Why Do Newspapers Keep Publishing Bogus Piracy Numbers From Lobbyists As Fact?

from the why-newspapers-are-dying dept

With all this whining about how the death of newspapers will somehow lead to the “end” of investigative reporting, it has to be asked why newspaper reporters never seem to tire of rewriting industry press releases full of bogus numbers as factual? If newspaper reporters are really so great at investigative reporting — shouldn’t they be questioning the bogus stats? We’ve seen this for years in reports on “piracy” stats, which are almost always calculated by industry lobbyists who have every incentive in the world to blow the numbers out of proportion. Looking at the details, it’s not at all difficult for anyone to realize that the stats are completely bogus — but, for some reason, these lobbyists can always find press willing to restate the numbers as fact, and that often leads to a nice virtuous circle, whereby industry lobbyists and politicians can then point to the news report to support their bogus piracy numbers.

The latest gullible reporter? Tony Wong of the Toronto Star, who has written an article that probably could have been written every year for the last decade about the awful threat of piracy to the satellite TV industry. What’s amusing is that it really does look just like an article years ago, even quoting bogus 2001 “piracy” stats and then just saying “that number is likely far higher today.” But the reporter does nothing to verify this at all. He then goes on to talk about how the satellite TV companies are “fighting back,” with a “tough new encryption system.” I remember reading nearly identical stories from a decade ago, about some great new encryption scheme that would wipe out satellite TV piracy. Yet here we are in 2009, rather than 1999, reading the exact same article. Isn’t it the reporters’ job to ask questions about both the bogus basis for the numbers and the fact that the industry has been trotting out the same “fighting back! stronger encryption!” story for over a decade? No wonder newspapers are collapsing.

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Comments on “Why Do Newspapers Keep Publishing Bogus Piracy Numbers From Lobbyists As Fact?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

What I find amusing was a post by an industry shill just the other day whining about how internet journalism isn’t up to the same high standards of print journalism. I wonder if Weird Harold will comment on the high standards, fact checking and backup of Tony Wong’s story (not new, but story, as in fiction)?

One of the keys in print media is that a certain amount of time is taken to check and re-check the articles, by an editor (city or section, depending on how it works at a given place), spelling and grammar checked with a proof reader, and so on. Reporters can’t run a story without backup, quotes, checked sources, etc.


Weird Harold (user link) says:

I can drive around the block in about 2 minutes and spot probably 20 or 30 dishes that are either FTA (free to air, usually used to pirate signals) or Dish / DirecTV dishes (service not available in Canada, but it’s out there). I would say that 30% is a fair number from what I see in my part of the world.

As for Tony Wong’s numbers, I won’t say good or bad, but he quotes a source, and that is usually not a bad thing. However the “that number is likely far higher today” is speculative and likely should not have gone past an editor. They perhaps let it slide only because of the use of the word “likely”. It’s shakey, but it isn’t clear to me either if this is a news story of a columnist, which would change the requirements (just like a blog).

Piracy is a real issue up here, and the effects can be seen with the comment “I can’t believe I was actually paying for cable before” – so this guy (no idea how many more like him) stopped paying cable to instead go down this route.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: WH

Dude, seriously, does your momma know you use the internet?

Look, I am in Canada (where this article is from) and my neightborhood isn’t any different than thousands of others in this country. I would go out and surveyother neighborhoods if that would help, but then again, nobody is paying me to do the work.

It’s safe to say that if I can find 1 directv, 1 dish, and at least 3 FTAs basically withing eyesight of my front door, then I don’t doubt I would find more 2 streets away, 3 streets away, and so on.

The point being the numbers are likely good for 2001, his presumption that it is more today is massive speculation, but I can tell from what I see that the issue has not gone away.

