Date of Award

January 2020

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Justice Studies

First Advisor

Kristie R. Blevins

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Second Advisor

James B. Wells

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Third Advisor

Victoria E. Collins

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies


The current information age has seen a shift from analog product manufacturing to the production of intellectual property (e.g., software and digital media); property that is stolen at alarming rates. Much of the research concerning the modern phenomenon of digital piracy, as defined by Al-Rafee and Cronan (2006, p. 237) as “the illegal copying/downloading of copyrighted software and media files,” has stemmed from various fields, including business, ethics, marketing, and information systems. What is lacking in the literature is a notably criminal justice lens in which to view a controversial topic that is growing in popularity among the media and researchers alike.

While the severity of digital piracy as a social problem has fluctuated over time, its influence on the entertainment industry cannot be overstated, and it has directly shaped how the criminal justice system reacts to digital crime as a whole. In fact, much of the way that people enjoy music or movies today (i.e., available instantly at the touch of a button through digital streaming services like Spotify and Netflix) grew out of the effectiveness and success of digital piracy endeavors. The ability to stream millions of songs and movies from virtually any internet connected device feeds a culture of instant gratification that has pushed forward a profound change, not only in the way Americans consume media, but also in the way they learn, socialize, and even commit crimes.

The purpose of this study is to address the research question, “what ‘sociological lens’, or frames, do potential criminal justice practitioners use to make sense of the legality of digital piracy crimes?” Given the still relatively new data around the field of digital crimes, most research fails to focus on criminal justice and police studies students as a source of future media and legislative discourse that may well shape how digital crime laws are formed, in particular by those empowered to create and enforce those laws. Peer group discussions with criminal justice students were utilized to explore the feelings and beliefs of future criminal justice practitioners by allowing them to talk through complicated topics like digital piracy with their peers in a structured approach guided by a trained facilitator. This exploratory research found support for four frames in which to view the perceptions of criminal justice students concerning digital piracy, and the data and methods presented can hopefully add to the growing research on crime and the digital world.