Home taping didn’t kill music

June 5th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, economics, evidence, evidence based policy, politics | 102 Comments »

Ben Goldacreimage
The Guardian
Saturday 6th June 2009

You are killing our creative industries. “Downloading costs billions” said the Sun. “MORE than seven million Brits use illegal downloading sites that cost the economy billions of pounds, Government advisors said today. Researchers found more than a million people using a download site in ONE day and estimated that in a year they would use £120bn worth of material.”

That’s about a tenth of our GDP. No wonder the Daily Mail were worried too: “The network had 1.3 million users sharing files online at midday on a weekday. If each of those downloaded just one file per day, this would amount to 4.73 billion items being consumed for free every year.”

Now I am always suspicious of this industry, because they have produced a lot of dodgy figures over the years. I also doubt that every download is lost revenue since, for example, people who download more also buy more music. I’d like more details.

So where do these notions of so many billions in lost revenue come from? I found the original report. It 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”). The report was commissioned by a government body called SABIP, the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy.

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 £10 billion (IP Rights, 2004), conservatively, as our figure is from 2004, and a loss of 4,000 jobs.”

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 £10 billion and 4,000 jobs.” An industry estimate, as an aside, in a press release. Genius.

But what about all these other figures in the media coverage? Lots of it revolved around the figure of 4.73 billion items downloaded each year, worth £120 billion. This means each downloaded item, software, movie, mp3, ebook, is worth about £25. Now before we go anywhere, this already seems rather high. I am not an economist, and I don’t know about their methods, but to me, for example, an appropriate comparator for someone who downloads a film to watch it once might be the rental value, not the sale value. And someone downloading a £1,000 professional 3D animation software package to fiddle about with at home may not use it more than three times. I’m just saying.

In any case, that’s £175 a week or £8,750 a year potentially not being spent by millions of people. Is this really lost revenue for the economy, as reported in the press? Plenty will have been schoolkids, or students, and even if not, that’s still about a third of the average UK wage. Before tax. Oh but the figures were wrong: it was actually 473 million items and £12 billion (so the item value was still £25) but the wrong figures were in the original executive summary, and the press release. They changed them quietly, after the errors were pointed out by a BBC journalist. I can find no public correction.

I asked what steps they took to notify journalists of their error, which exaggerated their findings by a factor of ten and were widely reported in news outlets around the world. SABIP refused to answer my questions in emails, insisted on a phone call (always a warning sign), told me that they had taken steps but wouldn’t say what, explained something about how they couldn’t be held responsible for lazy journalism, then, bizarrely, after ten minutes, tried to tell me retrospectively that the whole call was actually off the record, that I wasn’t allowed to use the information in my piece, but that they had answered my questions, and so they didn’t need to answer on the record, but I wasn’t allowed to use the answers, and I couldn’t say they hadn’t answered, I just couldn’t say what the answers were. Then the PR man from SABIP demanded that I acknowledge, in our phone call, formally, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, that he had been helpful.

I think it’s okay to be confused and disappointed by this. Like I said: as far as I’m concerned, everything from this industry is false, until proven otherwise.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

102 Responses

  1. dvavasour said,

    June 6, 2009 at 12:03 am

    These people have been manning the turnpikes for decades, and are tumbling to it that there is no longer a need for an intermediary between artist and listener. Their strategy depends on making up headline grabbing figures which are based on a feeble analysis, and then dissembling when questioned.

    We are not served well by “the music industry”. The standard of craftsmanship – of mastering and mixing and recording – has fallen since the heyday in the 1960s and 70s, and advertising albums on television does not constitute “adding value”. The most effective form of marketing *good* *music* is for people to hear it … a method they are specifically trying to discourage.

    Music comes from people’s hearts, and their natural instinct is to share the joy which has inspired them. To declare it as “intellectual property” and to make its sharing a crime is to dehumanise it.

  2. Pezter said,

    June 6, 2009 at 12:04 am

    It’s not just the raw numbers on this that are suspect, but the whole assumption upon which it is predicated; multiple studies (sorry, no references to hand) have suggested that the majority of people who download content actually SPEND MORE MONEY on the same type of content than those who don’t. It seems that, say, music lovers may copy a large volume of content but then spend even more disposable income on comparable material.

    A recent example is the leak of the move ‘Wolverine’, which despite breaking records for torrent (download) figures did superb business on its opening weekend. It is reminiscent of Hollywood decrying piracy one week and then in the next breath posting record breaking figures.

  3. peterd102 said,

    June 6, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Downloading does cost billions, there the actual computer for a start, the actual connection, the endless phone calls the the ISP wondering why the hell I am not getting the speed they said.

    To bring a side note from the Video game Piracy issues. There is the argument that the average consumer won’t understand the whole business of torrents, ISO files etc. We shouldn’t be punished for something we weren’t going to. The DRM on games is irritating, Buying a CD and not being able to put the songs you have on your iPod etc. and those Piracy warnings on films are REALLY ANNOYING – why advertise not to get pirated films – We have bought this one – this isn’t a pirated Disc or it wouldn’t have this bloody warning would it!

    The music industry fails TBH.

  4. Michael_K_Vegfruit said,

    June 6, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Funny that The Sun goes big on this, shortly after the owner of the WSJ and Fox (a 27% owner of Hulu) announces he wants to charge for web content that was previously free. It’s almost as if their editorial matches their proprietor’s business interests…

    I’ve always been ‘fifty quid bloke’. BITD, I’d go to a record shop each month with all the cash I could muster, and come back with a big bag of vinyl. It was the only way I could listen to the tunes I wanted, and I got a valuable, scarce, object in return for my cash (which I could sell later if I got bored of it, and buy more records).

    MP3s aren’t scarce, there not objects, I can’t sell them to someone else. I don’t, necessarily, think I have a right to break the licensing conditions someone else places on their IP. But, what I’m being offered for sale isn’t worth what it costs, no-one is deprived of anything when I do just take it, and it is very easy to get for free. So, I do something a little bit bad.

    Now, I muster all the spare cash I have to pay for an internet connection, and go to gigs as often as possible. I tell my mates (and a bunch of strangers on the interweb) about all the new bands I’ve heard of, and encourage them to see them live. So, I’m paying for the music I like, I’m paying the costs of distributing it, and I’m promoting it.

    When someone like Jeff Lewis spends months designing a beautiful comic book cover for their CD (or whatever), making a scarce, valuable, object that isn’t easily duplicated, I still pay for it.

  5. Mijin said,

    June 6, 2009 at 1:17 am

    Piracy is a convenient scapegoat for the music and film industries, rather than facing up to their failings in tackling the new media.

    Hence why we’ll see these specious “downloads x full RRP” sums for many years yet.

    “Downloading does cost billions, there the actual computer for a start, the actual connection, the endless phone calls the the ISP wondering why the hell I am not getting the speed they said.”

    If I understand right, you’re implying that pirates are taking up a lot of bandwidth. There’s definitely some truth to this, but it’s also true that they are simply a little ahead on the kind of transaction that “ordinary” users will do eventually.
    In the near future, things like streamed HD TV will be commonplace. The pirates are probably speeding up progress if anything by pushing demand now.

  6. The Biologista said,

    June 6, 2009 at 1:32 am

    It’s just like stealing a car. You wouldn’t download a car! Also I hear piracy funds terrorism. You’re not a terrorists, are you?

  7. Picklish said,

    June 6, 2009 at 2:54 am

    It’s like the song says, sharing is caring


    although this pro-piracy video isn’t as good as one I once saw on a Turkish pirate copy of Lord of War – It was all singing, all dancing, selling-bootleg-dvds-helps-poor-people-eat-at-the-minor-inconvenience-of-mega-rich-studios kind of satire….and much better than the actual film

    sadly i cant find it on the interweb

    ps voshy.com ftw for not being blocked like almost everything else here at work

  8. ms said,

    June 6, 2009 at 3:24 am

    I’d say the main take-away from that report is that there is a difference between real and virtual piracy, and it simply provides data to back that up. And as you’d expect, the media naturally focus on the “it’s affecting the house prices” swing.

  9. ms said,

    June 6, 2009 at 3:28 am

    In fact, they even call out (in a footnote) the difference between “lost profits” and the value gap, estimated (by the industry, of course) at a more modest £1.2 billion over 5 years.

  10. ms said,

    June 6, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Also, the policy implications (p 16) are curiously close to Cory Doctorow’s suggestions from his talk to Google last year. It’s perverse that the papers are representing the findings (for what they’re worth) as a consumer problem.

  11. IH said,

    June 6, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Their numbers are flawed for a very simple reason; they assume that every download is a lost sale, which is absurd. Just because someone downloads a film that’s “free” online doesn’t mean they’d be willing to go out and spend £15 on the DVD, as price goes up demand goes down.

  12. Ubergeek85 said,

    June 6, 2009 at 5:41 am

    I find this whole subject interesting.

    The main argument that I dislike is that every download means lost revenue. This is pure bunkem. As stated in your article, the ‘calculated’ loss is $175 (sorry, don’t have a pound sign on my keyboard) per person a week.

    Yeah Right! most people who download things do so because they’re there, and if they couldn’t, they’d just no have them.

    I know peple who have 100,000+ mp3 collections. Do you think that they could afford to pay for every one of those mp3s?

    Another point: with things like illegaly obtained software, sometimes (not always), it is better than the original. It has the anti-piracy checks removed, you don’t have to enter a key, you don’t have to sacrifice your firstborn to appease the software. It just works, sometimes. In terms of productivity, which version of the software do you think is better?

  13. T said,

    June 6, 2009 at 7:38 am

    god I miss TV links

  14. jamesmarten said,

    June 6, 2009 at 7:57 am

    I’ll bet that the report is also assuming that all of the purchase price of the “sale” that would have been lost would remain in the UK for the nation’s benefit.

    Now how much of, say, a Ł15 DVD of a Hollywood movie really does? Surely a lot of that must go (a) across to the USA, (b) to the Asian production plant, and (c) to the international distributor. About the only part of that price that would benefit the nation is the retailer’s cut – and that can’t be much. Even less if you buy the DVD online from Amazon.

    And if the DVD has been out for a while and can be picked up in the bargain section for Ł5 – forget it.

  15. gregpye said,

    June 6, 2009 at 8:01 am

    The music industry, like so many before, has managed to shoot their own foot (both feet in my view), despite having a reasonable case. And, they do have a case – I simply can’t see why downloading is not stealing (see gregpye.wordpress.com/2007/10/05/stealing-music/ for a longer version of why).

