Sharing = Stealing: Busting a copyright myth

Apr 11, 2014
Busting a copyright myth

Consumers copy and share digital files. This has been blamed for a potentially catastrophic decline in certain markets. But why do consumers copy? And is it as economically harmful as often thought?

CREATe, the UK research centre for copyright, has put a decade of evidence to the test by reviewing studies published between 2003 and 2013. Applying techniques normally used in the medical sciences, articles on unlawful for digital media were methodically searched in academic databases, while non-academic literature was sought from key stakeholders and research centres. Over 54,000 sources were initially found and these were narrowed down to 206 articles which examined , intentions or attitudes.

Professor Daniel Zizzo, an economist at the University of East Anglia, is co-author of the study, launched today. He said the research revealed that "current knowledge of file sharing is dramatically skewed by sector and method".

He adds: "Most evidence is based on the unlawful file sharing of music, which has been subjected to far more research than movies and software, which themselves have been studied far more than videogames, books or TV. This means there is a real risk of designing policy which meets the needs of a specific industry, possibly at the expense of other creative industries which are less well represented in the literature. Also, the economic effects found in one medium may not apply to another and current knowledge of file sharing is dramatically skewed by method.

"The evidence on societal costs points in conflicting directions and our study shows that the impact of illegal downloading and file sharing remains unclear. Focussing on 'lost sales', and examining people's hypothetical willingness to pay with and without the possibility of unlawful file sharing is insufficient. Regarding determinants of unlawful file sharing, there are many studies on self-reported attitudes, but few studies that observe behaviour. This is a problem, particularly as there is often a gap in findings between studies that use behaviour and studies that do not."

An important contribution of the new study is the identification of five testable reasons (or "Utilities") why consumer copy: (a) Financial and Legal Utility (this is where the enforcement debate traditionally focussed: "you can't compete with free"); (b) Experiential Utility (unlawful file sharing may be influenced by a desire to sample new content, to access niche content, or to build a collection); (c) Technical Utility (content is easier to access unlawfully); (d) Social Utility (it appears to matter what our peers do: a kind of herding effect); (e) Moral Utility (this perhaps motivates policy makers' emphasis on the education of consumers).

The academics devised a cube graphic that illustrates the key findings of the study in relation to the determinants of unlawful file sharing.

A commonly held belief is that unlawful file sharing costs the creative economy billions of pounds every year. But according to Professor Martin Kretschmer, Professor of Intellectual Property Law at the University of Glasgow, and Director of CREATe, "legislating without understanding behaviour produces lop-sided policies. The most useful evidence increases our understanding of how to turn infringers into customers".

Explore further: US film studios sue Megaupload for piracy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New Zealand outlaws Internet file-sharing

Apr 14, 2011

New Zealand passed a law against online piracy Thursday which outlaws file-sharing and threatens repeat offenders with having their Internet access cut off.

File sharing drops in Sweden after govt crackdown

Oct 12, 2009

More than 40 percent of Swedes engage in illegal file sharing, but recording industry officials have noted a sharp drop since a government crackdown earlier this year, they said Monday.

US film studios sue Megaupload for piracy

Apr 08, 2014

The top US film studios have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against defunct file-sharing website Megaupload, shut down by US authorities as part of a criminal probe of online piracy.

How the industry can fight back against pirated music

Feb 05, 2013

New research estimates that 28% of digital music world-wide is pirated using illegal file-sharing. The findings shed light on financial difficulties in the music industry experienced by companies such as ...

Recommended for you

Rural loss and ruin can be avoided

14 hours ago

An Australian Reconstruction Development Board needs to be established to help avoid more needless forcing of Australian farmers from their land, a QUT economist has said.

Narcissistic CEOs and financial performance

Jul 24, 2014

Narcissism, considered by some as the "dark side of the executive personality," may actually be a good thing when it comes to certain financial measures, with companies led by narcissistic CEOs outperforming those helmed ...

User comments : 0