Award Date

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Ned C. Silver

Second Committee Member

Jeannine E. Klein

Third Committee Member

Janice C. McMurray

Fourth Committee Member

Steven G. McCafferty

Number of Pages



A combination of technological, legal, and economic factors necessitates efforts to protect music from being illegally reproduced in a globally digital environment. Entities such as record companies, recording industry organizations, and special governmental agencies are committed to eradicating the unauthorized dissemination of copyrighted material. Furthermore, the FBI provides an official anti-piracy icon with accompanying text to be placed on websites and packaging. In support of these initiatives, the principal goal of this study was to empirically identify icon design elements that will most successfully communicate to consumers the illegality of unauthorized music reproductions.

Recommendations from extant literature indicate that viewers must attend to and understand graphic warning systems, before compliance to instructions is achieved (Laughery & Wogalter, 2001). Therefore, a set of icons informing viewers to not illegally download and/or upload music was tested. The chosen symbols illustrated specific concepts portrayed within this target message: context (computer, no computer), action (download, upload, download/upload, control), prohibition (cross, slash, control), and illegality (badge, bandit, control). All 72 symbol combinations included an eighth note symbol to denote music.

Using a sample of 138 university students, comprehension was analyzed using open ended questions, and subjective ratings of understandability, attention, compliance, and carefulness. Results mainly showed that the single addition of symbols denoting context, action, prohibition, or illegality symbols notably appeared to increase interpretation accuracy. Respondents interpreted the conventionally used symbols for download (down arrow), upload (up arrow), and prohibition (slash) more accurately. Moreover, interpretation accuracy increased with the bandit symbol as compared to the badge. Although the badge was inferred to connote safety and security, the bandit appeared to provide a more direct connection to the concept of illegality. Nonetheless, results from Study 1 indicated that only 4 of the 72 created icons were interpreted correctly by at least 67% of the respondents.

Study 2 investigated the performance of these four icons when combined with textual messages containing a signal word, a message about illegality, and consequences using a sample of 220 university students. The consequences included statements about being fined and being monitored. Respondents consistently gave the highest rating to the icon that included a computer for context, a download symbol, a slash prohibitive symbol, the signal words STOP or IMPORTANT, and message with greatest explicitness, which consisted of both being fined and being monitored, with regards to perceived understandability, attention, carefulness, compliance, and representativeness. The lowest ratings were consistently given to the icon with a cross, a download/upload symbol, NOTICE, no consequences, and no computer.

Ratings for each of the other measured dimensions increased when icons contained all tested message components. Furthermore, icons that were most understandable included elements commonly used in other instructional or warning signs, thus indicating the strong impacts of past experience on comprehension. Perceptual fluency is proposed to drive comprehension.


risk communications


Law | Psychology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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