Skip to main content

Information Cascades: The Nature of Crime and P2P File-Sharing

In another course I’m taking this semester, Digital Business Strategy, we have recently been discussing copyright law and its application to peer-to-peer (P2P) filing sharing, specifically related to the music industry. P2P networks facilitate direct exchange of files between users without the need for mediation by a centralized server. It’s through these networks that the majority of us participate in the illegal file sharing of music, movies, and other media forms. During lecture the professor polled the class about their file sharing/illegal downloading use and proceeded to compare the results against those of pervious years; it was clear that the number of students using such networks has increased over the years. It’s also important to note here that as the number of students using the networks increased attitudes have also changed; in the past individuals were more reluctant to download music illegally, whereas today we tend to not even register that what we are participating in is actually illegal. This phenomenon can be explained through information cascades.

A cascade develops when people abandon their own information in favor of inferences based on earlier peoples actions. We tend to follow the decisions of others based on observations, as well as social pressure to conform without any additional information, therefore the force for conformity grows stronger as the group conforming gets larger. Thus, in the case of P2P file-sharing/illegal music downloading, we make the decision to act illegally based on the decisions of our peers, creating an information cascade. It’s illegal, but everyone does it anyway because we are basing our decisions off the precedent of others. As the number of people that use these networks increases, we are more likely to use them ourselves; we observe that so many of our peers are participating in this illegal act and we then imitate their decisions because we don’t observe anyone get caught for using these networks.

It would be interesting to observe what would happen to the cascade if someone within our community of peers got caught and was faced to suffer the consequences of their acts. Would the information cascade resend? Or would the cascade initially slow down and then pick up again in the future?

The following our links to sources that sparked my interest on the topic:


Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

October 2011