Oh! Canada... says:

Re: Re: Re: WH

I’m amazed to learn that every neighborhood in Canada is exactly alike. I though it was like the rest of the world, where demographics vary greatly even block to block, let alone neighborhood to neighborhood. It must make things very easy for the poll takers. No sense to round up a scientific sample when one can just safely assume that the results from one neighborhood can be extrapolated for the entire country. EPIC FAIL!

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 WH

If you are subscribing to 700 to get 3 or 4, you need to learn how to fix you subscriptions. Even in Canada with insane protectionist 5 to 1 and 6 to 1 ratios, you can within reason subbscribe a la carte to specific channels or packages to get only what you want.

“If a law would make a large enough number of citizens criminals, its NOT a valid law.” that would suggest that if enough people break a law, it isn’t valid, so if you can get a big enough mob together, you can make anything legal – including murder? Sorry, your fail whale arrived on that one.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 WH

It’s not trolling – it’s just taking the argument to it;s logical conclusion. Our society is only as good as the people’s respect for the law, and respect for the processes that exist to change those laws. Very little is done anymore by taking hostages or killing people. So taking the music (or movie, or sat tv, or whatever) hostage isn’t going to change the rules.

Oh Boy says:

Re: Re: Re:5 WH

“It’s not trolling – it’s just taking the argument to it;s logical conclusion. Our society is only as good as the people’s respect for the law, and respect for the processes that exist to change those laws. Very little is done anymore by taking hostages or killing people. So taking the music (or movie, or sat tv, or whatever) hostage isn’t going to change the rules.”

Oh – I see. Copyright violation is the same as murder …..

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 WH

As both are rules of society, yes, they are no different. The consequences are higher on one not the other, but from a purely theoretical point of view, both of them are rules of society.

Remember, some countries consider killing an honor. Their rules are different from ours.

So keep going, you guys are just proving the points for me over time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 WH

“If a law would make a large enough number of citizens criminals, its NOT a valid law.” that would suggest that if enough people break a law, it isn’t valid, so if you can get a big enough mob together, you can make anything legal – including murder? Sorry, your fail whale arrived on that one.

As anyone with half a bit of common sense would understand, the rule of law is simply designed to present what everyone knows is *naturally* right. It’s to codify what most people recognize as being right. Murder, most people recognize as being wrong – fundamentally. You could never get together a large enough mob to murder, because most people recognize that it is fundamentally wrong.

The same is not true of file sharing. Many, many people do not recognize it as being fundamentally wrong – and there’s a clear reason why: they can show why no one is actually *hurt* by it. With murder, you can’t do that.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 WH

But that’s the rub – a small but noisy group of people isn’t the true will of the people, it’s just a noisy group.

Canada: Downloading goes on pretty much without issues, and yet only 23% of internet used have downloaded anything in the last 30 days. Under your logic, there is everything there for more severe controls, because the vast majority of Canadians aren’t downloading (but pay a tax to cover the downloaders when they buy blank CDs, tapes, etc).

It doesn’t matter how loud your mob is or how big the signs are, when they don’t represent more than 50% of the people, it’s isn’t the will of the people, who apparently do know what is naturally right.

Matt says:


So where is the scientifically generated data that should be used instead of the heavily biased industry-created data? If there’s nothing to refute the crap data, what do you expect the newspapers and media to use?

You expect them to do work and get the right numbers on their own? Good luck with that…

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Numbers?

When Mike likes the numbers because they support his point of view, they are scientific. When they don’t they are “industry press releases full of bogus numbers”.

Example, his “A Detailed Explanation Of How The BSA Misleads With Piracy Stats” http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080718/1226541724.shtml uses another blog as it’s “source” material: http://www.channelregister.co.uk/2008/07/18/bsa_us_states_piracy/ – rather than pointing us directly to the actual study, http://www.bsa.org/country/ResearchandStatistics/~/media/Files/statestudy07/statestudy07.ashx , which includes a detailed methodology: http://global.bsa.org/idcglobalstudy2007/studies/methodology_globalstudy07.pdf

So rather than agree or disagree with the study and address the particulars in it, Mike points to another blog, possibly hoping that nobody ever actually reads the data.

blog + blog != truth, but blog + blog = opinion, and opinion != truth.

