With the recent failure to make SOPA & PIPA stick in the US, and the MegaUpload shutdown and arrests, it’s an interesting time for online culture in the west, and discussions of intellectual property and online piracy, especially in terms of the entertainment industry.
A lot of UK and US government discussion branches out from a central assumption – that online file-sharing is the one great threat to the various entertainment industries, with each artifact shared translating into lost sales – but that assertion hasn’t tested in any objective way, and the claims made for how that transaction works are largely anecdotal, and can seem excessive.
As such, most discussions of the subjects aren’t particularly informed, and can break down into supposition, anecdote, and righteous idealistic rhetoric from all sides, ultimately making the discussion pretty dumb. Amid this, any smart and halfway objective voice shines out, and many are hungry for actual, factual research to be done.
Following the MegaUpload closure, musician Jonathan Coulton, who has found his own audience and career amid a changing cultural and technological landscape, posted on the subject over at his blog. It’s an interesting read, with Coulton tempering a liberal viewpoint with the desire to make a living, but the soundbite that has found its way onto Twitter, and I want to share here is this:
Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan.
It sounds like it should go without saying, but evidence suggests that the music and film industries have been opting to attack consumers and chase quick profit rather than curate and create desirable content. With Further and Higher Education providing ever increasing numbers of courses in creative fields, and with an ongoing shift in focus onto graduate employability, Coulton’s words seem to be a good core ideal to infuse students with.
Perhaps more interestingly, though, from a sociological and cultural standpoint, is that Coulton mentions that one government actually has done an objective – and not funded by entertainment lobbyists – study on whether unauthorised downloading creates any loss of revenue. Like their counterparts in the US and UK, the Swiss government, third of whose citizens download content that they haven’t paid for, determined that this was a threat to the economy that needed addressing. Their approach differed, in that they decided to research the problem, using their own and a Dutch study to reach their conclusions.
Their findings were interesting, if not definitive:
“Every time a new media technology has been made available, it has always been ‘abused’. This is the price we pay for progress. Winners will be those who are able to use the new technology to their advantages and losers those who missed this development and continue to follow old business models,” the report notes.
The report states that around a third of Swiss citizens over 15 years old download pirated music, movies and games from the Internet. However, these people don’t spend less money as a result because the budgets they reserve for entertainment are fairly constant. This means that downloading is mostly complementary.
The other side of piracy, based on the Dutch study, is that downloaders are reported to be more frequent visitors to concerts, and game downloaders actually bought more games than those who didn’t. And in the music industry, lesser-know bands profit most from the sampling effect of file-sharing.
Swiss Govt: Downloading Movies and Music Will Stay Legal – via TorrentFreak
This is a fascinating conversation, and one that merits real consideration. It’s also one where reactionary responses from governments and industries can potentially affect everyone in our society, not just those interested in technology. Watching this with interest.