Bad Science's Ben Goldacre Rips Apart Bogus Study On File Sharing

from the there-goes-another-one dept

Over the years, we've found that every single industry "figure" or "study" on the harm done by unauthorized file sharing wasn't supported by anything factual once you started to dig into the details. So, when we saw yet another report claiming huge "costs" associated with file sharing in the UK we dismissed it pretty quickly noting it made many of the same mistakes as previous studies had. Apparently, it's even worse than that. Ben Goldacre, known for his excellent Bad Science blog has now taken the time to pick through the details of that awfully bad UK report, and found it laughable.

The big numbers being quoted, such as the £10 billion in losses? Not from any actual study. It's from an IP lawyer's press release, with nothing backing it up, other than "Rights owners have estimated" and that number includes both counterfeiting and "piracy" which are related, but different.

The other big figure quoted in the media? £120 billion worth of downloaded materials per year? Yeah, turns out that's based on (a) using a ridiculously high price of £25 per downloaded item and (b) totally and completely made up. You see, the number was already questionable, but the actual number in the report was not £120 billion, but £12 billion. Yet, the group blasting the report out to the press put the wrong numbers (just an order of magnitude off) in the press release, and only quietly changed it after one reporter caught the error. Goldacre asked the group what it was doing to alert the many, many reporters who went with the bogus number, and the group suddenly told him the interview was off the record.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Hulser (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 7:26am

    GNP

    It'd be interesting to add up all of the "losses" estimated by all of these kinds of studies and compare the total to the country's Gross National Product. I'm betting that you'd probably find that the estimates for losses from copyright infringement and stuff like lost time for surfing the Web would come to many times more than what the country even produces in a year.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 7:38am

    Re: GNP

    so you are saying that evil pirates are severely hampering the GNP of a country even more than HALF?!

    My god I didn't know they were doing that much damage!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    westb3 (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 7:49am

    what he is likely pointing out is that with those two compared the plausibility of the number becomes unbelievable, point in fact almost numerically impossible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    Hulser (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 8:07am

    Re:

    Exactly. If your country's GDP is x and the total number of "losses" from all of these kinds of studies is 10x, you'll immediately see how ridiculously overblown these estimates are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Dallas IT Guy, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 8:10am

    Wouldn't it be nice

    Wouldn't it be nice if "professional" reporters actually checked the facts in the press releases they use? Maybe even requiring two independent sources? I know it's been over 30 years, but I still remember that particular rule from my High School journalism class.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 8:12am

    I couldn't really find the original article to see if they specified what and 'item' was. If the article puts 'items' at £25 would that mean that each individual SONG downloaded is estimated at £25? Wouldn't that be a 4000% markup?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Debunked, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 9:50am

    Bad Science

    Mike,

    Ben Goldacre ended his blog with:
    "Like I said: as far as I’m concerned, everything from this industry is false, until proven otherwise."


    The above seems like just as extreme a statement as the ones he is combating (correctly). Why does he have to shoot himself in the foot after a reasonably well written article prior to that?

    As an example in his blog he cites the study
    "... 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.”

    If you look at all creative industries (I assume movies, music, photos, etc) then a job loss number of 4000 jobs in 2004 seems very reasonable. I know these jobs losses can be considered normal economic (i.e. buggy whip makers) displacement but still can people here deny that there haven't been signifigant job losses in these sectors?

    I just want to make sure one Bad Science isn't replaced with another.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    interval, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:07am

    @Debunked: > Ben Goldacre ended his blog with:
    > "Like I said: as far as I’m concerned, everything from this industry is false, until proven otherwise."

    > The above seems like just as extreme a statement as the ones he is combating (correctly). Why does he have to shoot himself in the foot after a reasonably well written article prior to that?

    Extreme? Its his opinion. To characterize it as "science" (i.e.; "I just want to make sure one Bad Science isn't replaced with another."

