A Step By Step Debunking Of US Chamber Of Commerce's Dishonest Stats About 'Rogue Sites'
from the let's-go-through-this dept
The issues of SOPA/PROTECT IP and censoring the internet are slowly creeping into more mainstream news sources. PBS Newshour hosted a brief debate, mostly focused on the recent domain seizures. The debate was between Steven Tepp, the former Copyright Office official, who jumped ship to the world’s largest lobbying organization, the US Chamber of Commerce (who, along with the MPAA has been leading the charge in getting SOPA and PROTECT IP approved) and Larry Downes, author and consultant, whose excellent work on both the domain seizures and SOPA/PIPA we’ve mentioned repeatedly. Unfortunately, as you might expect in 10 minutes, it’s hard for anyone to get into much depth. I think Downes made a key point early on in noting that these domain seizures are almost entirely “symbolic,” since the sites themselves aren’t seized.
But what I really wanted to focus on was how Tepp misleads with statistics. This is a specialty of the US Chamber of Commerce, and Tepp plays exactly to expectations here. First, you can watch the full 9 minute video, if you’d like:
“The scope of the problem is unbelievably huge. Rogue websites — those dedicated to the theft of American intellectual property, our creative and innovative products — get over 53 billion visits every year. That’s 9 visits for every human being on the face of the earth. And they’ve been estimated to do at least $135 billion in harm to legitimate businesses. The products they sell are made in completely unregulated facilities, and can often be, not only shoddy, but harmful to consumers’ health.”
So much misleading in one little paragraph. Lets start with the 53 billion claim. Guess what? It’s from a US Chamber of Commerce-funded study by an anti-piracy monitoring company called MarkMonitor. And the details suggest serious problems with the study. First, the study itself was based on Alexa, widely considered the least accurate web traffic measuring tool out there. Second, the number of “visits” to any site is an especially meaningless number — especially when trying to discuss the actual economic impact of such visits. Who cares how many visits there are if we don’t know anything about what people do on those sites?
Third, a large percentage of those visits all come from three sites: RapidShare, Megavideo and Megaupload. These are three cyberlockers that the industry has declared as “rogue,” but which have significant legitimate purposes. Rapidshare, in particular, has been repeatedly ruled to be perfectly legal, both in Europe and in the US. The company follows DMCA takedown rules and has plenty of legitimate uses. Including Rapidshare in these calculations makes the whole thing a joke. And none of those sites are involved in “selling” counterfeit goods that put US citizens in harm’s way.
Fourth, that “estimated to do at least $135 billion in harm,” is a totally made up number. The US Chamber of Commerce cites a different MarkMonitor report to support that. But it’s not actually a report or a study or anything like that at all. Instead, it’s promotional “white paper” (read: sales pitch) from MarkMonitor entitled “Seven Best Practices for Fighting Counterfeit Sales Online.” That report does say that “criminals” setting up ecommerce storefronts “will likely cost legitimate businesses $135 billion in lost revenue this year.” But it doesn’t source that number. Notably, other statistics in the report are sourced. Which makes you realize that the $135 billion is basically made up. But Tepp doesn’t mention that.
Fifth, he focuses on “the products they sell.” This is the really slimy part, for which Tepp should be ashamed (if the man had any shame at all). The obvious implication of all of this is that when you tie together these disparate numbers — you’ve got 53 billion visits to sites selling counterfeit goods that may be harmful to consumers. We’ve already pointed out that the 53 billion is bogus — but it’s even more bogus when combined with this final sentence. That’s because that same MarkMonitor report that gave us the 53 billion, also notes that the traffic to sites selling counterfeit goods is a minuscule percentage of the 53 billion. Specifically, the same report says that the sites selling counterfeit goods receive merely 87 million per year… or 0.1642%. That’s not 16.42%. Or even 1.642%. It’s 0.1642% of the total. In other words, the sites actually selling counterfeits… seem pretty small.
Sixth: even that exaggerates the problem — because even then you’d have to assume that every one of those sites involves selling counterfeits that are shoddy or harmful. But that’s crazy. Most counterfeits are merely replica versions, that are passable. They’re not harmful in any way. So now we’re talking about significantly less than 0.1642% of the big scary 53 billion he’s talking about. Basically, the 53 billion, besides being meaningless in general, has no connection to the rest of the claims about losses and harm to consumers. It’s complete and utter bunk.
What you have here is that Tepp and others are taking a real, but tiny problem: mainly an exceptionally small number of counterfeit drugs, and then pretending that the “harm” is broad and applying it to sites already judged to be perfectly legal, because some people use them for copyright infringement. The reports he relies on actually show what a tiny problem this is, but tries to mask that by lumping a bunch of totally disparate things together, from the tiny percentage of fake drugs out there… to the already judged to be legal cyberlockers like Rapidshare.
Tepp’s misleading bogosity doesn’t stop there. He then goes on to claim that these sites “steal jobs.” Um, how? But beyond the rhetoric, lets get back to the misleading numbers. Later on he states:
“Another study, earlier this year, showed that 19 million Americans have jobs that rely on ‘IP-intensive industries.’ This is a huge part of the American economy. 60% of US exports are from ‘IP-intensive industries’ and $7.7 trillion dollars are output from ‘IP-intensive industries.'”
This one we’ve attacked head on before. The intellectually dishonest bit here is easy to spot. It’s the reliance on “IP-intensive industries.” Not IP. The “study,” if you can call it that, involves the biggest maximalists teaming up to fund a report that defines “IP-intensive industries” extremely broadly and then pretends that everything that comes from such industries… is because of strong IP laws. That’s ridiculous, because you know who’s included in the “IP intensive industries”? Basically every tech company — including all of those which are fighting against these crazy new laws.
Tepp is being intellectually dishonest in the extreme here, suggesting that the only reason that the broadly defined “IP-intensive industries” are so successful is because of IP law. But that’s showed to be bogus quite simply. As CCIA has done for years, it uses the very same methodology to show that exceptions to IP contribute more to the economy than IP laws themselves. You can’t except one report without accepting the other since the methodologies are identical. There are only two logical conclusions from this: (1) the suggestion that those jobs, exports and output numbers are due to IP are complete bunk or (2) Tepp and the US Chamber of Commerce really believe we should do away with IP completely, since his own favored methodology shows that the less IP laws we have, the greater the output. So which is it, Steve?
Either way, Tepp is being painfully intellectually dishonest throughout the entire interview, citing facts and figures that are misleading in the extreme, if not completely bogus. What’s unfortunate is that none of the press that lets Tepp speak his mind ever calls him on these ridiculous claims.