Nick says:

Newspaper demise

In Toronto there are 4 daily papers. 2 are National (the Post and the Globe). The other 2 are local Toronto papers (Star and the Sun). I live about 2 hours from Toronto, where til a couple of months ago we paid $1 daily and $2 for a Saturday edition. Toronto still pays $.50 daily. We now are asked to pay $1.50 to $1.68 for daily and $3 Saturdays. Oh and the Saturday edition is probably 50-75% car sections or real estate only. Rip off your customer and see how long he continues to pay such ridiculous prices. I just don’t want to pay that much for a paper and delivery is not available.

Felix Pleșoianu (user link) says:

Um, how exactly is picking up a radio wave from the air “piracy”? It’s already there, and it’s by definition a non-rivalrous resource (meaning it doesn’t matter how many dishes you point at it, the signal isn’t depleted). Now, if you had to go out of your way to open a connection box and physically plug in a cable, that would be different. But we’re not talking that kind of piracy, are we?

This reminds me of a Dave Barry quip to the effect of: “We’re gonna have solar power as soon as they figure out how to run a sunbeam through a meter.” Look, we live in a world where material resources are still scarce. Shouldn’t we be happy that information, at least, is limitless?

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Again, incorrect. You can receive it all you like. Knock yourself out. The problem is in the decoding. That is even more complent than “open a connection box and physically plug in a cable” because you have to use technology with full intent to decode something that has specifically been encoded to block it.

You can receive the random 1s and 0s and enjoy them as they are. That is all you get for free. After that, you have to break the law to get the rest.

Information is limitless – protected works aren’t part of that information.

Anonymous Coward says:

A newspaper not looking behind the “curtain” to ascertain the accuracy of data is no different than websites citing data that likewise to not look behind the “curtain”.

Comments were recently made about DMCA takedown notice data cited by Google in a submission to the NZ government. Peering behind the “curtain”, however, reveals interesting information. See:

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re:

A very interesting blog posts that shines some light on the numbers. It also supports my theory of the bad data echo that some blogs seem to rely on. Mike is echoing numbers that were in another blog, that point to another story, that didn’t really check the numbers. Each one amplifies the supposed correctness of the numbers, and in this case, you find that the numbers are generated from “academics with a clear point of view on copyright issues.”. So when it comes to talking about out of date or slanted numbers, well, Mike must think that only means for the other side, not for him.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A newspaper not looking behind the “curtain” to ascertain the accuracy of data is no different than websites citing data that likewise to not look behind the “curtain”.

Not quite, but nice try.

A newspaper is a reporting vehicle, where the reporter is expected to first ascertain the numbers behind the report, and then go through a fact checking process.

An opinion blog post, such as what we do here, is based on reports that are out there, and done as part of a discussion where by the numbers can be debated and followup can be discussed — which is exactly what happened in the comments to the original post, where the claims Sheffner raised later were already discussed.

As for Mr. Sheffner’s post, it’s pretty meaningless when you look at the details. First, he repeatedly attributes to ME quotes from a Google filing (Sheffner has a weird and slightly disconcerting obsession with Techdirt, such that a fairly large % of posts on his site are now about us.)

What Mr. Sheffner leaves out of his post is the fact that if you look at the original report, there was a minor misstatement of numbers by Google, but the overall point raised by Google is actually supported by the numbers.

Furthermore, I replied to Mr. Sheffner’s post, but he is refusing to post my comment, claiming (incorrectly) that it includes a personal attack on him — which it did not (it just questioned why Sheffner seems to be posting so often about Techdirt). I also found it amusing that while he accused me of posting a personal attack on him, he had no problem allowing others to post personal attacks (incorrect ones too) on me. Funny, but not too surprising.

