File-sharing myths.

Thank God for Charles Arthur, The Guardian’s technology editor. His regular column is always worth reading, but never more so than today when, in a piece that builds on Ben Goldacre’s column of last Friday, he puts paid to the much touted myth that file-sharing is music business’ biggest foe.  

 In his column, Goldacre had shown that some statistics as to what creative industries had lost to file-sharing bundled into a report written by was written by some academics you can hire in a unit at UCL called Ciber, the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (which “seeks to inform by countering idle speculation and uninformed opinion with the facts”) and commissioned by a government body called Sabip, the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property, were very questionable indeed

On the billions lost it says: “Estimates as to the overall lost revenues if we include all creative industries whose products can be copied digitally, or counterfeited, reach £10bn (IP rights, 2004), conservatively, as our figure is from 2004, and a loss of 4,000 jobs.”

These “estimates” had, as Goldacre was to find, come from an unreliable, though, buy no means unsurprising source.

What is the origin of this conservative figure? I hunted down the full Ciber documents, found the references section, and followed the web link, which led to a 2004 press release from a private legal firm called Rouse who specialise in intellectual property law. This press release was not about the £10bn figure. It was, in fact, a one-page document, which simply welcomed the government setting up an intellectual property theft strategy. In a short section headed “background”, among five other points, it says: “Rights owners have estimated that last year alone counterfeiting and piracy cost the UK economy £10bn and 4,000 jobs.” An industry estimate, as an aside, in a press release. Genius.

In his article, Goldachre, shows how these, and many of the other calculations used to work out how much file-sharing is costing, just do not make sense.

Arthur, taking the argument a little further, questions the assumption that every download is really a lost sale.

…… I decided to start from the premise that downloads are not lost sales; that instead there’s only a limited amount of short-term spending cash available to people (which remains true, generally, despite credit bubbles). That instead of buying music, they choose to spend it on other things.

What other things might they spend it on? Here’s a thought: people who spend on recorded music (CDs, the occasional music DVD) are also very likely to spend on things such as games and DVD purchases or rentals. They are all discretionary purchases. So I dug up the figures from the UK music industry: the British record industry’s trade association (the BPI), and the UK games industry (via its trade body, Elspa) as well as the DVD industry (through the UK Film Council and the British Video Association). The results are over on the Guardian Data Store (http://bit.ly/data01), because they are the sort of numbers that should be available to everyone to chew over.

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