p2pnet news view | P2P | Politics:- “Yes, those figures did indeed come from the media industries themselves, who merely ‘estimated’ them,” says Glyn Moody in a Reader’s Write to yesterday’s 7 million Britons are file sharing thieves!
The p2pnet story has Britain’s Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property making the ridiculus statement, also claiming more than half of UK Net traffic comprises illegal content — illegal as defined by the cartels.
“Along with death and taxes, one of the other certainties in life is the constant flow of reports from the media industries claiming that copyright infringement is causing them to loses billions of pounds of revenue each year, and that they will inevitably go to the wall if even harsher legal sanctions against infringement are not brought in (although, strangely, they have been saying this for about 10 years now, and they seem not to have gone bust yet….)”
And it is strange.
The big corporate movie studios and record labels have been claiming for years they’re being “devastated,” a word repeatedly used by cartel extortion units such as the RIAA and MPAA, as well as various spokespersons, but somehow, some way, they grimly struggle on, continuing to report eye-popping, mind-boggling revenues all the while.
“Of course, you might expect industries to paint the situation as bleak as possible,” writes Glyn. That’s why, “they spend large chunks of their considerable revenues on expensive PR companies and lobbyists to ‘sex’ things up a bit. But there are other kinds of reports, typically sponsored by national government departments, that claim to provide more objective information about what is happening in this field.”
But he’s not referring to spurious SABIP claims.
Rather, he’s talking about Canadian law professor Michael Geist’s revelations that a Conference Board of Canada ‘report’ accusing Canada of being the file swapping capital of the world included material ripped off from the earlier International Intellectual Property Alliance ‘study’ produced for, and on behalf of, the major Hollywood studios, Big 4 record labels and software houses.
We use the past tense because massive international online exposure forced the board to not only yank the report, as well as two others, but also compelled CEO Annne Golden to admit to Jesse Brown it had indeed been plagiarised.
Not only is text copied verbatim from the IIPA ‘report,’ Glyn says the board also used ‘stats’ from an old CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association of America) puff piece to justify dramatic statements, such as:
As a result of lax regulation and enforcement, internet piracy appears to be on the increase in Canada. The estimated number of illicit downloads (1.3 billion) is 65 times higher than the number legal downloads (20 million), mirroring the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development`s conclusion that Canada has the highest per capita incidence of unauthorized file-swapping in the world.
He quotes Geist as pointing out:
While the release succeeded in generating attention, the report does not come close to supporting these claims. The headline-grabbing claim of 1.3 billion unauthorized downloads relies on a January 2008 Canadian Recording Industry Association press release. That release cites a 2006 Pollara survey as the basis for the statement. In other words, the Conference Board relies on a survey of 1200 people conducted more than three years ago to extrapolate to a claim of 1.3 billion unauthorized downloads (the survey itself actually ran counter to many of CRIA’s claims).
‘Blithely accepting the highly-partial views’
Against that background, “the appearance of Copycats? Digital consumers in the online age produced by University College London’s CIBER for the UK governmnent’s Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy (what a name) takes on an added significance,” Glyn posts.
The intro to the intro concludes »»»
Much of the academic and industry literature covered, even the most recent, considers the issue of illegal downloading as a behavioural and attitudinal problem of young people, especially students. We have considered this evidence often based on sample research groups comprising a few hundred students at a particular university as helpful but narrow and historical. The downloading of unauthorised music and film files, to name but two types of digital content, has not decreased over the past five years, and indeed has grown in many places. It is questionable whether all the activity of unauthorised downloading is undertaken by young people and students alone, because we have seen very little evidence about the broader base of digital consumers of all ages in relation to attitudes, behaviour and issues of intellectual property; and almost none about post-University consumers of unauthorised materials. Did all of the students studied in research about illegal software downloading in the 1980s stop their illegal behaviour? What are the behaviours and attitudes of the early 1980s adopters of illegal downloading technologies in their twenty-first century middle age? More importantly: who are the almost seven million UK citizens (Music Alley, 2008) who download unauthorised content? For the year 2007/08 there were approximately 2.3 million students in higher education, and 175,000 academic staff (HESA, 2009). Who are the others? Are they all school children?
Who are they indeed?
