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EU research says piracy not especially damaging

By | Published on Wednesday 20 March 2013


The rules of Buddhism dictate that for every bit of research saying that piracy platforms have hindered the legitimate content industries, another bit must state that unlicensed file-sharing actually has no impact on the sale of music or movies, or even better that the try-before-you-buy potential of illegal content sharing means piracy can actually aid sales.

So recently we had that bit of research that said that the shutdown of MegaUpload had had a tangible impact, for the better, on the sale of digital movies, so no surprises that a new paper has now landed concluding that “digital music piracy does not displace legal music purchases in digital format”. And this one comes from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. Good times.

The survey involved over 16,000 participants in five EU countries, and concluded that much of the music accessed illegally online – while infringing on the intellectual property rights of creators and rights owners – didn’t actually result in tangible damage, because the people accessing the unlicensed content wouldn’t have bought it had it not been available through illegal routes. Therefore the content owner isn’t actually losing any income, and the creator has their work exposed to a bigger audience.

The survey also concluded that the existence of unlicensed content platforms created a greater desire to find content online, which increased the traffic of legit as well as illegal sites. “Clicks on legal purchase websites would have been 2% lower in the absence of illegal downloading websites”, the report reckons.

Of course there is a plethora of research on the impact of piracy on record sales, and a plethora of different conclusions. Clearly every track downloaded illegally from a P2P network or MegaUpload style platform isn’t a lost sale in real terms, digital music fans just have vastly bigger record collections, a large portion of which just wouldn’t be there if legit purchase was the only option (much of which is probably never listened to anyway).

Though with most file-sharers, there is surely a minority of content that would have been paid for if there hadn’t been a piracy option (and indeed some other research reports have reached that conclusion), which is lost revenue to the record label and artist. Of course the file-sharer might argue that money went instead on tickets or band t-shirts, though with the traditional structure of the music business, that’s no help to the initial investor in the artist, aka the little old label.

The new Joint Research Centre report doesn’t make any recommendations regards policy, though the findings may well be used by those who oppose more draconian anti-piracy measures being considered by governments in some European countries.