from the maybe-there's-another-way dept
Last fall, our think tank, the Copia Institute, released a paper, The Carrot or the Stick? which detailed how innovation in the form of convenient, appealing and reasonably priced legal content streaming services appeared to be the most powerful tool in reducing piracy. The report looked at a number of different data sources and situations in multiple different countries. And what we found, over and over again, was pretty straightforward: ratcheting up enforcement or punishment did not work — or, if it did work, it only worked exceptionally briefly. However, by introducing good, convenient authorized services, piracy rates fell, like off a cliff. We saw this pattern repeated over and over again.
And yet… instead of seeing policymakers and legacy content companies pursue strategies to encourage more innovation and more competition in authorized services, they continually focus on enforcement and punishment. This makes no sense at all. Take the situation in the UK, for example. Last week, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) came out with a report noting that piracy in the UK had dropped significantly in the wake of authorized streaming services like Spotify and Netflix entering the market. The full report is worth reading and pretty clearly suggests — as our own report last year did — that having good authorized services in place is the best way to reduce piracy.
The IPO?s report, carried out by research group Kantar Media, suggested a strong link between the rise of such services and falling piracy. 80pc of music listeners now use exclusively legal means, up from 74pc a year ago
This is all great and consistent with what we found in basically every country we looked at. But that’s why it’s equally troubling that, rather than supporting that innovative ecosystem that is successfully diminishing piracy, the UK’s IPO has moved forward with its ridiculous plan to jail pirates for 10 years. As we described in great detail a few months ago, the IPO’s support of 10-year prison sentences for copyright infringement was not only based on no actual data, and pulled out of thin air, but it directly contradicted numerous studies on the deterrence effect of longer prison sentences.
I spoke to people at the IPO (many of whom are quite reasonable) after the recommendation came out, and they insisted that the 10-year prison sentence would only be used for “true criminals” and not just people sharing files online. They apparently also promised Open Rights Group that the specifics would be clarified in the final bill so as not to target ordinary people file sharing online — but that’s not what happened:
Partly in an attempt to deal with headlines that this was ?10 years for filesharing”, the IPO has rewritten the definition of criminal liability. They told us during meetings that the new definition would make it very clear that ordinary internet users – including filesharers – would not be targeted, and raising the penalty would also mean narrowing its application to real criminals. Unfortunately the final draft appears to be as bad or worse than the original, with a very low threshold of ?having a reason to believe? that the right holder will be exposed to ?a risk of loss?.
So, what the hell is going on at the IPO over there? They have clear research showing that a massively effective way to reduce piracy is to get more good, convenient authorized services. And they have no research backing up the idea that increased prison sentences will reduce infringement. And yet, which one have they doubled down on?
This is why people have so little respect for copyright law and why we so often refer to it as “faith-based” policy making. The evidence clearly points in one directly, and the powers that be, instead, go in the other direction, against all the evidence, because some people “feel” that piracy must be punished to make it stop.