‘Staggering and complete piffle’
“Among other questions, one issue is to what extent the report manages to look objectively at the facts, rather than blithely accepting the highly-partial views of the media industry itself,” says Glyn, continuing »»»
The 85-page report is detailed, and as you might expect from an academic outfit, is fully referenced, which is excellent. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in this important field read the whole thing. But for those of you slightly more pressed for time, the executive summary gives a good flavour of its approach:
The backdrop to our research on online consumer behaviour and the impacts and implications this has on legal practice, the content industries, and governmental policy is one of vast economic losses brought about by widespread unauthorised downloading and a huge confusion about (or denial of) the definition of what is and is not legal and copyright protected. Industry reports suggest that at least seven million British citizens have downloaded unauthorised content, many on a regular basis, and many also without ethical consideration. Estimates as to the overall lost revenues if we include all creative industries whose products can be copied digitally, or counterfeited, reach £10 billion (IP Rights, 2004), conservatively, as our figure is from 2004, and a loss of 4,000 jobs. This is in the context of the Creative Industries providing around 8% of British GDP. And the situation is not solely a British problem, but a global one. Downloading culture (Altschuller, 2009: unpaginated) has forced society into a muddle of uncertainty with how to incorporate it into existing social and legal structures. Altschuller adds that: …music downloading has become part and parcel of the social fabric of our society despite its illegal status, (emphasis added).
Just to make it clear – this is not simply an issue of music and film downloads alone. Software losses due to what is often described as piracy were, for example, $48 billion worldwide in 2007 (BSA, 2007); and in the UK the figure was $1,837,000 or approximately £1.25 billion. An exploratory CIBER investigation found vast quantities of films, music, software, e-books, games and television content available to download and share without cost. On one peer-to-peer network we found that at midday on a weekday there were 1.3 million users, sharing content. If each peer from this network (not the largest) downloaded one file per day the resulting number of downloads (music, film, television, e-books, software and games were all available) would be 473 million items per year. If the figure for each individual is closer to five or more items per day, the lowest estimate of downloaded material (remembering that the entire season of the Fox television series 24, or the complete works of the rock group Led Zeppelin can be one file) is just under 2.4 billion files. And if the average value of each file is £5 that is a rough low average of the price of a DVD or CD, rather than the higher prices of software or E-books we have the online members of one file sharing network consuming approximately £12 billion in content annually for free. These figures are staggering.
Staggering indeed and complete piffle.
Sadly, the basic problem with the whole report is made clear in the first line of the above extract: The backdrop to our research on online consumer behaviour and the impacts and implications this has on legal practice, the content industries, and governmental policy is one of vast economic losses brought about by widespread unauthorised downloading. That is, it starts from an *assumption* that unauthorised downloading is causing economic damage, rather than examining whether that is the case: clearly, this is going to skew all the results of the research, because it is seen through a particular optic that of the media industries.
But wait, you may say: maybe that is simply a statement of what the report found out during its objective research, which is a fair point. So let’s just look at the figures cited above, and their source.
Estimates as to the overall lost revenues if we include all creative industries whose products can be copied digitally, or counterfeited, reach £10 billion (IP Rights, 2004), conservatively, as our figure is from 2004, and a loss of 4,000 jobs.
A quick check in the references gives the following:
IP Rights (2004) UK Tackles counterfeiting and piracy launch of national IP Crime Strategy, Alert, Press Release, August 2004, issue 156. Available online at: www.iprights.com/publications/Alert_156.pdf (accessed 02.03.09)
So that £10 billion figure actually comes from a press release from the UK government itself looking good so far. But why don’t we check up on what exactly that reference says? Here’s the relevant paragraph:
there has been a growing recognition of the economic impact of IP crime. Rights owners have estimated that last year alone counterfeiting and piracy cost the UK economy £10 billion and 4,000 jobs.
There we have it: that cast-iron, irreproachable, UK government-guaranteed £10 billion figure is merely you guessed it an estimate from the media industries themselves. In other words, there is no fundamental difference here from the situation with the Canadian report, except importantly there is no attempt to hide the connection (provided you are prepared to follow the links). But the figure is essentially worthless: it was produced by the media industries to justify their perennial wails of anguish.