    First foot shot was to deny that the world had changed, and the record companies economic rent (the part of the value chain that they can sustainably extract) would drop dramatically – enough that they needed to transform, not just tweak. Digital distribution transformed the model, and their response was to introduce crippling silly DRM, designed not to make the world better for consumers, but make it considerably worse. It is no good whinging about what ‘people do’ in response – human nature hasn’t changed in an awful long time, and their failure to predict it is their issue.

    Second foot shot was to flail around trying to push back the tide by abusing their customers and doing maths about loss so lazy it makes your head hurt. The thing I find slightly surprising is that the average man in the street, not noted for solid mathematical skills, can see that the figure is pants. But, these types of figures are still put out with the belief that it has some value or influence – the response you outline above is comical. If they had any goodwill left after the first foot shot, they blew it here.

    But, even with both feet in tatters, unlicensed downloads are still stealing. As the old saying goes, it’s not big and it’s not clever, and I remain astonished at the number of people who I had thought of as ethical, who do steal music.

  16. David Cooper said,

    June 6, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Copyright has become a method by which ordinary consumers are forced to remit money to artists and companies based in tax havens. If indeed £10 billion a year is being avoided, then this money is staying in our economy rather than being remitted to some tax haven. This is nothing that the UK tax payer need worry about.

    Wealthy artists are careful to ensure that they avoid tax on royalties. Bono, for example, is a notorious for moving his domicile from Ireland to minimize tax on royalties. Courtesy of EU law, he can expect a continual stream of low tax royalties, at no cost to himself, to be directed to his tax haven for the next fifty years.

    Copyright has become divorced from its original goal of giving a proportionate reward to the originator of cultural content, and is now a fiscal abuse perpetrated on consumers.

  17. Andrew_F said,

    June 6, 2009 at 8:31 am

    T said, “god I miss TV links”.

    You shouldn’t. It didn’t go very far.

  18. Ian said,

    June 6, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Evry time I but a DVD I’m likely to watch more than once I have to rip a copy, edit out all those irritating trailers and anti-pirating ads and then burn the new “clean” version to DVD.

    I’ve had to pay for video editing software and I have to buy blank DVDs. That’s money I no longer have to buy music or movies. Unless of course I eBay my DVDs as all the ones I want to watch again I’ve cleaned up & copied so I have no use for them anymore (and the rest I’ve just identified as not worth watching).

    I would be interested to see how much tax money is lost from artists and Music/movie exceutives living/sending their money to tax havens. In fact if you can identify a list of UK artists who choose to live in tax havens I’ll avoid paying for their work and download it illegally instead, thus freeing up my own money to pay for my kids’ education as they won’t! I’ll start with Sean Connery – the well-known scot who’ll do anything for his country except pay taxes. Might as well go looking for all those old Bond movies on line now, let my kids watch them and then they can spend the money we saved on renting/buying them on books.

  19. IainStrachan said,

    June 6, 2009 at 9:07 am

    It seems Ubergeek85 beat me to making the same comment.

    The so-called “lost revenue” argument is completely false – the money lost is “virtual money” that doesn’t in reality exist.

    The simple question to ask is if it became somehow impossible to download stuff without paying, would the music industry’s revenue go up by the amount claimed (once properly calculated). Of course it wouldn’t.

    Of course there is still the moral question of whether it’s right to take something for free that you’re supposed to pay for. That’s what makes illegal downloading wrong.

    But that is a different moral issue from the one that says you’re supposed to be honest in ALL THINGS and not make fallacious claims about “lost revenue” (sorry, lost virtual revenue).

  20. Niall said,

    June 6, 2009 at 9:35 am

    I don’t download copyrighted stuff (excluding free downloads bands put on their sites). What pisses me off is that I have a digital music and video player. If I want to rip a CD onto it I break the law. If I want to rip a DVD onto it I have to download dodgy ripping software and break the law. Yet if I could do this legally it would drive me to purchase MORE content as I’d have more chance to consume it. Thankfully DRM free commercial music downloads are coming in making it easier for consumers to consume music legally, when will the same be true of hard-copy media?

    PS David Lamey, how can a man who thinks Marie Antoinette discovered Radium be a part of the government?

  21. lukens said,

    June 6, 2009 at 9:36 am

    I don’t suppose anyone has a link to the original study behind the Guardian article linked to about pirates buying more music. It’s just that some of the things in the article raise questions for me.

    First off, it says:

    “The Norwegian study looked at almost 2,000 online music users, all over the age of 15. Researchers found that those who downloaded “free” music – whether from lawful or seedy sources – were also 10 times more likely to pay for music.”

    I have two issues with this.

    Firstly it’s lumping in people who download free music legally with those who pirate music, and it would be interesting to see if there is a difference in the buying habits between the legal and illegal downloaders.

    Secondly, it says the study looked at 2,000 “online music users”, but doesn’t really say what an “online music user” is. My guess is that it must be the people who download free music legally or illegally (who may or may not then pay for music), the people who download paid music (100% of whom pay for music), and then, I guess, people who stream music from online radio stations, Spotify, Last.fm, and the like (who may or may not pay for music). Obviously there will be overlap between the groups, but the only way the survey can get the results it does, is surely if a lot of people in the third group (the streamers) do not buy music. Or am I missing something?

    The other bit from the Guardian article I have issue with is where it says “Wisely, the study did not rely on music pirates’ honesty. Researchers asked music buyers to prove that they had proof of purchase.”. That’s well ad good, but did it also ask people who claimed they didn’t pirate music to prove they didn’t pirate music? As otherwise, the survey could just be showing that people only admit to pirating music if hey also pay for quite a lot of music too.

    I agree with what Ben says here about the absurdity of the entertainment industry’s figures, and am not questioning that, I just remember being confused by the Guardian article linked to at the time, but unfortunately was unable to comment on their piece or find a link to the original study.

  22. nash said,

    June 6, 2009 at 10:01 am

    One barrier to legal downloading is that it is almost impossible to get songs over 6 minutes in length.
    In 2007 I checked out iTunes and Virgin and gound that if a song was over 5 minutes in length but under 6, then it was 50/50 if it was available. Over 6 minutes, no way.
    BOth had the facility to download entire albums, but the long songs were still not available. Therefore you could buy The Doors first album, but not get “Light My Fire (6.50 mins)” and “The End (11.30 mins)” Both of which are the classic tracks you want to buy the album for. The Virgin site would let you buy Relayer by Yes, but as all 3 tracks are well over 6 minutes, they weren’t available for download. So basically they would have taken my money and I wouldn’t have got anything.

  23. Ian said,

    June 6, 2009 at 10:06 am

    “It’s just like stealing a car. You wouldn’t download a car!”

    I’d download a Prius, then my guilt over stealing the car would be assuaged by the smugness created by driving a hybrid.

  24. SteveGJ said,

    June 6, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I know enough struggling musicians to get extremely annoyed with those who come up with self justifying reasons for taking others work without payment (although the music business has enough internal leeches without the external ones). However, none of that justifies the absurd numbers that the music industry comes up with.

    I should add that the misuse of financial statistics to justify various causes is far from being confined to big businesses. There are plenty of cases where it is used in support of what are undoubtedly morally strong cases. One of the most glaring examples is that over and over again the case for discouraging smoking was supported by showing the saving the NHS would make on treating smoking-related diseases. None of these numbers ever took into account that everybody dies of something and this would at least offset any such savings. I’ve yet to see a proper analysis of whether the total lifetime health and social expenditure on smokers are more or less than those for non-smokers with similar social backgrounds and lifestyles. The former no doubt cost more when they are younger, but does that outweigh the high costs of treating age-related chronic diseases in the longer-lived non-smokers?

    None of this is to stop the case for making moral arguments, but it is a plea to not do so using selective use of financial statistics. For instance, there is undoubtedly a moral case for extending life spans through various social and medical practices, but we had better be fully aware of the full financial implications so that we can make the appropriate judgments. It’s clear that pension schemes designed for the 1950s are unsustainable in the 21st century, something which people are finding out about now, but which could have been readily forecast.

    It’s not just health measures either. Yesterday I had the pleasure of the company of a lovely and talented musician yesterday who is bitterly disillusioned with the debt she has got into as a student in the paper chase for, often devalued qualifications. Now we have a generation of graduates coming to terms with the unrealistic goals of educational policies which have been often founded on grounds of philosophical dogma rather than sustainable practical social and individual benefit.

    This stuff matters – and the liberal press is as much to blame in propagating unsustainable policies in the name of moral arguments as the music industry for commercial gain. They may not be culpable ethically, but the road to disaster is paved with good intentions and we should have no tolerance for warped statistics.

    Against this sort of stuff, the exaggerated figures of the music industry are of piffling social importance. Getting to grips with the financial realities behind the social, educational and health policies of well-meaning political groups is vastly more important.

  25. Catanea said,

    June 6, 2009 at 10:14 am

    And don’t forget, not all artists buy into the industry’s “policy” –

  26. misterjohn said,

    June 6, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I lost confidence in the accuracy of the original CIBER report when I found this statement early on in it;

    “Software losses due
    to what is often described as “piracy” were, for example, $48 billion worldwide in 2007 (BSA, 2007);
    and in the UK the figure was $1,837,000 or approximately £1.25 billion.”

    Knocks the factor of 10 into a cocked hat, as they say.

  27. annoyingmouse said,

    June 6, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I don’t understand. I’ve been led to believe that this was totally true: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALZZx1xmAzg

  28. killary45 said,

    June 6, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Copyright Law only dates back about 300 years. It surely time for a radical review. The law was introduced to ensure that people had a fair reward for their efforts – but is now being used to give obscene wealth to some moderately talented artists and their publishers.

    Why should the creator of a work and their publishers have a right to control copying for up to 70 years after the creator’s death? A company can spend a $Billion on producing a brilliant drug, but can rightly only preserve their patent for a relatively short period.

    Copyright piracy may be illegal, but it is certainly not stealing. Once musicians have received a reasonable return for their effort and creativity, then it is not immoral for anyone to make a copy. Why should a person on a low income, have to pay £15 for a U2 Album, which they download free, when the artists have already been very well rewarded for their efforts?

  29. Psychedelia Smith said,

    June 6, 2009 at 11:23 am

    As far as I am aware, there is no such thing as ‘off the record,’ especially if you’re trying to claw back something that’s just left your lips. What people should set out before the conversation begins is that thte material should not be used or that a quote should be ‘unattributed’, eg, ‘a spokesman for Fred Bloggs Inc said…’ or even better ‘An industry source.’ ‘Sources close to the Prime Minister’ always used to mean Alistair Campbell. If you’re working as a journalist in an official capacity then everything’s on the record.

    Nash: I never knew iTunes or whatever were so anti prog rock. Shameful.

