from the give-us-data-not-dogma dept
As Techdirt reported at the time, the UK's Digital Economy Bill was rammed through Parliament, without proper scrutiny or even much democratic process, in the dying hours of the previous government. Since then, the implementation of the Digital Economy Act has moved forward relatively slowly. That's partly because there have been a series of legal challenges from ISPs concerned about its legality (and likely cost for them). In addition, it made sense for the current UK government to wait for the completion of the Hargreaves report on copyright in the digital age before proceeding.
But the people who drew up the Act and its punitive approach to tackling unauthorized file sharing -- the UK Labour Party -- have no doubts; they want extreme measures brought in now. Here's what Harriet Harman, the party's deputy leader, thinks the UK government should do:
implement the Digital Economy Act under a clear timetable including getting on with the notification letters and publishing the code of practice
That is, she wants people thrown off the Internet for allegedly sharing files (the three-strikes "notification letters"); censorship ("site blocking"); search results to be doctored ("search engine responsibility"); and extra-judicial punishment (cutting off revenues from "digital advertising".)
lead and set a deadline for agreement in the industry for site blocking, search engine responsibility and digital advertising
Of course, she wants all this without producing any specific evidence that it would actually help the music industries, or any awareness that innocent people might suffer as a result. That's to be expected, since the Digital Economy Act was drawn up in exactly the same way: without any research that its measures were appropriate, proportionate or effective.
To be fair, Harman does quote a few figures in her speech, such as this one:
Research by [the University of Hertfordshire] and UK Music found that:
Of course, that figure is pretty meaningless, since it includes people who have downloaded just once as well as those who download frequently. Moreover, they may have downloaded without paying in order to sample before before buying, or because they weren't able to buy what they wanted -- something the research quoted by Harman explicitly recognizes (pdf):
Over 60% of 14-24 year olds were downloading music without paying for it.
40% said their main reason for filesharing is to save money or because it's free. 23% said they did so to get hold of music they could not buy (for instance, pre-releases, DJ mixes) and 22% to experiment and try-before-they-buy.
So at most, 40% of that 60% were downloading music because it was free -- only 24%, which is rather different from 60%. Not only that, but the same research reported:
85% of illegal downloaders say they would be interested in paying for an unlimited, all-you-can-eat download service.
In other words, the vast majority of these unauthorized downloads are because of a failure to offer a product that people would gladly pay for.
Here's another number she mentioned:
Research from Harris Interactive found that:
This is what the research report, commissioned by the British recorded music industry body BPI, said (pdf):
3/4 of all digital music obtained in 2010 was downloaded illegally.
Harris conservatively estimates that 1.2bn tracks will be illegally downloaded in 2010 -- equivalent to a stack of CDs some 74 miles high stretching well into space.
That is, it's an estimated figure, but without any methodology given for how it was obtained. Here's another estimate from the same report:
Illegal downloads represent three quarters of all music obtained digitally, when set against BPI's prediction of 370m tracks in total across singles and albums bought legally by the end of this year.
Harris Interactive calculate that the total number of people in the UK illegally downloading music on a regular basis is 7.7m.
That's almost exactly the same figure that Jupiter Research obtained in its own research on the subject. Harman used another claim from that company in her speech:
Of course every illegally downloaded track would not translate into one which was paid for but even taking that into account Jupiter Research estimate:
Unfortunately, neither the research nor its methodology is publicly available as far as I can tell, making it hard to judge how reliable that figure is. But we do know something about Jupiter's estimate elsewhere that there were 7 million people downloading in the UK. As Techdirt noted at the time, this figure had been extrapolated from just 136 self-reported filesharers, using some pretty shaky logic. A more realistic number is likely to be closer to 3.9 million -- rather less than the Harris Interactive estimate quoted above.
That revenue lost to the recorded music industry last year through piracy was £236m.
The final figure that Harman quotes is in many ways the most important:
And despite the success of UK music, piracy has contributed to the fall in revenues of UK record labels - down 1/3 since 2004.
This, in a way, is the key "justification" for the harsh measures that Labour believes are "necessary": the UK music industry is suffering because of piracy, and must be saved at all costs. Unfortunately for Harman -- and for Labour's logic -- that's simply not true. As Techdirt reported, even the industry's own economists admit that the music industry is growing, not shrinking; the industry doesn't need "saving".
Although it's welcome that Harman tries here to justify her call for guilt upon accusation, censorship and extra-judicial punishments with some figures, it's significant that none of them stands up to scrutiny. In fact, there is no independent evidence whatsoever that the kind of measures the Labour Party embodied in the Digital Economy Act are either needed or effective. It's sad to see Harman continuing to suggest otherwise: surely it's time to move the debate on from one based on rigid dogma to one using real data?