Impact of Indian Personality Construct of Gunas and Subjective Norms on Software Piracy in the Workplace


Kanika T. Bhal and Nivedita Debnath


Information technology has given tremendous power of speed, access and permanence on one hand, on the other it has also raised ethical issues of piracy, privacy, accuracy, security and the like (Mason, 1986) identified four issues of. Software piracy or illegal copying of the software is widespread and costs software manufacturers billions of dollars annually. The dynamics of piracy and the profile of software pirates need to be studied to be able to handle the issue of software piracy.

Our study looks at some of the existing theories in the context of software piracy. In line with Johnson’s (1994) assertion, the issues of software piracy are not treated as unique enough to be a species but are a genus where the existing theories in other relevant domains can be applied to software piracy.

Our dependent constructs are perceived ethicality of a situation involving software piracy and likelihood of indulging in an act of software piracy. Though, perceived ethicality is a cognitive process, likelihood of action is a behavioral one. Specifically, we look at Indian personality construct (Gunas), and subjective norms (peer pressure and supervisor pressure) as possible predictors of perceived ethicality and likelihood of unethical act.

Gopal & Sanders (1998) in a cross-cultural study of the software professionals stressed upon the need to identify issues relevant to specific cultures. In line with this recommendation, our study first explores the individual personality construct rooted in the Indian philosophy; called Gunas, as a predictor of perceived ethicality and likelihood of unethical act vis a vis software piracy. The ancient Indian philosophy, embodied in a scripture called The Gita, is rich in prescriptions for daily life and ethical principles. In chapter XIV, verse 5, it is stated that the three modes (gunas) goodness (sattva), passion (rajas) and dullness (tamas) are born of nature and tie down a man to the material world. Gunas in The Gita are mainly used for ethical analysis, hence the terms goodness (for sattva), passion (for rajas) and dullness (for tamas) are used (Radhakrishnan, 1948). It is for this reason that we explore the concept of gunas while exploring the ethical issues involved in software piracy. The gunas are the three tendencies that reflect human character. Further in verses 6, 7 & 8 of Chapter XIV it is explained that goodness (sattva) being pure causes illumination and health; passion (rajas) causes desire, craving and attachments whereas dullness (tamas) causes indolence, ignorance negligence and sleep. Further, the manifestations of these concepts are dealt with in details in chapter XVII and XVIII of The Gita. The manifestations are in terms of lifestyle, nature of charity, austerity, sacrifice, use of intellect and sources of happiness. In some broad senses the gunas may have some parallel with Kohlberg’s (1976) stages of moral development. Sattva is enlightenment, which is beyond the sixth stage of moral development where the focus is on universal ethical principles orientation. Rajas is related to passion where the cognitive frameworks may be present but the ego is predominant and it may force one to indulge in unethical acts for the achievement of some immediate goals. Finally, tamas is described as one that not only acts unethically but also perceives the unethical as ethical (dharma as adharma). Thus, in line with this understanding the following hypotheses are proposed.

H1 (a):People high on goodness (Sattva) will perceive software piracy as unethical and they are not likely to indulge in unethical act.

H1 (b): People high on passion (Rajas) will perceive software piracy as ethical but, they are likely to indulge in piracy.

H1 (c): People high on Dullness (Tamas) will not perceive software piracy as unethical and are also likely to indulge in piracy.

Besides looking at these personality orientations, our study also looks at some other external factors. The Theory of Reasoned Action (Sheppard, Hartwick & Warshaw, 1998) identifies that individuals use subjective norms while making decisions involving ethical issues. Subjective norms, amongst other things, refer to the individual’s perception of the pressures from the social environment like friends, peers and authority. The loyal agent theory (Michales, 1995) too posits that as a loyal agent of his or her employer, the employee has a duty to serve his or her employer in whatever way. In line with these theories, our paper looks at the second construct of peer pressure and supervisor pressure as predictors of likelihood of indulging in an act of software piracy. The supervisor pressure is more for behavioral compliance however; peer pressure is likely to impact the thinking of the people too. In line with this, the following hypotheses are proposed.

H2 (a): Peer pressure is likely to impact both the perceived ethicality as well as the likelihood of software piracy.

H2 (b): Supervisor pressure is more likely to influence the likelihood of software piracy instead of perceived ethicality.

The paper will first discuss the theoretical bases and then test the hypotheses through a scenario and questionnaire based research, using psychometrically sound tools on a sample of software professionals in India. The implications of the study will be discussed both for the researchers as well as the practitioners.


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Johnson, D.G. (1994). Computer ethics, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kohlberg L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-development approach, in Lickona, T. (ed.) Moral Development and Behavior: Theory Research and Social Issues. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Mason, R.O (1986). Four ethical issues of information age. MIS Quarterly, 10, 5-12.

Michales, A.C. (1995). A Pragmatic Approach to Business Ethics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Radhakrishnan, S. (1948). The Bhagvadgita. Great Britain: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Sheppard, B.H., Hartwick, J., & Warshaw, P.R. (1988). The theory of reasoned action: A meta-analysis of past research with recommendations for modification and future research. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, 325-343.

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