No, Every Person Does Not Owe The Movie & Music Industry $67 Million, But Copyright Is Still Broken
from the too-much-extrapolation dept
Two years ago, we wrote about Rob Reid’s comic novel, Year Zero, in which a bunch of aliens realize they owe the Earth-music industry more than all the money in the universe due to their long-standing infringement of Earth music (and the statutory damages rate of $150,000 per infringement). Prior to the book coming out, Reid had also done a TED talk about the $8 billion iPod, noting just how much someone might owe the industry if they filled a (very old) iPod with infringing copies.
In a similar move, some folks at the Huffington Post have now estimated that every single man, woman and child on earth owes the combined music and movie industries on the order of $67 million. Each. Not cumulatively. Cumulatively, it would be $470,925,000,000,000,000,000 — which is also 6.63 times the GDP of the entire planet.
Admittedly, there are some questionable extrapolations at play here. It’s based off of a recent study, which also has some questionable assumptions. The research, by economists Joe Cox and Alan Collins, found that (like basically every other study in this space ever), that those who download tend to also spend more on content. But they also looked at the differences between people who download unauthorized music vs. those who download unauthorized movies. According to the HuffPo summary, the study apparently claims that “the average person has illegally downloaded approximately 2,900 music files and 90 movies.” This same summary is given in a variety of other reports on the research too, but those numbers seem extremely questionable. They’re simply way too high. If the study only involved looking at people who already admitted to unauthorized downloads, then it’s more likely. But those numbers are way too high for the general population.
Separately, it’s based on a survey of 6,000 people in Finland — where the downloading habits may not be anywhere near representative of the wider population. And, surveys are notoriously unreliable about actually teasing out what people do. So those numbers are certainly suspect to start with — and then extrapolating a group of pre-selected downloaders in Finland and arguing that is representative of the world does seem a bit crazy.
However, on the flip side, for the numbers calculation, the HuffPo reporters only used a multiplier of $22,500 per infringement, which is what Joel Tenenbaum had to pay, but which is well below the statutory maximum damages of $150,000. So, if their other calculations made sense (which they don’t), the total could be even higher.
Obviously, all the numbers here are sort of junk and meaningless — but even with the ridiculous numbers, the craziest of all still has to be the statutory damages that would make such a thing seem possible in the first place. There are so many areas where copyright law needs reform, but a massive one has to be on statutory damages. The idea that an individual downloading (or uploading) a single file for non-commercial purposes may be on the hook for anywhere from a few thousand dollars all the way up to $150,000 just makes no sense at all.