Why The MPAA Can't 'Win The Hearts And Minds' Of The Public: File Sharing Is Mainstream

from the game-over dept

A few weeks ago we wrote about a new "digital music index" from London-based Musicmetrics looking at the popularity of file sharing by location in the UK. The results showed that the act of file sharing was mainstream, rather than a limited activity. The same group has now released a US version of its report, which more or less shows the same thing.
Americans downloaded more than 97 million albums and singles using BitTorrent during the first half of 2012, with Gainesville, FL named as the country’s “pirate capital” in an influential new report. Of the 97 million torrents downloaded across the USA, around 78 percent were albums and 22 percent singles. Assuming an album contains 10 tracks, the total number of songs downloaded would have surpassed 759 million in six months.
The report admits that not all of the songs being downloaded were unauthorized, but suggests that since many of them are, the characterizations are fair. Of course, just as we saw in the UK, all this really seems to show is how widespread file sharing is. It's not a marginalized effort hidden away from society, as some would have you believe, but something that a very large percentage of the population engages in on a regular basis.

A much more interesting (and relevant) report comes from Joe Karaganis who is teasing a larger new report that's about to be released concerning "copy culture" in both the US and Germany. The first tease discusses the attitudes of file sharers in the US about whether or not "it's reasonable" to do certain types of file sharing. And the results suggest that the MPAA's (and many politicians') belief that all they need to do is "educate" people is based on very little evidence. The key point is that, contrary to the assertions of some, the "moral" questions around file sharing are rarely black and white.
Karaganis explains that some seem to think that there are just two views of file sharing:
Let’s recall that there are two conventional ways of talking about the ethics of copying–both in relation to the theft of material property. First: that copying is not like theft because it is non-rivalrous–making a copy does not deprive the owner of the use of the good.  For short, call this the Paley position–the defense of digital culture as a culture of abundance.  Second: that copying is like theft because it deprives the owner of the potential economic benefit from the sale of that good (in the case of downloading, to the copier).  Call that the MPAA position–the defense of culture as a market that depends on the scarcity or controlled distribution of digital goods.
Then, he notes that copyright laws were really built up around a specific type of copying: commercial copying rather than personal copying. And the data above certainly suggests that the views of people on any sort of "moral" question change depending on the context. But... also (and this is important) based on age. The younger generation just seems to believe that basic sharing with friends and family should be seen as perfectly reasonable. The different ways of slicing the data certainly suggest that the blanket argument that "piracy is theft" is going to completely miss its mark in educational campaigns. People just don't buy it.
First, that strong moral arguments against file sharing mistake the structure of public attitudes. Not surprisingly, the public engages in many of the same negotiations of context as the law. For most people, like theft and not like theft are not diametrically opposed moral judgements about copying. Rather, they operate on a continuum. They depend on the context and scale in which copying takes place. Copying, our data makes clear, is widely accepted within personal networks, reflecting a view of culture as not only shared but also constructed through sharing. Outside networks of family and friends, in contrast, a commercial and property logic tends to prevail. Support for more active forms of dissemination and ‘making’ available’ through such networks is quite low. Support for commercial infringement–selling copied DVDs–is minimal.
No matter what sort of "education" campaign you create, you're not going to convince most people that constructing a shared culture is somehow immoral. Furthermore, the generation gap issue is significant, especially given that much of the "education" efforts are aimed at the younger generation which seems a lot less willing to buy the argument.
...there is a strong generational divide in attitudes, with 18-29 year olds far more likely than older groups to view a wide range of copying practices as reasonable. This shift is strongest in relation to sharing within networks of ‘friends’–a category that has become very elastic in the last few years through the rise of online social networks. Among 18-29 year olds, sharing with friends is entirely normalized and large in scale. On average, ‘copying from friends/family’ accounts for nearly as much of music file collections as ‘downloading for free.’ What are the reasonable boundaries of such a network? My siblings? My five closest friends? My 500 Facebook friends? Or the 5000 music aficionados who subscribe to a private file sharing network? This is where the rubber hits the road as people develop their own digital ethics. The law has not begun to address it, and educational efforts to convince people that sharing within communities is theft are likely doomed.
This, of course, is the point that we've been trying to get at for many, many years. No matter what your personal feelings are, you're not going to convince everyone else just by making a blanket moral argument that they just don't buy into. Instead, it's time to move to a more reasonable strategy (more on that shortly...).