  30. Suw said,

    June 6, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Couple of things – proper research has been pouring cold water over industry claims regarding piracy for well over five years, but few people listen. I covered the Oberholzer-Gee/Strumpf study for the Guardian in Jul 04, which found that piracy had no significant effect on sales, and they used real sales data and real downloading data, not a survey. Yet the industry, instead of saying “Oh, that’s interesting… maybe we can look into using this to help us promote artists” just buried their heads in the sand.

    (link: www.guardian.co.uk/music/2004/jul/22/netmusic.digitalmedia )

    Secondly, not all downloads are downloads of copyrighted content that would otherwise be for sale. Much of it is open source software, such as Linux distros, or porn, or other stuff created to be freely distributed. Yet I haven’t ever heard of a study where the numbers are adjusted for that.

  31. IMSoP said,

    June 6, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    I think the moral dimension to this is very important, and often over-simplified. Regardless of how much money is, or is not, “lost” by the industry, and of whether it is, under current law, illegal, the fact is that piracy and un-licensed downloading happens. The real question is if this is morally wrong, and when, and why.

    I was discussing this with my sister once, who said she resented being made to feel *guilty* by record companies she *knew* were not doing the best by the artists they published. I countered that I disliked the *smugness* of some obsessive pirates who seemed to take pride in how much they avoided paying.

    The problem is that the current record companies *don’t* represent the best model for supporting musicians – but nor do the smug pirates. So as SteveGJ says, there are complex moral issues here, as well as complex economic ones, and we accept simplifications of either at our peril.

  32. chimp said,

    June 6, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I read the CIBER report a few days, its too obvious that they’ve just made it up.
    “broadband access at 50mbs can deliver 200 mp3 music files in five minutes, the
    unauthorised DVD of “Star Wars” in three minutes, and the complete digitized works of Charles Dickens
    in less than ten.”

    Got to love that they talk about how awful copyright infringement is yet use an out of copyright book as an example. The complete works are on archive.org and it took my 7Mbit connection 68s to download all volumes. Scale this to 50mbs (wtf is mbs?) gives you 9s, granted its less than 10 minutes. If you use PDFs instead of the text its 130s pff.

    Another example:
    “such as a terabyte hard drive that can hold 200,000 MP3 files, or approximately 20,000 DVD films”

    Taking a terabyte as 1000GB for simplicity that works out as 50MB per film, oh yes that’s going to be pretty.

  33. Michael_K_Vegfruit said,

    June 6, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    @ SteveGJ

    “I know enough struggling musicians to get extremely annoyed with those who come up with self justifying reasons for taking others work without payment”

    Would your mates be making a nice middle-class income from music if people weren’t downloading music for free? Would more or less people attend your mates gigs if recorded versions of their music weren’t freely available? Are they really that good, and that tuned in to popular tastes?

    Most musicians around the world are amateurs, or semi-professionals at best. Getting their music out to a wider audience seems like a good idea to me.

    Again, I don’t claim it is right to ignore whatever licensing restrictions people place on their digital goods, but it seems to me a good business idea to make the infinitely abundant product free, and find a way to charge for a scarce product (promoted by the recordings).

    “Copyright Law only dates back about 300 years. It surely time for a radical review. The law was introduced to ensure that people had a fair reward for their efforts”

    That’s pretty much true, but misses an essential (and obvious, if you think about it) point: copyright isn’t about the right to be paid for coming up with an idea (or cultural object), but about the right to recoup the costs of making a physical copy.

    Copyright developed when there was suddenly a new way to disseminate ideas and cultural objects, through printing books. But, printing books cost money, and people who paid authors could easily be undercut by people who didn’t.

    So, copyright creates an artificial monopoly for people who pay authors, in order to ensure they keep offering their work to publishers, rather than making their money through speaking tours or teaching, or however else artists and thinkers had supported themselves prior to the advent of the printing press.

    Nowadays, most cultural objects can be copied, distributed and promoted by end users and creators for minimal cost (not actually free, it still takes time and some capital outlay on a PC and so on) without the need for private business to be involved at all.

    So, the duplication, distribution and promotion roles of publishers no longer serve a purpose in encouraging the dissemination of ideas. Instead, the artificial monopoly that’s created blocks the spread of ideas.

    Copyright doesn’t need to be reformed, it just needs to be restricted to those objects it was designed to support the production of, such as physical copies of books. Instead, the publishing/IP industry seems intent on spreading the right to control copying to fields where that right brings no benefit to end users or creators.

  34. Pete said,

    June 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I download TV shows I have missed rather than fussing about videoing them, what loss there? if I couldn’t download it I would have recorded it. I certainly wouldn;t buy the DVD. Technically I am breaking the law, morally I see nothing wrong with what I do, I simply use torrent sites as an extended video recorder.

    I’d use the “watch again” feature on the TV stations web site except most of them fail to run under Linux, and I don’t have a computer that runs MS Windows.

  35. frozenwarnings said,

    June 6, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    The Guardian also ran a story in 2005 which used dats from the Leading Question:


    which also showed that people who download music illegally buy more legal music than anyone else.

    If you check out their latest survey it appears that 73% of people in the UK never fileshare at all.

    Guy Hands, the new head of EMI said that he wanted “to take away the power of his A&R people and give it to the suits – the guys who have to work out how to sell music”

    That in a nutshell is what’s wrong with the music industry, people now run it who have no love or understanding of music and don’t support artists and allow them to develop. If Bob Dylan or Neil Young had been starting out now they’d have been dropped after a couple of singles.

  36. used to be jdc said,

    June 6, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I would only download something that I would never plan on buying. The only things I would consider downloading would be things that weren’t quite good enough to buy. No-one is ever going to lose money from me downloading something because, in practice, this theoretical revenue would never have materialised.

    This was amusing: “the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (which “seeks to inform by countering idle speculation and uninformed opinion with the facts”)”. So often, I see descriptions of what an organisation or individual supposedly does that fails to match what they actually do in practice. You have to wonder about their self-awareness.

  37. killary45 said,

    June 6, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    MKV – The first copyright law, in 1709, gave 14 or 21 years of protection. I am not sure how an extension of this period to lifetime plus 70 years can be justified by your argument. A publisher who gambles on spending a lot of money in printing a book, whether it is a first edition of an unknown author or the latest Stephen King does deserve some protection for his investment – ten years of monopoly seems reasonable.

    As for music – performers ought to be able to earn most of their money by selling tickets for live performances. Composers do deserve royalties for their work – but again surely most of these should come from tickets sold for performances of their work. At present copyright royalties mean that one hit song can give a songwriter enough money to live on for the rest of their lives.

  38. Bogusman said,

    June 6, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Has anyone ever produced any evidence that hooky DVDs are financing terrorism? Or is this just another of the recording industry’s fantasies?

  39. ms said,

    June 6, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    killary45: not just that, royalty battles affect what is receivable by the consumer: just think of the PRS’s recent actions.

    Copyright was originally to encourage movement from a patronage system (where high art was commissioned) to a more open-market system. Its aim was to reassure the artist that they would benefit from their efforts. Thanks to the practical elimination of production costs by comuters, the best way to do that now is buying directly from the artist. The recording industry is acting like any doomed establishment: seeing enemies everywhere and trying to profit from individual rule violations instead of its own merit.

    chimp: I found that dubious too, when I read it in a BBC article. Note that it’s in the preamble, so it’s not a finding, and it isn’t cited. Anyone can see that the text version of Dickens’ works would be smaller than a DVD. I can only assume they meant 10 seconds, or digitisation as high resolution images.

  40. tom1 said,

    June 6, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Have you seen the quality of those terrorist videos? Bin Laden is at the top of the heap and the quality of his ones are terrible. If terrorists have any contact at all with the DVD pirates then they should really ask them for some help, borrow some of their equipment or something….

  41. ayupmeduck said,

    June 6, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    It’s difficult to get the exact numbers, but I think I am correct in saying that until around 2003/4 Germany was the 3rd largest market for music CD’s – behind only the USA and Japan. This is despite the fact that copying music was, and still is, perfectly legal in Germany as long as it is not copied and sold.

    Around 2004, CD sales in Germany plummeted. This coincided with the major labels wide scale introduction of DRM CD’s in the German market, ie. the record companies used technology to take away the ability to make legal copies. I reckon this just drove people to make more copies and buy less. Sales only stabilized after the DRM was dropped.

    Did the music industry shoot itself in the foot? Probably, but you won’t find any data on it, never mind a press release.

  42. susu.exp said,

    June 6, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    One other thing this misses is: I own a CD and can legally (at least under german law) copy it to my PC (I´ve DJed a few times and a Notebook is so much easier to carry than lots of CDs). Now with the bandwith avaliable, downloading that CD as MP3s is faster than ripping them myself (and with DRM it´d be recording these CDs through my soundcard – again, legal – and converting them to MP3s). It also spares me the work of naming the files. Loss to the industry: 0. I already own the CD, I wouldn´t buy a second copy.

    Now, I do record music (more than a hobby, less than a profession) and money permitting will release a CD this year (I´ve finished mastering and now it´s getting the artwork done and actually pressing it). As somebody who hasn´t a great following, I think filesharing may actually be helpful. CDs don´t feed musicians, playing live does and if people dl my music, that created demand for me playing live. I´ve taken care to keep the record dynamic (roughly 14dB mean RMS), so that it will actually sound better than an MP3. You can enjoy my music free, but you will actually gain something beyond that by buying the CD. Whereas something with 3dB mean RMS will sound no better than a rip. One of the main reasons mean RMS has gone down? iTunes. If you have more dynamics, the listener will have to adjust his MP3 player or your song won´t be as loud as everybody elses. And figuring that this will lead to less plays on MP3 players and thus demand, the actual industry standard for mastering is now far less than what the technical specifications of CDs state.

    Movies can be taped from TV, music can be recorded from digital radio with no loss in quality. Yet, we don´t see Movie studios or Record companies withdrawing from TV and Radio (which they could do). Free music and movies have been a reality for decades. They have been seen as a promo tool and they still are. That´s why Terminator 2 is on TV, just as the sequel hits the theaters. And that´s why you can hear the latest hit singles on the radio, while the band is on tour.

    Digital technologies have made it very cheap to produce a record. 3000 bucks will by a band everything they need to make one (far below what most musicians spend on their instruments). The major cost comes from the “warmth” of analog recording (mainly a psychological thing) and the price tag associated with it (rather than a really good Freeware VST plugin, let´s have a 10 grand outboard thing). All this while contemporary mastering will destroy any subtle improvements of sound that may actually have been there. Which costs again. So instead of putting down those 3000 for a decent recording environment, a band will pay 10 times that ammount in “advances kept” and not see any money until it is recouped. The distribution will get their 20%, the label will take theirs and the band won´t see any money unless a lot of units are bought. Recording and mastering themselves, possibly going to a studio for vocals and/or drums and then dealing with distribution themselves, will put them into black numbers far faster. Selling records at gigs, where people may buy them on an impusle right after having seen them perform live, removes the distributors share as well. Your 3000 buck record will recoup it´s cost if you sell 300 of them at 10 bucks. Your next record will cost far less, because you have the gear.

