As Usual, Media Outlets Mindlessly Parrot BSA Press Releases With Zero Scrutiny

from the par-for-the-course dept

When the BSA released its annual report on software piracy, Mike dubbed it "Bogus Stats Again", because as usual it employs plenty of ridiculous methodologies and unfounded assumptions to inflate the supposed economic loss. The BSA doesn't have to worry, though, because most members of the media just obediently parrot their highlighted "findings" without even bothering to read the report, let alone read it critically.

As reader Robert points out, this is certainly the situation in Canada, where multiple different sources of news are running the same Canadian Press wire story about the BSA report. The CP story is completely one-sided, and certainly makes the situation sound dire:

The value of computer software piracy in Canada totalled just more than $1.1 billion last year with 40 per cent of computer users admitting they acquired software illegally, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Business Software Alliance study found that nearly one in three copies of software was unlicensed in Canada in 2011.

"If 40 per cent of consumers admitted they shoplift -- even rarely --authorities would react by increasing police patrols and penalties," said Jacquie Famulak, head of the Business Software Alliance Canada committee.

"Software piracy demands a similar response: concerted public education and vigorous law enforcement," Famulak said in a news release.

That story is based solely on the BSA's press release (pdf), which draws partially from the global study and partially from the Canadian user survey (pdf). If a single reporter or editor had bothered to spend five minutes doing research, they might have realized that the real picture is much different. The news reports sloppily mash together the 40% figure with the "nearly one in three" (specifically 27%) figure. The former is the number of users who admitted to pirating software in a survey, and the latter is the estimated percentage of pirated software as a portion of total software installs. The methodology behind both figures is highly questionable, but even putting that aside, the BSA's own numbers tell another story when examined more closely. For example, the 40% figure is a summary of several different categories. Take a look at the full graph:

Only 14% of people said they pirated software any more than "rarely", and only 6% said more than "occasionally". To say that 40% of people admitted to piracy is not technically inaccurate—it's just highly misleading in tone and tenor. Then there's the 27% piracy rate for software. The press release, and the news reports that copy it, leave out a very important detail: 27% is an all-time low, and the result of a steeper decline than in any other country in the world. Michael Geist points this out, plus the fact that the BSA called Canada a "low-piracy" country in 2009, and rates have steadily declined since:

For the past few years, the BSA report has repeatedly found that piracy is declining in Canada. In 2009, Canada was characterized as a "low piracy country", in 2010 the industry noted that Canada's piracy rate was at an all-time low, and last year it dropped further to another all-time low.

The latest report says the Canadian piracy rate dropped further in 2011. In fact, over the past five years, the Canadian rate has dropped by 18% (from 33% to 27%), the sharpest decline in the world. No other country has seen its piracy rate drop as quickly.

Seems like that would have been worth mentioning in a story that gets distributed to news outlets across the country. But instead, we see the same pattern all over the world: Europe, the UK, South Africa, India, Malaya—anywhere the BSA put out a press release. Thanks to some combination of laziness, incompetence and indifference ingrained in the mass-media news cycle, the BSA can say what it wants and rely on the press to be its own personal PR vehicle.

Filed Under: bogus stats, bsa, canada, software piracy

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2012 @ 4:04pm

    The news reports sloppily mash together the 40% figure...

    We see again what the relaxing of the ownership of the newsmedia has resulted in with the parroting of this article with out fact checks. The merger mania that has gripped this country has lead to mass layoffs. News today isn't what news was yesteryear. Instead you have a few people so-called reporting the news and they are not doing 'feet on the pavement' reporting but rather they are taking syndicated feeds and either reprinting them wholesale or rewriting them to seem that their local outlet was somehow responsible for the reporting.

    Gone is the day of the investigative reporting. Gone is the holding political offices and politicians responsible for their misdeeds. You can see this action in force, from the methods used to punish whistle blowers right on down to the incidents of reaction to Wikileaks over the exposure of what the US diplomats were doing in the citizens' names without having to expose the actions to public scrutiny.

    Today's news comes straight from the American version of Pravda.

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