Also amusing, was that in that same thread, one M. Slonecker had no problem typing in his full name, though here on these boards, that same M. Slonecker has repeatedly said that he cannot type in his name and must be anonymous — for reasons that he cannot explain other than some odd and totally unrelated issue having to do with “cookies.”

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Collapse of newspapers

Right on, Mike!
Many years ago, satellite TV was desirable, but their business model stunk. I got a pirate antenna as a result.
Then the threats, the so-called “encryption”, the reported roving trucks looking for “criminal” satellite “pirates” – they made me so angry I kept my antenna, when I would otherwise have junked it, and started preparing for a long fight in court when they “busted” me. Unfortunately, they never did – I was looking forward to the fight!
Finally they came off the high-handed BS, adjusted their business model, and I started paying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Let’s toss to the side any numbers concerning revenue lost due to satellite signal “piracy”. Instead, let’s focus on the act of descrambling encrypted content and thus receiving as a benefit a broadcast service for free that the user well knows is meant to be a part of a paid subscription service, including both ad supported content and PPV content.

By what economic logic can one conclude that satellite broadcasters may be pursuing a “dead end” business model akin to the ubiquitous references to “buggy whips”? If such logic can be articulated, then what might be some examples of business models that hold promise for success?

Of course, totally ad supported models may be one possibility, but what about those who are sick and tired of Viagra, proraisis, restless leg syndrome, etc. commercials? If I hear just one more time a user “having an erection lasting more than 4 hours” one more time I will surely heave.

I subscribe to DirecTV and pay for a basic subscription and various premium channels such as HBO, Showtime, etc. I do this precisely because I can no longer broach conventional ad supported models where the ads at times seem to run far longer than the actual show I am trying to watch.

What is a satellite broadcaster such as Dish Network or DirecTV to do short of adopting an ad supported model as used by most terrestial broadcasters?

I would really appreciate some insight into how this issue may be addressed in a manner that makes economic sense and is fair to all.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re:

It’s the rub, see. The vast majority of the cable / sat channels you see that have no OTA broadcast facilities are still ad supported already. FX, TNT, Spike, A&E, and so on are all great examples. They are all almost pretty much selling or using as much ad space as they can get away with.

Economically, there isn’t that many more advertisers out there to pay, and there is likely little increase in the eyeballs to create more value. It’s one of the rubs of everyone wanting their own personal narrow niche channels: there isn’t enough money to pay for it.

Most of what gets tossed out as “buggy whip” businesses around here truly are not. Much of it is wishful thinking, based on a total lack of understanding of the infrastructure required to create the Utopian fantasies they are pushing.

But hey, I am all ears – I would love to hear how we can ditch the sat and cable companies and all enjoy whatever we want whenever, and all the live events too.

Mark Rosedale (profile) says:

Streaming legal content should be a bigger worry

Do you really need to crack the system? I mean unless you really want to get your hands on 500 stations showing reruns of the cosby show and full house you can stream just about everything else. I think their bigger concerns moving forward aren’t going to be piracy of the dish network, but legal streaming of the content they provide. This is the same with cable as well. I can’t stomach paying over $20 for a good many stations that I’ll never watch. You get all those stations and there is still nothing on when you need it. No I am happy streaming the majority of my TV and honestly I already watch too much.

Newspaper Ads Alaney (user link) says:


Good information.

In the present economic situation if you are looking to get your message across to people and advertising your business without spending loads of money, then you can opt for traditional outlets like print advertising agencies. These agencies can offer you classified ad space at special discounts. This is also a great opportunity especially if you are setting up a new business or are tight on your advertising budget.

When you use a professional ad agency, you tend to receive an early notice of the special offers and prices and also a considerable reduction in the advertising rate for national press. So help your business grow by promoting it in the low priced publications. Use print media to cut your costs and boost your advertising efforts in this growing economic recession.

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