    To conclude this: If you want to support an artist, going to their shows or buying their t-shirt is a far more direct way of doing that than buying their CD. If you keep buying CDs, you are supporting people who deface the artists work, by reducing the sound quality. Tape the songs of the radio if you need them.

  43. Jonas F said,

    June 6, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    You’ve just touched on perhaps the biggest issue here in Sweden before tommorrow’s EU election. We’re actually likely to get one or two candidates from ‘The Pirate Party’ elected for seats.

    They’re really more on to integrity and privacy over the Internet. But in the light of the world’s first and gravest sentences (jail and millions of £ in damages to the music industry) against ‘The Pirate Bay’ online file-sharing guys here in Stockholm recently, the names of the organizations have become almost synonymous.

    And yes, your objections to the reasoning and counting being made by ‘the industry’ have been raised by many good writers over here.

    There might well be a ‘paradigm shift’ approaching here.

  44. speculatrix said,

    June 6, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    A few points.

    * pricing:
    You can buy a DVD of a film (movie) for pretty much the same price as a music CD. If you believe the credits a film requires hundreds if not thousands of people-years to make. A CD requires, what, perhaps 20 people for a few years? Does anyone think there’s something wrong here?

    * paying the artists
    note how the loudest complainers are the *recording*industry*association*america*, not a union of artists and performers. that’s right, it’s not the people who create it but the people who simply do the bulk manufacturing and distribution. it’s well known that these people use all manner of dodgy accounting methods to ensure that as much money as possible gets swallowed up by the distribution business before it gets to the actual artists and performers, some of whom get almost nothing especially if they signed up when young + naive + desperate!

    * licensing model
    the recording industry has told us we don’t really own the CD we buy, so we can’t really do what we want, and they have even tried to prevent 2nd hand CD sales. they say we bought a licence to listen to the music. then they tell us our licence only permits listening to that CD in private and we can’t copy the music to our own personal mp3 player and need to pay for a digital download too. and God help us if we want to turn it into a ring-tone! If we try and make a backup copy of a DVD then we’re breaking the copy protection and that’s a criminal act, even though it’s a reasonable thing to do – after all, if we damage the disk that they say we don’t own anyway, they won’t replace it out of goodwill for free, will they?

    barstewards, the lot of them. I have no sympathy for the music industry (and it’s an industry, not a craft) whatsoever, and only the mildest sympathy for the film industry.

    if there were an “honesty” scheme operated by the artists and performers where if you did copy a friend’s CD or movie, you could pay the performers directly with no middle-man, I’d gladly pay them ten times the amount they get for a CD sale, as it’d probably only be 50p or 75c!

  45. samarkeolog said,

    June 6, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    [url=http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2008/10/dodgy-digits-behind-the-war-on-piracy.ars]Ars Technica[/url] did a neat equivalent for American claims. (I heard about it from [url=http://aramsinnreich.typepad.com/]Aram Sinnreich[/url]’s blog, where he’s done a lot of nice stuff himself on IP, copyright and piracy.

  46. stever said,

    June 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Agree with this, but the average figure per download is low for MP3s but arguably inflated by software sharing. A million copies of photoshop for example would be pushing a billion, on paper at least.

    here’s a take on the copying thing I quite like


  47. Robert Carnegie said,

    June 7, 2009 at 3:36 am

    My sometimes erratic Philips DAB pocket radio did apparently bring the following to me by itself, so well done there:


    “A new national radio station, Amazing Radio, launched on digital audio broadcasting (DAB) today playing entirely new music by unsigned singers and bands – but replacing the “birdsong” service.

    “The station will play songs uploaded to music website amazingtunes.com. Launched in 2006, it currently has about 15,000 tracks, all of which can be downloaded with 70% of the revenue going to the artist.”

    What I’ve heard so far is… interesting. Quite.

    The trick that is missed at the moment there, I think, is to tell you what you’ve -been- hearing, after you’ve decided that you like it. The web site does supply that, apparently, and they’re working on sending text information to be displayed on your radio. (Everyone else can do it…)

  48. Nick C said,

    June 7, 2009 at 9:15 am

    There’s recently been an interesting example with some hard statistics.

    The computer game Demigod was (purporsefully) released without DRM, according to the developer on the day of release it had 140,000 users only 12% of whom were legitimate.

    Yet it still ended up debuting at 3rd place on the American NPD sales charts, a chart which doesn’t include digital downloads, it’s primary method of sales.

    Comparing piracy rates to sales is often meaningless, as these can be concurrent rates.

  49. Synchronium said,

    June 7, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Good call about the £1000 software. They’re not losing money, because no one who isn’t a massive company would actually buy it. If pirating became impossible, no one would actually shell out £1000; they’d just go without.

  50. bazzargh said,

    June 7, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    One of the other figures they bandy about really bothered me: 8% of GDP. And they keep mentioning software… there’s a lot of people work on software that’s done as contracting or in-house work, that’s never going to be harmed by illegal downloading. I got curious what exactly they were including, so I looked it up. It seems that originally the figure referred to ‘GVA’ (Gross Value Added) not GDP.

    In the UK GDP/GVA are worked out by the Office of National Statistics (in the ‘Blue Book’), but ‘creative industries’ isn’t one of the sectors. They produce a separate report for that:

    It includes things like ‘Manufacture of knitted and crocheted hosiery’, ‘Architectural and engineering activities and related technical consultancy’ etc. How much was actually for music & film?

    Total GVA (Gross Value Added) of the creative sector in 2004: £92,049m. Of that, Publishing (includes music, newspapers, books etc) £9,643m. Recreational services: £18,821m.

    Software’s contribution (~£19bn) needs split down to identify pre-packaged software, the only kind that downloading would affect. There is a breakdown:
    That puts a figure of £14bn on own-account software.

    So: finger in the air, it appears that the figure the industry *should* be quoting is closer to 3% of GVA, unless they really mean to tell us that home taping is killing crochet.

  51. ProfMike said,

    June 7, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    ne of the interesting questions raised by this is the academic standing of the authors. On the face of it, the appendices to the report look like they have used standard sophisticated social science tools for trawling evidence. But another triumph of form over content. However would this have been stopped from publication in peer-reviewed journals? It is is not self-evident that someone would have had the time and effort to check this out.

  52. kubr1ck said,

    June 7, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    This puts me in mind of a blog post I read some time ago which can be read here –


    An interesting point they make is that the American music industry’s own figures suggest that only about 10% of illegal downloads can be regarded as lost revenue. Now, as file sharing has no regional boundaries can this statistic be that much different over here?

  53. MrNick said,

    June 8, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Ok. I’m cheap. I admit it.
    I rarely spend more than £3 when I buy a DVD.
    I recently got three prety good DVDs (in a boxed set) for £5.

    Im I stealing from the entertainment industry? Should I send them a tenner for each cheap DVD that I buy? I don’t think so.

    I think that collectively they just don’t get it. Their sales model predates the Internet and they just can’t cope with the realities as they are now.

    In this digital age anything which exists in digital form will be copied. It doesn’t automaticaly mean that there is a lost sale. It may be a sale postponed for example.


  54. hatter said,

    June 8, 2009 at 5:45 am

    They can come back and talk to me when copyright is reduced to a reasonable number of years. I believe 5 years should be adequate, 10 at the absolute most. No renewal, no tricks to extend it. And I say that as someone who makes their living off creative endeavours.

    And copying is not theft and certainly not even remotely comparable to taking a physical object. They look like real morons when they try to equate physical theft with casual copyright infringement. They insult my intelligence (in reality they think we’re stupid).

    I stopped buying major label music years ago. During the copy protection fiasco I grew tired of having to research each release to see whether it would work on my hardware or to find out if there was a release without CD copy protection and then have to go through the hassle of importing it from a foreign country. In addition the audio quality of major label CDs has gone steeply downhill over the last few years.

    I bought many DVDs, but I am avoiding Blu-ray. I collected DVDs because there were simple measures to disable region protection. I can’t be bothered to investigate each blu-ray release to see whether it is region free, so I won’t buy any. Even with DVD the weird copy protection measures they have been adding now sometimes stop newer discs from working in my system.

    I have even bought some downloadable material, but having been burned by DRM issues I will never again do so. It costs as much as a physical product, but offers none of the benefits, and carries numerous disadvantages. Better to copy.

    What’s particularly ridiculous is that the protection measures in place on things like commercial software don’t actually work. These companies are happy to spend money on these measures in spite of clear evidence that they serve only one purpose, to inconvenience paying customers.

    I say copy my movies, stories and music. Record my plays and show them to your friends. It’s free promotion, and I know from experience people really do like to buy these things if they like them.

  55. urbane scrumping said,

    June 8, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Re bazzargh’s comment – home taping IS killing crochet. Those so called “Creative Commons” communists won’t stop until granny’s antimacassars are stolen, copied and pumped out by the millions by children in third world sweatshops…

  56. Justin Clark said,

    June 8, 2009 at 8:43 am

    A lot of interesting points made and although I agree with them I did find myself quite amused by the fact that a possibly false, although commonly held belief, about copyright was bandied about.
    Especially since it is on a website where the whole point is to dispute and/or correct commonly held or reported beliefs and show that they are wrong.
    As far as I am aware copyright was always about protecting the monopoly of publishers,printers and distributors. It was never about protecting artists or writers.
    A link to an essay from someone who seems to have researched the subject.
    He has a reference list to published academic articles, well 1 anyway :), that has probably been cherry picked but it is interesting reading all the same and provides a different perspective on who copyright was supposed to protect.

  57. lasker said,

    June 8, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Video killed the radio star.
    Everyone knows that.

  58. Dorm said,

    June 8, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Ha ha I just read this article and thought it was brilliant!

    So let me get this right, the government paid some people at UCL to do some research. And their result about £10 billion and 4,000 job losses were taken from an ESTIMATE by the “rights owners”, i.e the music industry. That’s amazing!

  59. Queex said,

    June 8, 2009 at 9:42 am


    Copyright infringement is not stealing. This is a simple fact. Not that I’m saying it’s morally justifiable, or indeed any less objectionable, but it is not the same thing.

    When you steal something, you prevent the owner form selling it to anyone.

    When you get a pirated copy, you prevent the owner from selling it to you (maybe).

    If you can’t see the difference, there’s no help for you.

