The Digital-Piracy Dilemma

by Harvard Business Review — October 19, 2020

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In the world of film, one of the most important things copyright owners can do is market their content online to increase awareness and revenue. At the same time, they have to protect their content from internet piracy, which chips away at sales. This is an often-discussed dilemma — but two recent peer-reviewed papers suggest that these two goals may not always be in tension. Piracy, the papers suggest, can actually boost sales of some digital products by increasing word-of-mouth and overall market awareness. This has led some industry observers to argue that efforts by firms and governments to combat digital piracy may be wasted.

We disagree with that assessment. We’ve been at the forefront of research on this topic for years, and we worry that this line of thought oversimplifies matters in ways that may mislead managers and policymakers.

We’ve come to this conclusion on the basis of four simple facts.

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