
et al. (1992), the students addressed the following question: “How morally
wrong would it be if you were to use the copy of the program in the
circumstances described in the scenario?” The students answered this question
using an 11-point scale anchored by “not wrong” and “100 % wrong.”
Additional Control Measures
The students responded to additional control measures that included their
self-report of the number of times that they had pirated software before,
their sex (0=male 1=female), their race (1=white 0=nonwhite), and age was an
open-ended item. The median age of the sample was twenty years, with a range
from eighteen to forty. Fifty-six percent of the sample were female (n
= 212), and the remaining 44 % (n = 170) were male. The sample was
17.7 % (n=68) nonwhite and 82.3 % (n=314) white. The
demographics of this sample closely approximate the population from which it
Structural equation modeling (SEM), via Mplus 4.0, was used to explore the
links between low self-control, rational choice theory, value, and digital
piracy. SEM was used for two reasons. First, SEM allowed for the
simultaneous testing of the links hypothesized in this study. Second, these
links were examined without the influence of measurement error.
interpreting SEM, researchers need to understand two issues--model fit and
effects (i.e., direct and indirect). Researchers should understand the fit
between the data and the model. Model fit was determined using a series of
fit indices. In particular, the chi-square statistic is a direct test of the
differences between the hypothesized model and the data. For proper fit, the
chi-square statistic should not be statistically significant. This would
indicate that hypothesized model and the data are the same. Unfortunately,
researchers showed that the chi-square statistic was sensitive to sample size
and recommended consulting additional fit indices to determine model fit (Hu &
Bentler, 1999; Kline, 2005). Gibbs, Giever, and Higgins (2003) and Hu and
Bentler (1999) recommended examining additional fit statistics to determine
model fit that include: the confirmatory-fit-index (CFI) (standard .95 and
above), the root mean squared error of approximation (RMSEA) (standard .05 and
below), and the standardized root mean of the residual (standard .05 and
below) for proper fit of the model to the data.
Importantly, SEM allowed researchers to estimate the direct and indirect
effects of their measures. That is, SEM allowed for an understanding of the
direct effect that one measure would have on another measure and the mediating
effect of the measures. Therefore, this sort of analysis is congruent with
the analysis Piquero and Tibbetts (1996) used to examine the link between low
self-control and rational choice theory.
Table 1 presented the correlation results that were used to develop the SEM
model. In particular, shame (-.53), value (.50), external sanctions (-.41),
moral behaviors (-.37), prior behaviors (.20), and low self-control (.21)
correlated with digital piracy. Further, the cost measures of rational choice
theory (i.e., moral beliefs [.66] and external sanctions [.70]) positively
correlated with shame. Further, value (-.49), prior behavior (-.22), and low
self-control (-.11) negatively correlated with shame. Low self-control (.19)
and prior behavior (.35) positively correlated with value, but external
sanctions (-.45) and moral beliefs (-.37) negatively correlated with value.
Thus, correlations exist between low self-control, rational choice theory,
value, and digital piracy. These results are consistent with the literature
in these areas (Deci et al., 1994; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Higgins, 2005;
Nagin & Paternoster, 1993; Piquero & Tibbetts, 1996; Tibbetts & Myers, 1999).
Table 1. Correlations among
Measure 1 2 3
4 5 6 7
Value .50 -.49 1.00
Controls -.46 .70 -.45 1.00
-.44 .66 -.37 .57
Piracy .23 -.22 .35 -.28
Self-Control .21 -.11 .19 -.09
-.11 .06 1.00
showed the SEM that empirically examined the links between low self-control,
rational choice theory, value, and digital piracy. The chi-square (13.88, df
= 6, p = .03) indicated that the model did not fit the data very well. As
stated above, the sample size forced the chi-square statistic to be
statistically significant. However, after consulting the CFI (.99), RMSEA
(.05), and the SRMR (.02), the decision was made that the model did fit the
data very well.