  60. kayman1uk said,

    June 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I think this rather wittily sums up one of the fatal flaws in the argument:


    “SEVEN million people in the UK are illegally downloading the sort of music and films you wouldn’t pay for even as you heard the ominous click of a gun being cocked.”

  61. Skizz said,

    June 8, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    It appears that iTunes don’t give refunds for song purchases unless there is a technical flaw. If you don’t like the song, tough. So, illegally we have this:-

    User looks for new music;
    User downloads song without paying;
    Listens to song;
    Then either:
    a) user likes song, becomes willing to buy from artist thus increasing potential sales;
    b) user dislikes song, won’t spend money.

    and legally, there’s this:-

    User looks for new music;
    User has to pay;
    User switches off PC and does something else instead because they don’t want to risk spending without chance of refund (unlike, say, anything else you buy);
    Sales never grow as users aren’t willing to try new stuff.

    It seems the recording industry hasn’t figured out yet that people need to hear the music for free before purchasing. It’s called advertising. And I don’t mean five second sound bites on a TV advert.


  62. kubr1ck said,

    June 8, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Justin Clark made a good point earlier about Copyright being more about protecting corporations than artists.

    I think we should remember that the music industry grew out of the necessity for recording, marketing and distribution. Artists were happy to sign a contract as they themselves didn’t want or weren’t able to do these things themselves. Nothing wrong with that arrangement, who wants to have meetings about where in the record store will the album be situated? How many ads in magazines etc.

    Problem for them is that recording equipment and production software is available extremely cheaply now and can be used at home, marketing and distribution are fast moving away from the stores and magazines and moving onto the internet. Who needs their expertise now?

    The music industry is facing it’s own extinction, not immediately, but it’s coming. Instead of figuring out a way to adapt to this they are desperately clinging to a profligate and decades old business model that is patently unworkable.

    The current system suits no one. Artists feel they have to give up too much to get a contract (just look at the new ‘360’ style contracts where record companies get a slice of everything the artist does, including tours), the industry feels it’s influence and ability to earn money waning and a largely uninterested public is happy to ignore all this and download illegally.

    It’s a mess.

  63. Neil said,

    June 8, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Should you rename your blog to remove the word science or are you going to be getting back to that soon?

  64. seventhrib said,

    June 9, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Statistics is a science, Neil.

  65. Minsx said,

    June 9, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    There are two issues I want to address here, and I hope that at some point Ben will address these in future posts.

    1 – Hatter’s comment (#54) is right on. Compare the copyright laws surrounding the media industry to those surrounding the pharmaceutical industry. I can’t speak for britain, but in the USA a pharma company only owns the original rights to create a drug (free from generic competition) for 10 years. And these are things which save lives. Why does the media industry get to keep the original rights to their products (free from generic competition) for 75+ YEARS?

    2 – The math doesn’t add up because, of course, it equates every download or torrent to the amount of cash that *might have* been spent on the object. You’ve already done a good job of addressing this a little bit, but some numbers might be appropriate here. You can analyze the method yourself, I can’t speak for how well the statistics were compiled, but the only study I’ve seen anywhere on the subject is from the following article:


    The result? Only 1 in 1000 users who obtain and use the material ‘illegally’ would actually purchase it if it were not available otherwise.

    If this is comparable (and it’s the closest comparison I’m aware of) that brings the numbers down from 8,750/year potentially not being spent by millions of people, to 8.75/year potentially not being spent by millions of people. Oh, wait – that was the 10x figure wasn’t it? What does that bring us to, .88/year potentially not being spent by millions of people?

  66. Matt_D said,

    June 9, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    This whole argument makes my head hurt.

    One side comes out with ridiculous numbers about how much money they’ve “lost” because of download.

    The other side comes out with equally questionable numbers about how people who steal actually spend more money on music.

    Both sides generally ignore the ethics. When you download copyright material, you are *stealing*. Any pro-piracy argument is a falacy. You don’t need it, you’re just being greedy and cheap and don’t want to pay for your entertainment. If you don’t like the record company ethics, don’t buy their product. That doesn’t entitle you to get it for free.

    Regarding copyright (and the difference between music and pharma as Minsx was asking), I also believe in copyright reform; however, I do not believe that if you’re an artist, that other people should be profiting off of your work and leaving you out of the equation. If you shortened copyright to 10 years, radio stations would be making money hand-over-fist playing oldies and the artists wouldn’t get a cent. On the other hand, I don’t agree with people being restricted from using iconic music or scenes from movies in not-for-profit content (youtube uploads, educational uses, and such) – I think the solution is to split copyright into a short (~10 year) copyright for not-for-profit uses where the artist retains complete control of his work for the first decade and then the work is open to being covered or used in a not-for-profit way without the artist’s consent after that, and a longer copyright period (~75 years) for for-profit uses like playing the song on the radio.

    Why is it different from pharma (and I believe, at least in north america, drug patents last 20 years [patents are different from copyright])? My guess would be a few reasons – the public good vs. rights of the creator leans far more towards ‘public good’ in the case of drugs than it does in arts and entertainment, the interest of the government in maintaining the semi-free market and avoiding monopolies, and simply difference in the nature of the business – the creation of a singular artistic work and the discovery or invention of a chemical that is then mass-marketed are apples-and-oranges.

  67. don_pedro said,

    June 10, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Information, especially digital information, can be reproduced endlessly at virtually no cost. Copyright might be infringed, but that is not the same as stealing. If it were the same, noone would ever have needed the copyright law.

    Personally I have no sympathy for the record companies whatsoever. They seemed to think it was fair enough to get people who already had paid for a vinyl copy to pay for another one on CD.

    Noone needs them anymore, to flog aisle after aisle of Chris de Burgh LPs or some other shite they happened to have signed up.

  68. Matt_D said,

    June 10, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Stealing something that isn’t a physical object is still stealing. Copyright law is there to protect people from *intellectual* theft rather than physical theft. That doesn’t mean it’s not theft.

    If you don’t like the record companies, don’t buy their product, and don’t steal it either. If you want to take a stand and protest their business practices, do it ethically. Don’t just pump yourself up on your own self-righteousness so you can justify your own greedy, unethical behavior.

    How is it unfair to offer people the OPTION of buying an album on CD that they had previously purchased on vinyl? The record companies didn’t break into anyone’s house and smash their record players. They didn’t force anyone to buy any product. If you have Sgt. Pepper on vinyl and you’re happy with it, don’t buy it on CD. No one is making you.

  69. Queex said,

    June 10, 2009 at 10:02 am

    “When you download copyright material, you are *stealing*.”


    It may not be ethical but it is not stealing. Only the dishonest and the gullible say so.

    If I stole a CD from a shop, that is one copy of the disc that the shop can no longer sell to anyone.

    If I downloaded a track using P2P, it does not stop any copies from being sold to someone else.

    This is not hard to understand. I can only assume that there’s a class of people who simply don’t want to accept that there is a difference because of their pre-existing opinions and prejudices.

    You also say that other people should not profit from an artist’s work at their expense- fair comment, but no-one makes any money directly from P2P. I should also point out that recording companies are the worst offenders in this area- for example by selling ringtones that do not have any artist’s royalty, and continually trying to force royalty rates down.

  70. Teapot said,

    June 10, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    So, people are downloading stuff directly instead of having to produce physical discs and transport them around, with all the resources that uses up. By any rational criteria, doesn’t this *save* the economy money, rather than cost money? The phrases “certain people aren’t making as much profit as they used to” and “it costs the economy money” are not synonymous.

    As many people have pointed out, this isn’t about protecting artists, its about rent-seeking corporate middlemen protecting their cash cows.

    However, we should admit that artists *may* be penalised, although whether they get ripped off by “illegal” downloads any more than they get ripped off by the aforementioned corporate middlemen is another question.

  71. Dorm said,

    June 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    This is what happens when the government starts meddling with the music industry. I want my music MP free.


  72. epiphyte said,

    June 10, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    And to think, SABIP have an annual budget of UK taxpayer’s money, courtesy of the Patent Office who are required to provide: “a strategic analysis fund of £500,000 managed by the policy advisory
    board in consultation with the IP Policy Directorate.”

    Another quango for the chop…I wish

  73. Brit said,

    June 11, 2009 at 12:21 am

    (Ben, did you get the email I sent a few days ago? I haven’t heard anything.)

    Okay, let’s take a look at these claims. First, I’ll say that I’m an independent software developer, so I’m concerned about piracy and what it is doing to our industry.

    The piracy numbers and “lost sales” might be exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean piracy isn’t harmful, or that we believe that every incident of piracy = one lost sale. It also doesn’t mean that society should legitimize the practice of piracy. The exaggerated numbers are the kinds of stuff lawyers haul out to make their case. It’s fair to point out the sketchy nature of these numbers (although, I would hope that people would do it without fueling the anti-copyright crowd).

    I’m unclear why Ben named this article “Home taping didn’t kill music” except to hint that the internet won’t kill music (or other copyrighted material). The losses associated with home taping are, at least, limited due to the inherent inconvenience and degraded quality of the music. To say that home taping didn’t kill music, therefore the internet won’t either is a bit like saying I got shot in the leg with a powerful slingshot, so I think I’ll be okay if I take a bullet. The internet can supercharge piracy in a way that home taping cannot. At least in the case of music, musicians can still make money on tours. And movies have theaters. Both of these ensure that, even if piracy reaches 100%, they still have something to fall back on. (Not that I’m condoning piracy of either of these activities.) Sadly, many of us (in the software industry) don’t have concert or theater revenues to fall back on. The entirety of our work is digital.

    Ben Goldacre:
    Now I am always suspicious of this industry, because they have produced a lot of dodgy figures over the years. I also doubt that every download is lost revenue since, for example, people who download more also buy more music. I’d like more details.

    I looked at this study on my website, and had some doubts about it. First of all, they say that people who downloaded free music also bought more music. Their definition of “downloaded free music” includes downloading from legitimate websites (like when bands put music on their websites). According to a Canadian study, about 24% of Canadians said they legally downloaded free music off the internet, and 29% downloaded p2p. I don’t know the overlap in those groups, but the “downloaded free music” group could include a lot of people who aren’t pirates. Further, their study says that 40% of Norwegians between 15-20 years-old say they downloaded “free” music. Meanwhile Dutch and Spanish studies are reporting that 81% of Spanish Internet users under 24 download via p2p, and 93% of Dutch between the ages of 12-24 download via p2p. This raises the question: are a huge percentage of Norwegians claiming that they don’t download via p2p when they actually do? My suspicion is also that pirates who buy music would be more willing to admit to piracy (because they’re just “buying to try” and they do purchase) than pirates who just pirate to get music for free. When you add that all together, then really what you’re comparing is not the amount of music bought by pirates and non-pirates, but rather, the amount of music bought by people who get “free downloads” versus people who don’t admit to researchers that they are pirates (even though most of them are). The headlines “pirates who admit to piracy buy 10x as much music as pirates who don’t admit to piracy” isn’t very interesting comment about the effects of piracy.

