As we reported
last week, the French agency in charge of scaring internet users with the threat of potentially losing their internet connections based on accusations (not convictions) of copyright infringement has finally started passing on "third strike" notices to prosecutors, to see if they choose to start kicking people offline. The NY Times has an article discussing this latest step
in a manner that repeats a bunch of the record labels' favorite talking points, and seems to accept a number of the industry's claims without question (a practice that is becoming way too common in the pages of the NY Times lately).
Studies show that the appeal of piracy has waned in France since the so-called three-strikes law, hailed by the music and movie industries and hated by advocates of an open Internet, went into effect. Digital sales, which were slow to get started in France, are growing. Music industry revenues are starting to stabilize.
These are all stated as if it's clear that the three things are connected, even though the evidence there is lacking.
“I think more and more French people understand that artists should get paid for their work,” said Pascal Negre, president of Universal Music France. “I think everybody has a friend who has received an e-mail. This creates a buzz. There is an educational effect.”
This is wishful thinking on the part of Negre. Multiple studies have shown that piracy is almost never
an educational issue. It's not about people needing to "understand that artists should get paid for their work." As we've seen time and time again, if you give fans a good reason to buy, fans have no problem spending (and spending big) on artists. As for "the buzz" created by Hadopi emails, from what the various reports we've heard out of France are saying, much of that "buzz" is around how to make use of VPNs and other tools... as well as how to use cyberlockers and such tools that are not (yet) covered by Hadopi.
Eric Walter, the secretary general of Hadopi, said that the relatively low number of third-stage offenders showed that the system had succeeded.
“Our work is to explain to people why piracy is a bad thing and why they should stop,” he said during an interview in the agency’s nondescript headquarters behind the Montparnasse train station in Paris. “When the people understand that, they stop. Of course, some people don’t want to understand. Then we have to transfer their dossiers to the justice system.”
Again, this assumes that piracy is merely an educational issue, and people would just stop infringing if they only knew that it was illegal. Yet there's little evidence to support that claim. Most kids understand that it's illegal, but it doesn't make a difference to them.
A report commissioned by Hadopi, which has a budget of €11 million and employs 70 people, showed a sharp decline in file-sharing since the system was put in place.
A separate study by researchers at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh suggests that Hadopi has given a lift to legal downloads via the Apple iTunes music store. Since the spring of 2009, when the debate over the measure was raging, through mid-2011, iTunes sales rose much more strongly in France than in other European countries.
Oddly, the NY Times fails to name the study or its authors, or link to the actual study. But we will. It's The Effect of Graduated Response Anti-Piracy Laws on Music Sales: Evidence from an Event Study in France
, by Brett Danaher, Michael D. Smith, Rahul Telang and Siwen Chen. If this study sounds familiar, it's because it's the one the IFPI has been hyping in support of similar laws. It's also the report that isn't nearly as strong as the IFPI (or the NY Times) insists and has been pretty thoroughly debunked
for anyone who uses it to claim that Hadopi's notice system educated people into buying from iTunes. As some have pointed out, the actual data shows the "change" in sales behavior (relative to other countries) happened way before Hadopi
came into effect. And... when Hadopi actually started sending out its notices? No noticeable impact.
That kind of takes the wind out of the sales of the two folks quoted above who insist that it's the educational nature of the notices that leads to the increase in sales. And, as we reported last month, when Le Monde took the same data and plotted it against announcements about new iPhones or Christmas, it found a much stronger connection
, suggesting the increase in sales had little to do with Hadopi and much more to do with more people having iPhones.
These are the kinds of things that you would think the NY Times might note. But it does not.
There is other evidence in Europe that tougher online copyright enforcement can lift media industry revenues, at least briefly. Music sales rose 10 percent in Sweden in 2009, for example, after the country tightened up its copyright laws, bringing previously lax standards into line with E.U. norms.
Mr. Negre, at Universal Music, said it was probably no coincidence that Sweden and France had produced the two big European success stories in the legitimate digital music market: the streaming services Spotify and Deezer. These companies — the former was founded in Sweden, the latter in France — resemble pirate sites in that they give users access to millions of songs free, at least for their basic services.
This may be the most ridiculous claim of all. First off, Deezer, in France, launched back in 2007
, or about four years before Hadopi went into effect. Similarly, Spotify launched in Sweden in 2008. The IPRED law in Sweden? Went into effect in 2009. In other words, both of these services pre-dated
the laws, rather than post-dated them as Negre from Universal Music implies. And, perhaps that also has a lot more to do with the rebound of some parts of the recording business in both of those countries. After finally allowing services to offer fans what they wanted, should it be any surprise that they actually are happy with that? Oh, as for the claim that IPRED reduced file sharing in Sweden? Reports had the amount of sharing traffic surprassing pre-IPRED numbers within months. It may have suppressed infringement briefly, but not for long. Of course, it's worth noting that much of the effort has been focused on movies. With music, thanks to Spotify, the reasons to infringe are almost gone.
And, really, that
should be the key lesson we're talking about here. If the industry stops meddling and starts letting companies treat their customers right and provide them with more and better ways to consume, they will do so. Playing wac-a-mole, kicking people offline and scaring them is no way to build a long term business.
There are two other really interesting bits later down in the article. The first is that Sarkozy's opponents in the upcoming election all seem to want to dump Hadopi, demonstrating just how unpopular the law really is in France. Then there's the fact that Hadopi appears to have been caught sending notices to the wrong people:
Mr. Thollot argued that someone had pirated his log-on to a nationwide Wi-Fi network and downloaded the material while he was in class. After interviewing him, Hadopi dropped his case.
“It’s like when someone steals your bank card number,” said Renaud Veeckman, co-founder of SOS Hadopi, an organization that offers legal help to people who have received warnings from the anti-piracy agency. “Are you responsible, or are you the victim?”
SOS Hadopi has worked with five people whose dossiers have reached the third stage, including Mr. Thollot; all five have been cleared before going to court. This suggests that the actual number of cases that have been forwarded to the justice system may be considerably lower than the 165 third-strike offenders cited by Hadopi. Mr. Walter at Hadopi declined to provide a specific figure.
This part especially should raise significant questions about the quality of the information being used. Because, so far, it sounds like a big joke... other than the fact that some people might lose their internet connections over it.