Figure 1 showed the results that examined the direct effect of low
self-control on intentions to digital pirate and the indirect effects on
intentions to digital pirate through situational factors. Low self-control
had a direct link with digital piracy (beta = .11) and a direct positive
effect on value (beta = .14). This indicated that the lower an individual’s
level of self-control the more likely they are to perform digital piracy and
highly value the digital media. Unlike Piquero and Tibbetts (1996), low
self-control did not have links with shame or external sanctions. Further,
low self-control not only had direct links, but it had an indirect link with
digital piracy through value (beta = .04). This is consistent with
Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) view that individuals with low self-control
are unlikely to see the consequences of their digital piracy, and is
consistent with previous research (Piquero & Tibbetts, 1996).
addition, Figure 1 examined whether situational factors would have a direct
effect on intentions to digital pirate and would have indirect effects on
intentions to digital pirate through other situational factors. Value (beta =
.28), moral beliefs (beta = -.12), and shame (beta = -.29) have links with
intentions to digital pirate in the expected directions. These findings mean
that as the value of the digital media increased for the individual the
likelihood of pirating also increased. Further, these results indicated that
moral beliefs and shame would be important measures in reducing the instances
of digital piracy. Importantly, the results of this study did not show that
prior behavior or external sanctions would be relevant in digital piracy.
These results were expected given that some (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1993)
argued that prior behavior may be an indication of low self-control. That is,
this measure was conflicting with the attitude based measure of self-control.
Further, external sanctions were not significant in reducing the likelihood of
digital piracy (average is 3.94). This result suggested that individuals were
not very certain that external sanctions would be prominent in reducing their
Figure 1. Integrated Model of Low
Self-Control, Rational Choice, Value, and Digital Piracy.
For other effects, moral beliefs (beta = .58) had a link with
shame. This link indicated as that as the individual’s belief that digital
piracy was morally wrong increased situational shame that accompanied digital
piracy also increased. Moral beliefs had an indirect effect (beta = -.17) on
digital piracy through shame. Value (beta = -.23) had an interesting link
with shame. That is, when the value of the digital media increased for the
individual the situational shame for intending to pirate the digital media
also decreased. Value had an indirect effect (beta = -.07) on digital piracy
through shame suggesting that shame may reduce the motivation or want for
Other effects include a direct effect between moral beliefs (beta = -.20), low
self-control (beta = .14), prior behavior (beta = .25), and external sanctions
(beta = -.16) and value. The links between moral beliefs and external
sanctions indicated that as they increase the value of the digital media is
likely to decrease for the individual. Conversely, as low self-control and
prior behavior increase, the value of the perceived digital media increases.
Indirectly, moral beliefs had a link with intentions to pirate software (beta
= -.06) through value, indicating that as an individual’s moral beliefs
increase their value of the digital media decreased and this reduced the
likelihood of digital piracy. Others also had indirect links with intentions
to pirate software through value: low self-control (beta = .04), prior
behavior (beta = .07), and external sanctions (beta = -.05). With the
exception of external sanctions, as low self-control increased and prior
behavior increased, the value of the digital media increased that increased
the likelihood of digital piracy. However, when external sanctions increased,
the individual was less likely to value the digital media reducing the
likelihood of digital piracy. Overall, these findings indicated that the
situational factors were important in the increase and decrease in how an
individual valued the digital media that had an effect on their likelihood for
piracy. Three measures had effects on the perceptions of external sanctions.
particular, when moral beliefs (beta = .19) and shame (beta = .53) increased
the perception of external sanctions for digital piracy increased. However,
when prior behavior increased the perceptions of external sanctions decreased
for digital piracy (beta = -.12). Importantly, these measures did not have
indirect links with intentions for digital piracy.
The purpose of the present study was to address the gap in the literature by
presenting the first systematic examination of self-control, rational choice,
and value in the context of digital piracy. This research contributed to the
self-control theory, rational choice theory and digital piracy literatures.
