Law, Norms, Piracy and Online Anonymity – Practices of de-identification in the global file sharing community

Stefan Larsson, Måns Svensson, Marcin De Kaminski, Kari Rönkkö, Johanna Alkan Olsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The purpose of this study is to better understand online anonymity in the global file-sharing community in the context of social norms and copyright law. The study describes the respondents in terms of use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or similar services with respect to age, gender, geographical location, as well as analysing the correlation with file-sharing frequencies.

This study, to a large extent, collected descriptive data through a web-based survey. This was carried out in collaboration with the BitTorrent tracker The Pirate Bay (TPB), which allowed us to link the survey from the main logo of their site. In 72 hours, we received over 75,000 responses, providing the opportunity to compare use of anonymity services with factors of age, geographical region, file-sharing frequency, etc.

Overall, 17.8 per cent of the respondents used a VPN or similar service (free or paid). A core of high-frequency uploaders is more inclined to use VPNs or similar services than the average file sharer. Online anonymity practices in the file-sharing community depend on how legal and social norms correlate (more enforcement means more anonymity).

Research limitations/implications
The web-based survey was in English and mainly attracted visitors on The Pirate Bay’s web site. This means that it is likely that those who do not have the language skills necessary were excluded from the survey.
Practical implications
This study adds to the knowledge of online anonymity practices in terms of traceability and identification, and therefore describes some of the conditions for legal enforcement in a digital environment.

Social implications
This study adds to the knowledge of how the Internet is changing in terms of a polarization between stronger means of legally enforced identification and a growing awareness of how to be more untraceable.

The scale of the survey, with over 75,000 respondents from most parts of the world, has likely not been seen before on this topic. The descriptive study of anonymity practices in the global file-sharing community is therefore likely unique.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-280
JournalJournal of Research in Interactive Marketing: Special Issue on Digital Piracy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Information Systems, Social aspects
  • Law and Society


  • Anonymity
  • VPN
  • traceability
  • piracy
  • copyright
  • The Pirate Bay
  • file sharing
  • enforcement
  • social norms.


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