    How in the world is this bad science? Its opinion. No science involved. As for the numbers you quote; its difficult to see how any statistics would lend themselves to prove or disprove an opinion. Start attacking the man's facts, but don't use numbers to support or deny an opinion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:09am

    Even if you take the value of downloaded items down to 2 pounds 50, there is still billions of dollars there. Even if there is only 1 pound of harm, there is still harm.

    Deal with it. "Downloading" and using commercial software without a license is stealing services.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:41am

    Re:

    I agree, this is actually the stance you want when approaching something. It's the same concept as Innocent until proven guilty. You assume that nothing has happened until someone can prove to you otherwise. You don't start a trail assuming the defendant is guilty because the prosecutor said so. Likewise you don't assume some numbers are true just because someone said so.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    Eskimo Heel (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:54am

    Licensing media or content?

    The real issue is that these guys want you to believe you are licensing CONTENT rather than the physical media. And they want it both ways. How about the fact that I've bought the Beatles' "Abbey Road" at least 4 times - LP, 8-track, cassette, and DVD. I can't tell you how many of the LPs and tapes wore out too. If they are really licensing content, I should be able to present a defective media and, at a reduced cost, get a replacement... but they don't do that because when you take this approach, they say you BOUGHT the content.
    So now that I've made digital recordings of the content I have clearly bought - er, LICENSED - I'm never going to buy another copy of Abbey Road - have they considered their lost revenue is because none of us will EVER need to buy additional copies of music already bought? Hm, I wonder if all of started going back with defective MEDIA and asked to have the license transferred to a different copy of the media, would they have to give in? Any lawyers in the audience?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 11:24am

    Re: Wouldn't it be nice

    now they use the original source and them selves to create two sources

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    KeillRandor (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    Re: Licensing media or content?

    Actually - the real problem, (and I've talked about this before) - is that they want BOTH!

    They want to both SELL you a product, (that just happens to have some particular data/information/music/film etc. on it), and therefore be able to stop you from making unauthorised copies of it, while at the SAME TIME, licensing the particular information on the disk, in order to control how you use it.

    Unfortunately, the law doesn't seem to see that the two are NOT THE SAME THING, and are, in fact, conflicting with each other - (which the DCMA in the US reinforces).

    The problem, is that they should not be allowed to DO both - they should just pick one, license or sell, and stick with it. The reason for this, is that they are both covered by different laws and regulations, which, as I said, conflict - (at least here in the UK).

    But since they have the politicians in their back pocket atm, they're being allowed to get away with it. (While most people just work round it completely).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Hulser (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 12:12pm

    Re:

    Even if you take the value of downloaded items down to 2 pounds 50, there is still billions of dollars there. Even if there is only 1 pound of harm, there is still harm.

    So, what you're saying is that even if they didn't lie about how big the problem is, the problem would still be big. Well...if this is the case, why do they have to lie about how big the problem is?

    Deal with it. "Downloading" and using commercial software without a license is stealing services.

    Actually, it's not stealing. You've apparently made an incorrect assumption on TD's stance on the topic, but calling it by the right name isn't saying that it's ethical or legal. It's about calling it the right thing. Deal with it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Re:

    "So, what you're saying is that even if they didn't lie about how big the problem is, the problem would still be big. Well...if this is the case, why do they have to lie about how big the problem is?"

    Is is not bigger of a lie than saying that widespread downloading / file sharing / infringement / copyright violation / (some say theft of services) isn't causing any hard either.

    it's a match between two groups lying through their teeth. It's too bad that only one side is getting spanked on techdirt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    herodotus (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 2:45pm

    "Is is not bigger of a lie than saying that widespread downloading / file sharing / infringement / copyright violation / (some say theft of services) isn't causing any hard either.

    it's a match between two groups lying through their teeth. It's too bad that only one side is getting spanked on techdirt."


