Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to better understand the world-view of cultural consumers who download and share copyrighted content for free.
Design/methodology/approach – By utilizing a critical discourse analysis of the arguments given by file-sharers in online forums and in interviews, focusing on the arguments which arise for justifying certain everyday uses, and contrasting these with their material and structural conditions, a critical approach is sought, inquiring on the validity of certain tropes. Particularity was achieved by making a geographically delimited case study.
Findings – The case study helps to conceptualize online sociality, with wider application than this geographical setting only. As BitTorrent technology makes every downloader share his/her files while downloading, file-sharing is found to accommodate individual opportunism, and a world-view that puts the consumer at the centre of agency, in turn reinforcing the civic idea of cultural access and diversity as a human right.
Research limitations/implications – Previous findings have correlated heavy file-sharing with heavy consumption of culture. However, given the greater ability of previewing material and of acquiring more obscure content, how have the habits and consumption patterns changed among media consumers who routinely file-share? More detailed studies are needed, on how individual users come to question their own role, and the impact of their own actions – and what the level of awareness actually is (in different geographical/demographic settings) of the conditions for cultural production, distribution and consumption. A range of potential new research areas and scenarios is listed.
Practical implications – Given the common constituents seen in the world-views of file-sharers, this civic approach to intellectual property could prompt professional producers, distributors, rights holders and regulators to consider the actual visibility of potential impacts of file-sharing. The civic approach suggests that file-sharers can reconcile with individual authors or artists, as long as these are found to have precarious economic conditions, and not be affiliated with an industrial mode of reasoning. Cultural producers that are seen to adhere to a civic (amateur- or fan-like) mode of reasoning – rather than an industrial (professional) one – are met with more sympathy among consumers.
Originality/value – The paper is of interest for media sociology, cultural studies, and policymaking within the cultural industries.