Moral Panics And The Internet: The Case Of Hacking Groups Involved In Online Illegal Distribution Of Intellectual Property


Over the last few years, we have seen the social reaction to the online illegal distribution of intellectual property such as books, movies, music and software rise significantly. Governments are actively involved in this fight against pirates through new legislations (DMCA in the United States; the ACTA Treaty in over 25 countries; Bill C-32 in Canada). Law enforcement agencies have followed suit and have made arrests in cases against Interfilm.ru in Russia, Filesoup.com and Mulve in the United Kingdom as well as individuals in many countries ranging from India to the United States. If national states have invested so much energy and resources in the fight against online piracy, it is because the right holders have been very vocal on the losses that they suffer year after year. Trade organizations such as the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have all claimed publicly that the online hacker groups who illegally distribute intellectual property online (also known as warez in the hacking community) are responsible for the lost of billions of dollars in revenues as well as thousands of jobs. These groups are depicted as resistant and prolific enemies that need to be put behind bars as soon as possible. These claims and figures, while impressive, do not seem to be based on empirical data and have yet to be confirmed by any independent third-party. Governments are thus under great pressure from powerful lobbies to actively monitor and regulate a part of the hacking community that remains elusive.

This paper addresses the discrepancies between the claim of trade organizations and what is currently known about the professional hacking groups involved in online piracy. Its main objective is to determine the characteristics of the products released by these groups. In order to achieve this goal, we use data we collected on over 3,000 hacker groups who illegally distributed intellectual property online between 2003 and 2009. We focus our research on three particular features of these groups: 1) the degree of specialization – the types of products distributed by each group; 2) the number of products released by each group and; 3) the value of the products released by each group. The results are interpreted through the moral panic theory of Cohen. We demonstrate how the five basic characteristics of his theory can be applied to the world of online piracy to understand how our modern societies have been coerced over the last few years into regulating the entertainment industries’ fight against the digital pirates.

Our results show that the hacking groups involved in online piracy tend to specialize in one specific type of product be it movies, games or software. Most of them do not survive more than two months and over the course of those weeks rarely release more than a handful of products. The goods that do make it on the Internet are mainly low-value products.

Ce contenu a été mis à jour le 8 août 2016 à 18 h 07 min.