Filed Under: culture, education, file sharing, mainstream, morals, mores

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2012 @ 8:55am

    Re: Copying IS like theft...

    "the WHOLE purpose of copyRIGHT is to PROTECT that investment of time and other energies to PROPERLY reward the creator. I don't think even you pirates actually (can) disagree with that..."

    First off, stop assuming people who have problems with how ridiculous copyright and copyright laws have gotten are pirates. We aren't. Not all of us.

    Secondly, the purpose of copyright, as originally enacted, was to promote the progress of science and the arts. It does so by allowing those who create a limited term monopoly on their works.

    It's purpose is NOT to protect the investment of time and other energies NOR to properly reward the creator.

    In fact, you seem to be saying that copyright = automatic guarantee to get back whatever you invested into creating. It doesn't do that, nor has it ever. To put it simply, there are no guarantees when you create that you will ever profit, even with copyright. So you're completely misunderstanding the purpose of copyright.

    "But you're basically just saying to hell with ALL copyright."

    No one has said that, this argument you have in your head is flawed from that point on. People DO have a problem with the "limited" part of copyright now being Life + 70 years (+ X more years when Mickey Mouse is due up to enter the public domain).

    Also, people have a problem with copyright enforcement. Not necessarily enforcement of one's copyright, but enforcement that then begins to encroach on our personal rights.

    "As I define it above: becomes tangled from there."

    Yes well, as you define copyright is not even remotely correct. So it would become tangled from there. You're building an argument around a flawed view and then just running with it from there. Of course things will get confusing for you.

    "pite the obvious problems with Big Media increasing its terms and penalties, besides control, that I oppose, YOU, Mike, STILL don't have any actual practical alternatives to the existing mess."

    Ha. So obviously you don't even read anything on this site. Otherwise you'd see that Mike does nothing but present ideas of all kinds to help copyright holders, as well as ideas from himself and others on what needs to be done to fix copyright as it has become.

    "So here's an exercise for you. Music is not like movies is not like computer programs is not like books is not like computer data. As in your piece, distinctions can be made, and should be."

    Did you even look at the chart above? It has nothing to do with any of that. It just shows how various age groups feel about sharing. Period.

    Wtf are you on? I'm not gonna lie, I'm kind of fucked up right now but despite that I can still read and understand things. What's your excuse?

    "So, how about a chart showing the inherent properties of those categories, how much it costs to produce, time, money, inspiration, distribute, and so on, along with your notions on how to PROTECT those INVESTMENTS..."

    You can't chart something like that. It'd be all over the place. Would you include independent films? Only big budget ones? Etc.

    Also, as I pointed out above, there is no guarantee you'll get back any investment. That you feel a need to harp on about protecting said investments poses a problem. Namely, you want a guarantee where none can be had. Lest I need to point you to the numerous Hollywood "blockbusters" that have flopped horribly. Despite huge budgets and A-list actors/actresses.

    As for protecting/enforcing the rights of copyright holders. Well, it's simple. Stop being douches. By that I mean, give the people what they want, in a timely manner, DRM-free, reasonably priced and as easily as possible to acquire, without any restrictions for availability (global or otherwise).

    Bam. Piracy problem solved practically over night.

    "Leading me right to I'm STILL going to require you to explain how it's valid for you to totally neglect "sunk (or fixed) costs" for a $100M movie in your "can't compete" piece, so that you can claim marginal costs are all that matter."

    That thing Mike talks about, he's coming at it from the perspective of the average person. YOUR SUNK COST MEAN NOTHING TO ME. I don't care what you spent to make something. Neither does anyone else. All we care about is the end product and how easy (and cheap) it is to distribute, and what we need to do to acquire it. Period.

    As for the rest of your gibberish, I won't bother dissecting it. Your arguing about something that wasn't even in the article, and all from a flawed premise/misunderstanding of things to boot. So there's no real way to help you understand anything.

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