    And, of course, there’s the obvious fact that correlation does not equal causation. Big music fans are probably more likely to pirate music and buy music than people who are not music fans. Whether or not piracy has caused a decline in sales to big music fans cannot be determined from the study. I have heard of some studies that said piracy leads to a decline in music purchases for about 2/3rds of pirates, but an increase for 1/3rd of them. The 1/3rd are probably the “try before you buy” pirates, and maybe they are attempting to follow the spirit of copyright law.

    @don_pedro said,
    Information, especially digital information, can be reproduced endlessly at virtually no cost. Copyright might be infringed, but that is not the same as stealing. If it were the same, noone would ever have needed the copyright law.

    The problem here is that we spend an enormous amount of time and effort creating the product. If I spend $10 million creating a product, put it under copyright, and sell it for $10 to one million people, then I earn back my investment. If you treat copyrighted material as if you can freely copy it, then we can’t earn $10 from one million people, and we can’t pay back our costs. We go bankrupt. Everyone loses – including society.

    You could also make similar arguments about cable TV and satellite radio/TV. Should you be able to run a wire to your neighbors house to get cable TV? Should you be able setup a descrambler and get 500 channels for free “because it’s an infinitely copyable resource”? I think we can all see that this kind of behavior, if widespread, would bankrupt the cable/satellite companies. No one would bother putting a $50 million satellite in orbit if everyone thinks they should get to use it for free.
    @ Nick C
    The computer game Demigod was (purporsefully) released without DRM, according to the developer on the day of release it had 140,000 users only 12% of whom were legitimate.

    Yet it still ended up debuting at 3rd place on the American NPD sales charts, a chart which doesn’t include digital downloads, it’s primary method of sales.

    Those numbers aren’t relevant to anything. All games suffer from piracy. All your comparing is sales of Demigod (which didn’t have DRM, and therefore, could be pirated) with sales of other games (which had their DRM cracked, and therefore, could be pirated). Your argument would make a lot of sense if you could show that the other games Demigod was competing against had zero piracy or unbreakable DRM.
    @ Minsx
    The result? Only 1 in 1000 users who obtain and use the material ‘illegally’ would actually purchase it if it were not available otherwise.

    I read that article, and don’t agree with his conclusions. He says that he fixed the game so that it couldn’t be cracked in the same way that it had been previously. He saw no jump in sales, but the cracked version are already out on the internet. In other words, there’s cracked version 1.21 available on the internet, and there an uncracked version 1.22 on the internet. He didn’t see a jump in sales, so he thinks piracy has virtually no effect. But, it’s obvious that people could still get the cracked version 1.21. I’ve heard other indie game developers do tests where they calculated that about 1 out of 3 pirates “would’ve bought” if piracy wasn’t available.

  74. don_pedro said,

    June 11, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Brit replied:

    The problem here is that we spend an enormous amount of time and effort creating the product. If I spend $10 million creating a product, put it under copyright, and sell it for $10 to one million people, then I earn back my investment. If you treat copyrighted material as if you can freely copy it, then we can’t earn $10 from one million people, and we can’t pay back our costs. We go bankrupt. Everyone loses – including society.

    My response:

    The point was really that it is asinine to claim that copyright infringement is *the same* as stealing. Whether it is a good or a bad thing is debatable. For some activities, such as developing medicines, or medical devices, or software, then it seems true that without some way to protect a return on the investment, noone would ever bother. (I’m lumping copyright & patent law together, I know). On the whole these innovations benefit society, so there would be a loss without them.

    For other areas, such as the music business, the argument doesn’t hold. Music doesn’t need to be produced by millionaire “stars” and we have more than enough of their shíte to endure as it is.

    Imagine: no more Phil Collins or George Michael albums, and no record company executives getting fat by forcing it on everyone. Sounds great to me.

    Brit went on:
    You could also make similar arguments about cable TV and satellite radio/TV.

    If Murdoch and his ilk go bust, good. Who needs them? They’ve ruined football, and nothing else they produce would be missed.

  75. phayes said,

    June 11, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    I don’t think it is helpful generally to conflate copyright infringement with theft: sometimes the act is reasonably analogous, sometimes it isn’t.

    @Matt_D, Minsx, anyone else interested:

    The Economics of Patents and Copyright, Leveque and Ménière. Free primer: papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=642622

    In short: if patent and copyright terms are different it is because patents and copyrights are very different* things. (Of course the terms needn’t necessarily be different: ironically, Rufus Pollock’s estimate of optimal copyright term is 15 years – 5 years less than the current max. patent duration!).

    * So different that often it isn’t unreasonable to describe a patent infringer as the /victim/ of a ‘theft’!

  76. Brit said,

    June 11, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    @ don_pedro
    The point was really that it is asinine to claim that copyright infringement is *the same* as stealing.

    So, copyright infringement is a lesser crime than stealing. It’s more like littering or vandalism?

    Whether it is a good or a bad thing is debatable.

    Oh – you don’t think it’s like littering or vandalism – you’re questioning whether piracy is a bad thing at all. I don’t think it’s “debatable”.

    Brit went on:
    You could also make similar arguments about cable TV and satellite radio/TV.

    If Murdoch and his ilk go bust, good. Who needs them? They’ve ruined football, and nothing else they produce would be missed.

    Whether or not you like a particular TV mogul is different from the argument about whether or not society should respect laws that permit the cable/satellite TV/radio system to exist. What you’re doing is essentially saying, “I don’t like Walmart. They’re evil. We should permit shoplifting – because if Walmart goes bankrupt, who cares?” Whether or not you dislike Walmart or favor running them into bankruptcy is a separate issue than whether or not shoplifting *in general* should be permissible.

  77. Queex said,

    June 11, 2009 at 10:56 pm


    “So, copyright infringement is a lesser crime than stealing. It’s more like littering or vandalism?”

    Not necessarily lesser or greater- qualitatively different. A great many arguments (particularly presented by those arguing from the same point of view as the industry bodies) are predicated on the assumption that they are qualitatively equivalent- ‘You wouldn’t steal a car!’ etc.

    It’s a disingenuous and pretty dishonest thing to claim. For some people, myself included, any sympathy for the industry bodies has long since been eroded by their continual dishonesty and hypocrisy. They do not act in the best interests of the artists. They do not act in the best interests of the consumers. They do not act in the best interest of the cultural phenomenon they are a part of. What good are the industry bodies, then? And why should anyone care what they think?

  78. don_pedro said,

    June 12, 2009 at 1:55 am

    Brit opined:

    Oh – you don’t think it’s like littering or vandalism – you’re questioning whether piracy is a bad thing at all. I don’t think it’s “debatable”.

    I repeat, it’s not the same as stealing. Because information can be replicated at virtually zero cost, human beings have been copying ideas for as long as there have ideas. No-one patented the wheel, or agriculture, or cattle-herding. By contrast, there have been prohibitions against theft for at least as long as there have been settled societies. Copying information is NOT theft. The argument in favour of copyright, patents, & “intellectual property” cannot be won simply by positing a bogus equivalence.

    So what benefits are there, to protecting ideas & information? You suggested that “society” somehow benefits. I think the case for that still has to be made.

    *Everyone,* including would-be patent-holders, and would-be copyright holders, enjoy the benefits of knowledge which is freely available in the public domain.

    If copying ideas is terrible in and of itself, every would-be intellectual property rights holder should be exiled on a island somewhere, until they come up with their own alternatives to the wheel, the microprocessor, the logic gate, the Java class, the Roman alphabet, the pentatonic scale, the guitar, etc.

    Otherwise, the position is “it’s fine for me to copy other people’s ideas, but no-one can copy mine.”

    Clearly copying an idea is not wrong in and of itself. We all do it, all the time.

    That said, I am honestly open-minded about whether defending “intellectual property” is ever a good thing.

    Maybe without it we wouldn’t have effective new medicines, medical devices, or software. But maybe we would. There is, after all, some great open source software. And there is also some really appalling, expensive software, driven by marketing “initiatives,” with scant concern for the needs of users.

    Something can be good for a individual, or a company, without being good for humanity as a whole. (*wonders whether Microsoft need a new mission statement*)

  79. Brit said,

    June 12, 2009 at 6:32 am

    First of all, I hope everyone reading this thread stops and take a look at the arguments being debated here – and fully takes-in the onerous weight that pirates want to impose on us: that we should work for years on a project, spend our life-savings, and they should get the product of that labor for free. Shouldn’t a person be rewarded for their contributions to society? Is free-trade not a good thing? Would they have us all operate as charities, requiring that we all act as volunteers?

    I repeat, it’s not the same as stealing.

    It’s funny, whenever someone repeats the “it’s not the same as stealing” line, what they’re trying to say not “piracy is a lesser crime”, but rather “piracy is perfectly okay”. I was offering you the opportunity to say that piracy was a lesser crime, but you clearly don’t want to say it.

    So what benefits are there, to protecting ideas & information? You suggested that “society” somehow benefits. I think the case for that still has to be made.

    In your most recent comment, you use the word “idea” six times, but “copyright” only twice. Let’s keep the discussion on track. Ideas, patents, and copyright are three different things. Let’s not pretend that copyright = an idea. An idea can be created in an instant. A copyright can cover things that can take a million man-hours, with significant amounts of time, money, effort, trial, and error. If I invest a million-man hours into a project, and the whole world can take it for free, then I’m left with huge debt and nothing to show for my labor. I can’t pay the bills with human gratitude. As a result, I’m not even going to bother with this huge task. Why should I? Yet, the world would be better off if I did – the fact that (under copyright) they’ll pay for what I create reveals this fact. No one is forcing people to buy copyrighted material, only that people pay for what they use.

    If copying ideas is terrible in and of itself, every would-be intellectual property rights holder should be exiled on a island somewhere, until they come up with their own alternatives to the wheel, the microprocessor, the logic gate, the Java class, the Roman alphabet, the pentatonic scale, the guitar, etc.

    If those things were under patents or copyright, they’d most all be expired by now. Further, I’m not suggesting that people have to put everything under copyright. People should be free to put it in “the commons”, and the government should be free to support research that is released to the public for free.

    Second, no one is arguing that “copying ideas is terrible in and of itself”. What we’re saying is that some forms of very complicated and very labor-intensive creations should be protected, because the work is very difficult to create, but extremely easy to copy – which leads to a situation where it’s always better to be the leech who copies other people’s work than the creator who does all the hard work.

