Calls for evidence-based policy-making in the copyright domain are increasing on both sides of the Atlantic. How do we best regulate the fair remuneration of artists? How do we enforce it? Evidence based on sound methodologies and research is slowly but surely appearing. Now the highly respected Institute for Information Law (IViR
) of the University of Amsterdam joins the league of evidence-givers with a new report, Filesharing 2©12, Downloading in The Netherlands
, about how blocking websites is not a worthwhile remedy (The report is in Dutch
, but the executive summary is translated
. It was an initiative by the IViR itself and was partly financed by the Ministry of Culture, Education and Research, some ISP's, Dutch society for professionals in the book industry and done in collaboration with several other institutes. Small disclaimer: I did my masters at this institute).
Economist Joost Poort
explains his main findings:
"The most surprising result for me is that the act of downloading from an unauthorized source seems to have peaked and is now declining. This is most likely due to the actions of the music industry, who have been successfully experimenting with new business models."
There you go, music industry! You're doing it right! It seems like everyone is winning in the Netherlands: illegal downloads decreasing, new business models (streaming, advertising) successfully competing with abundant free supply, and paying customers. In fact, the study shows that some two thirds of consumers are willing to pay around the current retail prices for content. I can't back this up, but it seems reasonable to suggest that this is the same amount of people who would have shelled out cash back in the day of optical discs, or CD's as those clumsy shiny discs used to be called. Remember all those thieving fans who proudly owned huge tape collections with self-decorated covers of the copied albums? If you don't, you must be younger than 25. However, not all is good news. Poort continues:
"The downloading of films and series from unauthorized sources is on the rise. This shows that enforcement is not the reason for decreased downloading of music, since successful enforcement would not only have an effect on music, but on all media offered by blocked websites, such as the Pirate Bay"
Note that ThePirateBay.org is blocked
in the Netherlands, pending appeals in several cases. Poort elaborates:
"The reactions from consumers show clearly that the blockade of the Pirate Bay website is not relevant to about 75% of them. This is because they never downloaded from illegal sources anyway, or stopped downloading since legal services have taken off or they had enough money to pay for content. The other 25% seems fairly unaffected by the injunction. Only 5% have indicated they actually started downloading less, not a shockingly large effect to put it mildly."."
To say this is an interesting finding is an understatement of epic proportions. This finding gives decisive evidence that blocking access to websites, services or content distribution methods is a bogus way of addressing an innovating customer base. To repeat, but in more joyous terms: Hey Policymakers! Honorable Judges! Here's the evidence you've been waiting for! Ha, turns out that blocking websites is an ineffective way to change consumer behavior after all. Gosh, if only someone had predicted this before... Would've saved us all quite some hassle, right?!
Well then, now this is settled, time to focus all the wasted litigation and lobbying money for restrictive measures on R&D. The legal services are still in their infancy and have so much potential. The better they get; the more people will pull out their wallets to pay for access. You wouldn't want to be the only kid left behind who can't access all the great content made available through 4G network phones and super fast broadband by really easy to use services, would you?
Thinking about it this way, affordable, user-friendly and all encompassing services for music, films and books may even increase the paying user base from 67% to... 100%?! Maybe not quite 100%, but more research is needed for this new and possible social phenomenon of peer-pressure to pay for media and at the same time the reversal of the old media model: huge paying consumer bases for the cultural sector due to abundant and ubiquitous availability, instead of artificial scarcity and thriving "piracy". Record execs must be throwing money at their screens by now, reading about this not-quite-so-hypothetical but under-researched gap in the market.
Of course, we must not forget that part of the financing team is currently in appeal for a court ruling, which forced ISP's to block ThePirateBay.org. This blogger is happy to keep you updated of any developments in the already legendary Dutch copyright fisticuffs of 2012!