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Understanding and preventing online piracy: A behavioural economics approach

Project Description

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in October 2019.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Business and Law, and will be supervised by Dr Zahra Murad, Dr Wolfgang Luhan and Dr Joe Cox.

The work on this project will:
-apply insights from behavioural economics to address the problem of piracy;
-will work with creative industry trade bodies to develop effective anti-piracy methods;
-study the current methods of accessing illegal content online, including stream-ripping, in order to develop more effective interventions.

Project description
The UK creative industries sector is worth £92bn, growing at twice the rate of the economy (Gov.UK, 2017). This growth is largely attributed to the migration of consumers to streaming services such as Spotify and Apple (BPI, 2018), which have helped to reverse a ten-year decline. However, studies (Danaher, Smith & Telang, 2017) indicate that digital piracy causes significant economic harm, limiting the growth of the entertainment sector. This project will apply insights from behavioural economics to address the problem of piracy and will work with creative industry trade bodies to develop effective anti-piracy methods.

The landscape of entertainment consumption has changed. Due to the penetration of streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix and Spotify on which content is abundant, online entertainment consumption is moving from an ownership model to an access model. There is evidence (Sinclair & Tinson, 2017) to suggest that consumers in the post-ownership era have different behavioural biases than those in an ownership model of consumption. Research shows that loss aversion (Tversky & Kahneman, 1992) and the endowment effect (Kahneman, Knetsch & Thaler; 1990) influence decision making because people overvalue losses compared to equivalent gains. In an environment where content, both legal and illegal, is abundant, biases against loss may manifest themselves differently in a model of behaviour. Our understanding of biases needs to be explored in the context of streaming/access consumption in order to devise a model of online media consumption. Re-examining these biases will be essential to understanding consumer decision making in regards to legal vs illegal content online.

The literature surrounding stream-ripping behaviour is sparse and government funded anti-piracy campaigns (such as Creative Content UK) are outdated, still focusing on peer to peer piracy (Open Rights Group, 2015). This project will study the current methods of accessing illegal content online, including stream-ripping, in order to develop more effective interventions.

Piracy research has traditionally analysed behaviour based on stated preferences. This research will measure revealed preferences (based on actual behaviour) in order that the results are more reflective of real-world decision making. One source of data is from infringement trackers, facilitated by collaborations with the major stakeholders in the creative industries. Stated preferences (survey data) will be used as a predictor of revealed preferences, to measure its efficacy. Interventions will be designed, based on behavioural economic theories (such as salience effects and default effects). The data analysis will include parametric and non-parametric statistics and econometrics.

Entry Requirements

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum second class
or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate
subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or
Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements

We welcome applications from highly motivated prospective students with an experience in media and entertainment industries as well as proficiency in behavioural and experimental economics methods. The candidate will also need to have a keen interest in learning new techniques such as eye tracking, neuroeconomics and app development.

If you have project specific enquiries, please contact Dr Zahra Murad () quoting the project code.

How to Apply
When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form and select ‘Accounting, Economics and Finance’ as the subject area. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency, an up-to-date CV and a research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design - including how it meets the stated objectives and challenges.

Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code ACEF4530219 (UK and EU students) or ACEF4560219 (International students) when applying.

Funding Notes

Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years and a stipend in line with the RCUK rate (£14,777 for 2018/2019). International (non-EEA) applicants also receive one return flight to London during the duration of the course through the Portsmouth Global PhD scholarship scheme.As part of the bursary, the Faculty of Business and Law may fund fieldwork expenses (currently £2,000) over the total period of PhD study. We also offer funding to attend conferences (currently £450), training (currently £450), and a work-based placement (currently a maximum of £3,000 tied up to the period of 12 weeks).


Athey, S., Catalini, C., & Tucker, C. (2017). The digital privacy paradox: small money, small costs, small talk (No. w23488). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1990). Experimental tests of the endowment effect and the Coase theorem. Journal of political Economy, 98(6), 1325-1348.

Sinclair, G., & Tinson, J. (2017). Psychological ownership and music streaming consumption. Journal of Business Research, 71, 1-9.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1992). Advances in prospect theory: Cumulative representation of uncertainty. Journal of Risk and uncertainty, 5(4), 297-323.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Portsmouth in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 41.40

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