    Regarding the island: I often think the same thing about pirates. Every pirate should be exiled to an island where they can make completely amateur movies, TV, software, and music. Instead, they benefit from the existence of copyright – because it has supported the creation of a huge variety of creative works – they’re happy to consume, but they refuse to contribute. It’s like someone who benefits from other people paying taxes (through roads, a police force, fire stations, and a military), but refuse to accept any of the costs themselves by paying taxes.

    Copyright has numerous good traits, including:
    (1) It pays people for their success in creating great new media. This gives creators an incentive to do good work, and it gives creators a chance to earn a living. When they can earn a living, it allows them to get enough experience to become an expert – and we all benefit from that. If people are unpaid or underpaid, then they have to work a day-job. Perhaps they give-up on their art entirely. People who are unpaid or underpaid also have a very difficult time rising from amateur to expert, because their time practicing their art is always competing with the job that pays the bills (along with everything else, like family). Without copyright, creators are underpaid.
    (2) It doesn’t pay people who create bad products. This is great because it moves untalented people out of the field, and it means society doesn’t pay anything to support them (because people don’t buy it). Under copyright, the people decide who’s good or bad. There isn’t some government in Washington who decides what to fund and what not to fund (which gives you a lot of bad products, and produces stuff people don’t want). People vote with their dollars.
    (3) The only people in society who has to pay any money are the people consuming the products (which makes it different than taxes). I don’t like Madonna’s music, and so, I don’t have to pay for it.

    Otherwise, the position is “it’s fine for me to copy other people’s ideas, but no-one can copy mine.”

    This isn’t about ideas. This is about copying large bodies of work verbatim. Everyone has a large degree of freedom to use ideas in popular culture. Want to create a story about vampires? Guess what? You can! There are no restrictions on putting vampires into your stories – and LOTS of people have. But, what you can’t do is pass-around copies of the 1992 movie “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” which weighs in at 700 or 800 MB. I don’t think that’s an onerous request.

    Maybe without it we wouldn’t have effective new medicines, medical devices, or software. But maybe we would. There is, after all, some great open source software. And there is also some really appalling, expensive software, driven by marketing “initiatives,” with scant concern for the needs of users.

    If you want to create open-source software, I’ve got no problem with that. If open-source drives proprietary software developers out of business, well, that’s too bad for proprietary software. I fully support the efforts of open-source software and contributions to the “commons”. I think people should be lauded for the charitable contributions. But, if we eliminate copyright, then we’re saying all contributions are effectively “charity”. Charity is good, but you can’t expect significant numbers of people to forgo a paycheck and work as volunteers. You’re going to be terribly understaffed.

    I also think that open-source software has significant problems that causes it to move slowly. It doesn’t make a good replacement to proprietary software. I’m not that worried about open-source putting proprietary software out of business because we move a lot faster than open-source. I think putting proprietary software out of business with the assumption that open-source is going to take-up the slack is a really bad idea, because open-source isn’t going to do it.

    I actually think open-source software owes a debt of gratitude to proprietary software. When you step back and think about the number of open-source projects that: were inspired by proprietary products, were failed proprietary projects that became open-source, were spin-offs from proprietary projects, are created by people who work day-jobs at proprietary software-companies, who learned their software expertise at proprietary software companies, who wouldn’t have entered computer science if they couldn’t earn a living (via proprietary software), and the number of open-source projects being funded by proprietary companies — well, you realize that open-source would be hobbled without the existence of proprietary software.

    As for proprietary software that is “really appalling, expensive software, driven by marketing “initiatives,” with scant concern for the needs of users” – well, the free market should take care of it and run it into bankruptcy. I don’t see that as a problem at all. Besides, open-source can also produce really appalling software. (You’d have a reason to complain if that proprietary software was government funded because it means people can’t choose not to pay for it.)

    Something can be good for a individual, or a company, without being good for humanity as a whole. (*wonders whether Microsoft need a new mission statement*)

    And, the fact that people will buy copyrighted software means that people do think it’s worth the money they spend. If I sell a million copies of an application for $10, then that means a million people thought my application was worth $10 or more. If they thought it was worth less than $10, they wouldn’t have bought it. It’s identical to the situation of selling physical goods. If I sell a million shovels for $10, it means a million people thought it was worth $10 or more. So, a million copies (of software or shovels) at $10 means I’ve created *at least* $10 million worth of value for the world (provided that I’m not selling snake-oil, of course). Capitalism and free markets work. And, yes, it moves society forward, despite the fact that you have to pay for things.

  80. Dorm said,

    June 12, 2009 at 10:56 am

    “If your post is more than one thousand words long then you are officially a loser.”

    Sorry Brit, the man has spoken.

  81. radar said,

    June 12, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Interesting stuff indeed. I can’t add anything intellectually to this debate, but let’s hear from an artist (GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, 1993):

    The Wu is too slammin for these Cold Killin labels
    Some ain’t had hits since I seen Aunt Mabel
    Be doin artists in like Cain did Abel
    Now they money’s gettin stuck to the gum under the table
    That’s what ya get when ya misuse what I invent
    Your empire falls and ya lose every cent
    For tryin to blow up a scrub
    Now that thought was just as bright as a 20-watt light bulb
    Should of pumped it when I rocked it
    Niggaz so stingy they got short arms and deep pockets
    This goes on in some companies
    With majors they’re scared to death to pump these
    First of all, who’s your A&R?
    A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar
    But he don’t know the meaning of dope
    When he’s lookin for a suit and tie rap
    that’s cleaner than a bar of soap
    And I’m the dirtiest thing in sight
    Matter of fact bring out the girls and let’s have a mud fig

    Sort of on topic I guess…

  82. Queex said,

    June 12, 2009 at 4:03 pm


    “It’s funny, whenever someone repeats the “it’s not the same as stealing” line, what they’re trying to say not “piracy is a lesser crime”, but rather “piracy is perfectly okay”.”

    What you read into other people’s comments is your own business, no matter how far you over-reach. As I said before, it’s not necessarily greater or lesser, but qualitatively different. It’s just one more thing that makes the copyright protection lobby dishonest.

    “Shouldn’t a person be rewarded for their contributions to society?”

    In many spheres, you could contend that the contribution itself is reward enough.

    “It doesn’t make a good replacement to proprietary software. I’m not that worried about open-source putting proprietary software out of business because we move a lot faster than open-source.”

    LOL reality check fail.

  83. Andyo said,

    June 13, 2009 at 12:09 am

    Just one thing to add to what most of you have said, more worrying than those annoying anti-“piracy” trailers.

    Beware of malware in your DVDs if you’re watching on your PC!

    Some DVDs at least in the U.S., seem to contain rootkits.

    See also this Amazon review.

    We have seen other lesser malware installed automatically by DVDs (ALWAYS disable “Autoplay” in Windows!) before like the Interactual crap “player”, and it’s very well known this about CDs too.

    The Sony BMG debacle didn’t teach these bastards a lesson.

  84. Brit said,

    June 13, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    “It doesn’t make a good replacement to proprietary software. I’m not that worried about open-source putting proprietary software out of business because we move a lot faster than open-source.”

    LOL reality check fail.

    Okay, then explain why proprietary products appear years before their open-source counterparts. Unix/Linux? Photoshop/Gimp? Netscape+IE/Firefox? 3D Studio/Blender? There’s an obvious pattern here: open-source arrives late.

    Further, every time someone pirates software, it’s a quiet admission that the proprietary version is superior to the open-source version. Every time you walk into a store and see hundreds of copies of software on the shelves, it’s an admission that open-source (despite being free) hasn’t beaten proprietary software. Afterall, if open-source was always better, the off-the-shelf software industry would already be bankrupt. There’s a variety of reasons open-source hasn’t bankrupted the proprietary software industry. One of them is the fact that open-source has trouble paying software developers, which means they have fewer people to do the work. If you go out to Amazon.com, you’ll find 96,806 software products for sale. Do you think the open-source community can possibly take on the task of handling the development for 96,806 products simultaneously? Yes, there are some very good open-source products, but the number of open-source success stories does not approach 96,806.

  85. Robert Carnegie said,

    June 14, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Actually there are over 96,806 different versions of Linux. Probably.

    But that number of software products on Amazon includes many that do exactly the same thing, or do it more or less well for a greater or lesser price. For instance I think there are at least seven distinct editions of Microsoft Windows Vista. With freeware you get one file or disc or USB stick with all the features included, you don’t have to buy them separately. You don’t have to pay twice for Christmas Card Creator and Birthday Card Creator.

    But you also don’t get television adverts for the product. “I’m a Windows PC, really I’m an eight year old child, do you want to spend every day of your life trying to reason with an eight year old child, I know a recipe for breakfast cereal and chocolate.”

    Because adverts don’t go quite like that, people still buy commercial products.

    I don’t know if there’s GPL (free) personal accounts and tax software. I’m thinking quite possibly not.

  86. Andrew_F said,

    June 14, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Robert Carnegie,

    I’ve heard the name GnuCash over the past week. I don’t know what it’s like.

  87. maninalift said,

    June 16, 2009 at 8:07 am

    I believe that file-sharing, of music if not games and films, is a force for good.

    The way the music industry works is outdated and it will not change without pressure. Artists should be able to make a living from their work when there are people willing to pay for it but the current model for the industry is based on the principle of “owning a copy” of an album. This no longer makes sense. Distributing music costs virtually nothing so why should the size of the consumer’s library be limited by the artificial notion of cost-per-album?

    Finding new economic models for the industry isn’t easy but it is necessary. The potential benefits are a more equitable system, richer musical culture and interaction, and better opportunities for artists to find listeners and vise versa.

    When services are delivered that provide music in a way that is relevant to the technology and beneficial to the consumer, the consumer will be wiling to pay.

    A great deal of fuss is being made about Spotify but I think that last.fm is a much more telling of the pressure on the industry. *resisting raving about last.fm*. It provides streaming music at close to the cost of distribution. It also makes money from linking to download-sales. It provides a valuable service for discovering music and music-centred social interaction.

    Games and films are *possibly* a different matter. These are more likely to be a zero-sum-game but I don’t know. Films are typically watched once, games usually have a fixed lifetime and both are associated with a large cost of production which is not out of line with their current retail price (both games and films sometimes make a loss).

  88. TD said,

    June 16, 2009 at 8:31 am

    @28: “Why should a person on a low income, have to pay £15 for a U2 Album, which they download free, when the artists have already been very well rewarded for their efforts?”

    @87: “Why should the consumer’s library be limited by the artificial notion of cost-per-album?”

    Because that is how the copyright holder has chosen to make the album/film/software available. If you do not like the terms and conditions, if you do not like the price, you have the right to walk away! There is no entitlement, no human right, to own the latest U2 album.