That’s one pretty obvious way in which the whole context for the report is biased by the media industries’ agenda. But the problems go deeper, and operate in a more subtle way. Consider, for example, this passage from the paragraphs above:
On one peer-to-peer network we found that at midday on a weekday there were 1.3 million users, sharing content. If each peer from this network (not the largest) downloaded one file per day the resulting number of downloads (music, film, television, e-books, software and games were all available) would be 473 million items per year. If the figure for each individual is closer to five or more items per day, the lowest estimate of downloaded material (remembering that the entire season of the Fox television series 24, or the complete works of the rock group Led Zeppelin can be one file) is just under 2.4 billion files. And if the average value of each file is £5 that is a rough low average of the price of a DVD or CD, rather than the higher prices of software or E-books we have the online members of one file sharing network consuming approximately £12 billion in content annually for free.
Again, this is riddled with unexamined assumptions that are taken straight from the media industries framing of the situation. For example:
if the average value of each file is £5 that is a rough low average of the price of a DVD or CD, rather than the higher prices of software or E-books
This assumes many things. For example, that all these downloaded files represent real losses for the media industries that people would have bought this stuff had it not been available online. This is a huge jump to make: it’s just as likely that people are trying out stuff they would never have looked at if they needed to pay for it. In this case, it’s closer to marketing materials, providing powerful free advertising. As other research indicates, people who download unauthorised material from the Internet are *more* likely to buy stuff afterwards.
Then there is the pricing – average value of each file is £5. This simply accepts that the pricing the media industries are trying to impose on online customers is reasonable. And yet economics teaches us that the price of goods tends to fall to their marginal cost zero in this case. The media industries are basically trying to defy the laws of economic gravity: that prices of digital goods will inevitably fall to earth (reference is made to this later in the report, but the authors don’t seem to have understood the implications).
It’s the same with software: what illegal downloading has shown is that the prices Microsoft and other proprietary companies have tried to obtain for software are, in fact, unjustifiable, and essentially unenforceable in an online world. Paying several hundred pounds for something that costs effectively zero to manufacture and distributed is rightly perceived as unfair by consumers which is why they feel little compunction in downloading it. Costs of development need to be recouped, but that doesn’t justify the kind of price-gouging that has been going on in the software industry for the last few decades (just think of the profit margins that companies like Microsoft have achieved historically).
The difference is, people now have a way of manifesting their discontent by using open source, or through unauthorised downloads (which Bill Gates has admitted he prefers to the former option). And, of course, free software, as produced by open source companies, shows that there are other ways of developing code be it drawing upon a wider community of volunteer programmers, or selling support etc. – without charging high prices for goods with zero marginal cost.
In fact, there is a larger point here, completely missed in the report, as far as I can see. One reason why people have few qualms about downloading copyrighted material that lack of ethical consideration the report refers to above – is that there is growing realisation that copyright law as currently construed is totally tilted in favour of businesses. Copyright term originally *fourteen* years is now effectively forever, thanks to constant extensions. The basic social compact that a creative work was granted a short-term, government-backed monopoly in return for placing that work in the public domain soon afterwards has been betrayed: people effectively give lots and get nothing. Illegal downloads are a way of striving for a fairer balance in a world where the laws are completely skewed against ordinary citizens, who have no other way of obtaining a more equitable approach.
Again, the report does not reflect this, but silently assumes that copyright is good in itself, and is working as it should. In fact, the massive flouting of the law is proof that this is not the case: when [i]ndustry reports suggest that at least seven million British citizens have downloaded unauthorised content, many on a regular basis, and many also without ethical consideration, then clearly today’s copyright system is badly perhaps irremediably – broken.
So, “while ‘Copycats’ is to be welcomed as an honest effort to report on the true situation of unauthorised downloads in the UK, it fails at a profound level by overlooking its own deep, ingrained biases, fruits of years of relentless propaganda campaigns waged by the media industries and their lobbyists,” Glyn blogs, adding:
“Ironically, then, it would seem that the authors of the ‘Copycats’ report, which delineates a wired-up Britain permeated by the ‘copycat’ tendency in the realm of digital artefacts, are themselves unconscious copycats, albeit of a different, more rarefied kind, in the realm of ideas.”
Jon Newton – p2pnet
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