Protecting Intellectual Property When the Law Will Not Do so: A Religious and Relational Approach

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW1.3.01 (Tower One)
Amanda Budde-Sung, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Matthew Mitchell, Drake University, Des Moines, IA
With the rise of the information economy, more of global firms’ assets are intangible assets, usually knowledge assets. The competitive advantage gained from these knowledge assets is contingent upon the power to protect that information for commercialization, which often comes in the form of intellectual property (IP) protection. However, the level of that protection varies considerably around the world.

Software-producing companies occupy a prominent position in lists of the world’s most profitable companies. Unfortunately, their product is routinely subject to unauthorized copying and distribution, costing billions of dollars per year in lost revenues. Despite laws in most countries prohibiting these IP rights violations, software piracy persists and continues to threaten the overall performance of this industry. Studies of software piracy have considered individual attributes of people pirating software (e.g., Chan & Lai, 2011; Al-Rafee & Cronan, 2006) as well as cultural variables (e.g., Husted, 2000; Marron & Steel, 2000; Yang & Sonmez, 2007).  Contextual factors contributing to a culture of piracy, such as religion, have received less attention in the literature (Husted, 2000; Yang & Sonmez, 2007). Factors beyond economic and cultural variables need to be explored in order to develop a more holistic picture of the problem of piracy, which in turn may help managers to better protect their IP for commercialization around the world (e.g. Yang, Sonmez, Bosworth, & Fryxell, 2009).

The issue of religion is significant, as the countries that have the highest rates of software piracy, as of 2013, are also countries in which religious institutions are strong, and in which a large proportion of the population claims a high level of religiosity. Religious leaders have been strong influencers of economic activity throughout human history, and building relationships with religious leaders now may be a strategy firms can use to help protect their information assets in societies when the law either cannot or will not do so.

This multi-method study considers religion’s impact upon software piracy.  Quantitative results suggest that the dominant religions impact piracy rates around the world. Interviews with 21 religious clerics and scholars in nine countries provide qualitative insight into this issue, offering suggested strategies for software firms wishing to protect their products in global markets.


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