The results of the present study show that low self-control has direct and
indirect effects with intentions to digital piracy (Pratt & Cullen, 2000;
Higgins, 2005; Higgins & Makin, 2004a, b). Further, the present study shows
that low self-control has indirect links with a modified version of
situational factors (i.e., value) (Deci et al., 1994; Nagin & Paternoster,
1993; Piquero & Tibbetts, 1996; Tibbetts & Herz, 1996; Tibbetts & Myers,
1999). In addition to these results, the present study shows that situational
factors have both direct and indirect effects with digital piracy (Piquero &
Tibbetts, 1996; Tibbetts & Herz, 1996; Tibbetts & Myers, 1999). These results
indicate that low self-control and rational choice theory maybe compatible
theories that can explain digital piracy.
The present study helps criminologists understand more about the
decision-making mechanisms for digital piracy. The results indicate that low
self-control and rational choice theory can be applied and integrated to
understand the intentions to digital pirate. These findings go beyond
previous research in the digital piracy literature (i.e., Higgins, 2005;
Higgins & Makin, 2004a, b; Higgins,
& Fell, 2005). Thus, the present study contributes to the literature by
outlining some of the motivational components (i.e., prior behavior, low
self-control and value) and the deterrent components (i.e., shame and moral
Understanding the motivational and deterrent components of digital piracy from
the integrated low self-control and rational choice theory model, provides
important information for college administrators and other policy-makers that
may reduce instances of digital piracy. That is, to reduce instances of
digital piracy college administrators can develop policies and programs on
campus that reiterate the morality of the digital piracy as well as the shame
that may come from digital piracy. Security specialists can use this
information to develop specific technological innovations that remind students
of the morality and potential shame involved in digital piracy.
While the present study informs the literature about the links between low
self-control, rational choice theory, value and digital piracy, the present
study has some noteworthy limits. In particular, the study uses responses to
a scenario as the dependent measure rather than an actual measure of
behavior. However, this technique has become rather normal in rational choice
theory studies because it allows for proper temporal ordering. However, this
limits the trash talking. The study only uses data from one university in the
and it may limit the international generalization. However, this is the first
study to examine this sort of model and the results should be consumed as
preliminary and in need of replication on a large scale. The data for this
study are cross-sectional. Longitudinal data may provide very interesting
insights into the development of the decision-making process. This is an area
for future research.
Despite the limits of the present study, low self-control, rational choice
theory, value and digital piracy have connections. Specifically, the link
between low self-control and digital piracy is partially mediated by an
individual’s value of the digital media. Further, situational factors (i.e.,
moral beliefs and shame) effects on digital piracy are mediated by value.
Therefore, the value an individual places on digital media is an important
piece of the decision-making process. While future studies that use actual
measures of piracy; from multiple university; and that are longitudinal will
inform our understanding about the links between low self-control, rational
choice, value, and digital piracy. For now, the results of this study are
show that the value that an individual places on digital media is important
regardless of their low self-control, moral beliefs, or perceptions of
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Assistant Professor, Department of Justice Administration, College of Arts
and Sciences, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, 40292, USA E-mail:
Recently, Wright and Beaver (2005) challenged the validity of the
Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) theory. They argued that the neglect of
biological or deterministic views of Gottfredson and Hirschi and previous
researchers of their theory made the findings invalid. Wright and Beaver
(2005) go on to argue that future tests of the theory should incorporate
biological or deterministic views. While this would be interesting,
Simons, Simons, and … argued that sociologists routinely assume that some
personality features are inherited and thus focus on the sociological
variables of the shared and non-shared environments. The view from Simons
et al. is the view of the present study.
Recently, Hirschi (2004) redefined self-control conceptually and
operationally. Hirschi’s conceptual redefinition brought self-control and
social bonding together. This version of the theory suggests that
self-control could be operationally defined using measures directly from
social bonding. While Hirschi’s (2004) redefinition advances self-control
theory, he does not see past research that used other measures of
self-control as invalid. Thus, following previous research in the present
study does not invalidate these findings.