    No one I have seen representing techdirt has said that downloading isn't causing any harm. The point being made again and again is that nothing can really stop it, and that therefore people in the content industries should try to find a way to adapt to these circumstances.

    I mean, does saying 'drugs are wrong' over and over again make people stop doing them? No. So why do so many people spend so much time and money doing just that?

    It's the same situation with widespread infringement. Until the content industries achieve big-brother like powers (which, lets face it, they just don't have the money for) they will never be able to stop it. In any case, trying to stop it is like trying to get pee out of swimming pool.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    nelsoncruz (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 2:54pm

    Anyone want to bet next year there will be a study quoting the £120 billion number based on the media reports about this one? :D

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 6:43pm

    Re:

    Anyone want to bet Mike will link to this post as "the music industry lies" or "bogus report shows music industry is full of it"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Hulser (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 6:54pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Is is not bigger of a lie than saying that widespread downloading / file sharing / infringement / copyright violation / (some say theft of services) isn't causing any hard either.

    Then it's a good thing that Techdirt has never made this statement. You might want to look up "strawman argument".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    Hulser (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 7:04pm

    Re: Re:

    So, your point appears to be that because Techdirt repeatedly points out the fallacious logic in these kinds of studies, that their logic must be false or else why would they keep on referring to previous instances of them pointing out fallacious logic. Yep! Makes perfect sense to me! Congratulations. You've exposed the conspiracy.

    Here's a clue. If you have a problem with the logic presented in a Techdirt post, oh...I don't know, maybe you could actualy state what your problem is rather than making indirect attacks that sound pointed, but that are actually nonsense.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 7:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    *yawn* - Mike has repeatedly pointed at the old "no harm" legal arguments. The old "strawman" claim is a standard way of asking someone not to state everything in one place at one time. After all, Guru's tend to look less impressive when surrounded by positive and negative results of their pontification.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    Hulser (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 7:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    *yawn* - Mike has repeatedly pointed at the old "no harm" legal arguments.

    If there are so many repetitions of this, then it won't be so hard to find an example, right? I can't think of any single instance where Mike or any Techdirt contributors has stated that copyright infringement hasn't caused any harm to anyone. (The new automobile industry caused "harm" to the buggy whip industry; it doesn't mean this was immoral or illegal.)

    What TD has stated is that in spite of the moral or legal arguments against copyright infringement, if you're interested in making money, there are better ways to do so than to preoccupy yourself with who "stole" what and change your business model to account for the new environment. Would you rather be right and left behind in the new marketplace or "wrong" and make money?

    The old "strawman" claim is a standard way of asking someone not to state everything in one place at one time.

    While you have used the technique, you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of the strawman argument. Again, I suggest you look it up. Here's a hint: contradicting a statement that was never made in the first place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Timo, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:40pm

    Bigger problems

    If piracy causes any damage to the society, it is not directly because individuals copy content. Whenever someone makes an illegal copy, the total welfare stays the same (if he would've bought the item otherwise) or increases (if not).

    The real cost has to do with incentives to produce. If, because of piracy, some useful content does not get produced, then a loss might happen. But they don't even try to start calculating this. So there's a bigger flaw in these industry reports than just overestimating some numbers. The whole logic of claiming losses to _society_ directly from illegal copying is wrong, whatever ratio of would-have-bought-otherwise is assumed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    shuggie, Jun 15th, 2009 @ 3:57am

    File-sharing, FACT and FAST

    I am constantly amazed and depressed by the complete lack of reaction in cinemas to the warnings now displayed before the screening of films.
    This states that ANY violation of the copyright act (copying, distributing, screening withour permisssion etc...) is punishable in the UK with an unlimited fine and a custodial sentence of 10 years.
    So; for messing with a large industry's earning potential you may be punished more severely than for committing murder.
    The same charming information is now displayed on DVD's too.
    The whole file-sharing, copyright infringement issue is just a bully using legal threats to prevent people using the technology to their own ends.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This