    That is the fundamental point many people appear to be missing.

    I think it’s wonderful how many people are willing tom freely give their time or the product of their labour. However, I’m not so selfless and expect to be paid.

  89. Queex said,

    June 16, 2009 at 4:25 pm


    We’re getting a little off-topic. Sometimes proprietary software goes in first, sometimes open source goes in first (at least since the concept gained traction). Why is that so hard to accept?

    Besides, my point is that the assertion that propriety software moves faster than open source is demonstrably false- you only have to look at the speed with which patches for vulnerabilities are deployed between the two alternatives to witness the gulf. There’s a place for both, but thinking that OSS is some sort of ghetto adjunct to proprietary software is crushingly naive.

    The number of proprietary software ‘success stories’ doesn’t even meet 86,000- many of those will be of poor quality, selling like baked turds, and only in existence because of the eternal optimism of venture capital.

    “Further, every time someone pirates software, it’s a quiet admission that the proprietary version is superior to the open-source version.”

    Except, of course, when it is pirated for comparison shopping or because of compatibility woes as a result of companies attempting to shore up their market share with lock-in. Plus, every time software is pirated it’s an assertion that it’s not worth the price being charged for it.

    It’s also depressing how few people seem aware of open source alternatives when they are an appropriate replacement.

  90. Brit said,

    June 16, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    @ Queex
    We’re getting a little off-topic.
    The talk about proprietary versus open-source was relevant to the claim that it was okay to bankrupt the proprietary software industry (through piracy) because open-source would fill the gap. I don’t believe that’s true. Other examples: the lack of good open-source video editing software for Windows, the quality and diversity of open-source games compared to proprietary games.

    There’s a place for both, but thinking that OSS is some sort of ghetto adjunct to proprietary software is crushingly naive.
    Yes, that’s what I meant when I said: “Yes, there are some very good open-source products”.

    Plus, every time software is pirated it’s an assertion that it’s not worth the price being charged for it.
    Except that people often pirate material because they want it as cheaply as possible (and piracy = free). I’ve also heard pirates admit that they’ve pirated stuff they would’ve paid for. So, no every act of piracy is not an assertion that it’s not worth the price being charged for it.

  91. Queex said,

    June 19, 2009 at 1:24 pm


    “The talk about proprietary versus open-source was relevant to the claim that it was okay to bankrupt the proprietary software industry (through piracy) because open-source would fill the gap.”

    Who said that? The idea that piracy will drive the proprietary software business out of existence entirely is exactly the kind of venal scaremongering the article dissects.

    “So, no every act of piracy is not an assertion that it’s not worth the price being charged for it.”

    Neither is every act of piracy an admission that the proprietary version is better.

    The over-arching point is that the IP-lobby wants to paint the situation in unrealistic black and white terms. They began by asserting that piracy was causing huge harm to their industry, and now have moved on to assuming that fact while making a push for government and ISPs to demonise piracy. As a wise man once said, ‘I’ll think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that’. What’s particularly telling is that the only study I’m aware of that wasn’t paid for by the lobby (the guardian link in the article) flatly contradicted their line.

    In short, they simply don’t care about the evidence.

  92. Keefa said,

    June 20, 2009 at 1:15 am

    While I agree with a lot of what Brit has to say, it’s not as black and white as he made out. Consider software. A lot of the stuff folk are downloading is not $10 ‘shovel’ software: they’re downloading Photoshop, AutoCAD, etc.–*expensive* applications which (and I admit I’m guessing here) I seriously doubt 90% of downloaders would have the means to buy legally.

    The manufacturers of these high-end applications continue to make their money from the people this stuff is ultimately made for: businesses that *must* acquire their software legally, lest they get shopped one day and are paid a nasty visit from FAST or the cops.

    Although I doubt piracy has greatly affected the sales of this expensive software, the same cannot be said of the games industry. While we can agree that few would be willing to shell out a grand on AutoCAD if it were not available to download illegally, the same argument, perhaps, does not apply to a £30 computer game. If, somehow, Sims 3 disappeared from all torrent sites tomorrow (and somehow stayed disappeared), it’s seems obvious to me that sales would rocket.

    Again, this is an extreme example and maybe a less popular, less famous game is unharmed by piracy–may, in fact, be aided by it. The same is true of music: while sales of the latest U2 album are almost certainly harmed by illegal downloads, the smaller or more obscure artists are probably unaffected or even affected *positively* by it.

  93. heavens said,

    June 23, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Keefa, you’re not taking it far enough.

    So someone illegally downloads Adobe Photoshop. This person uses it at home, occasionally, to fix red-eye and other flaws in his personal photos.

    If the software were not available for free, this person simply would not use it. Whether he uses the software or not, he will not pay a dime to Adobe.

    Did Adobe actually lose any money by having this person “steal” the software? Are there actually any fewer dollars in Adobe’s corporate checking account because of this user?

    Or did Adobe just expand their userbase, with one more person likely to recommend their products at work, at no actual cost to the company? Are they actually hurt by these users?

    (For the record, I have paid Abode good money, regularly and repeatedly for fifteen years, to have this software legally licensed on three computers at home, and I consider it worth the market price. But Adobe InDesign, not Photoshop, is really the one I can’t live without.)

  94. Marcus said,

    June 24, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    – The only musicians who really lose money through piracy are those who have already made it. How many small bands do you see on TPB? I think that for lesser-known bands getting some TPB traffic is the best ppossible thing that can happen to them. Piracy may hurt super stars a bit, but benefits smaller bands.

    – The internet threatens the big record companies by democratising music. They want to control through radio, tv, and whatever other means they have, who likes what. File sharing and things like LastFM makes it possible for people to discover new bands. ie. the threat is that there will be more fish with smaller pieces of the pie – bad news for record companies.

    – Finally, there are some CDs that I only bought because i had heard pirated versions of them before. I’m sure many other people have experienced this. Any honest assessment of the impact of piracy on sales would have to take this effect into account.

  95. hatter said,

    June 29, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Open source software has certainly been very perplexing to the proprietary software mob. They have always contended that no-one would do anything without obvious monetary reward and yet today we have an operating system that is not just easy to use, but much easier to install than Windows. And of course this operating system has long been stable and reliable in a way that Windows still is not.

    I don’t believe that game, CD, etc. sales are significantly hurt by copying as I have yet to see any evidence that those copying would have bought otherwise. What is never taken into account is that freely available material encourages hording. Back in the early 90s, long before widespread downloading I met people with vast collections of copied games, more than they could ever even play. It was primarily hording behaviour. Another factor of course is that people have limited funds and therefore any money switched to say buying CDs has to be diverted from something else, so any claims of losses to the economy as a whole are quite likely rubbish.

    Ultimately our current copyright periods are nothing, but welfare for lazy people. There is no valid reason for copyright to be more than a few years, and I don’t see the biggest whiners in the various mediums demanding it be reduced. As creative endeavours earned more and more money copyright should have become shorter, while instead it is regularly extended. Why aren’t these complaining fatcats not out protesting to stop this? It’s because they’re not interested in encouraging creative endeavour, but rather wealth transfer. In fact for society as a whole it would be a great advantage if the major movie studios and music labels were put out of business.

    I definitely don’t agree that music stations would just play old material if copyright were shortened. If copyright ever comes to an end maybe we can test this hypothesis. Besides if you know anything about the way royalties get distributed you’ll know that in many cases the money never makes it back to the writers anyway.

    I can see how it can be argued that no-one has a right to play a game or see a particular movie or listen to any specific album, but because doing so without paying does not cause any direct harm to the creator of the material, in total contrast to for example stealing a Ferrari, it is not really possible to argue that it is wrong. I’d definitely prefer people to pay for what I produce, but as long as they’re not selling my work without giving me my share or actually breaking in and stealing my originals the worst they’re doing is denying me a potential sale and I have no reason to think they would have paid. Not to mention that even a paying customer selling the material once they’re done with it or lending it to their friends also denies me potential income, and yet we don’t call these people thieves; well in reality many of the lazy fatcats who support infinite copyright periods do think doing these things is theft. I borrow a lot of books from friends and the library, so call me a thief too. I’ve even borrowed games from friends. Theft, I know.

    As an example of punishing your paying customers, I own Acrobat 7, but when I had to work on a Vista machine the activation gave problems. Adobe’s response was that although Acrobat 7 itself works perfectly on Vista the activation module does not and their solution was for me to pay them for Acrobat 8. Anyone who copied their software would just move to the next version for free, although like me they’d find that it does not work as well as the previous version. The previous version worked perfectly, but the “upgraded” version does not. Activation module works though. A friend who does 3D graphics was punished with weeks of downtime, twice, by failed dongles. Never happens to those who didn’t pay for the software.

    A lot is made of the fact that a copy of an mp3 is identical to the original mp3, but it’s a red herring. Back in the days of tape people really didn’t care about the quality reduction. I knew many people who had copies on tape that were several generations away from the source vinyl, and it didn’t bother them. Others would even make further copies from their nth generation copies. Ultimately a single piece of vinyl could result in many thousands of copies on tape; 7 generations in can easily make 10 million tapes.

  96. nimh said,

    July 9, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    this is my first post here. i found this place because i read Bens superb book.

    I’ve been very interested by this discussion, as it’s a subject pretty close to my heart.
    I think what has surprised me most is the number of intelligent, rational adults who get upset at the idea that piracy is, or might be considered, a crime.

    i’d like to give you an example, from real life, if i may :

    i’m a software developer. i’ve not been at it long, about 4 to 5 years. I have a very small company, it’s just myself and my business partner. We make sound content for digital musicians – digital instruments.
    after a very difficult start, in the last 2 years or so we have started to make a living from the business, which we’re very pleased about. we have been able to give up other contracts to concentrate on it full time.

    Now, in our industry, piracy is rife. Many teenagers etc make music with their computers, and cracked software is part of the culture.

    Now, I can go onto various well known torrent sites, and easily find quite a few torrents of our products. On these sites people post comments – often, under a torrent for one of our products, they’ll say how much they like our work, and how pleased they are to get hold of it. How grateful they are to the person who posted it.

    It may not surprise you to learn that this is extremely difficult for me to read. i find it very upsetting, and it makes me quite angry to have this first hand experience.
    to those of you who haven’t had it, i’ll try to describe it. it feels a bit like overhearing a burglar saying how much he likes watching your TV which he has recently stolen, or how nicely your car handles.
    I understand that at this point many of the posters above will jump in with ‘ ah, but he [i]hasn’t[/i] deprived you of anything, nothing is physically missing’.
    But I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t feel much like that. As i say, i’m making a living now, but it’s not the kind of living that allows me to buy a house in the UK for my family. Yet many thousands of people have taken our products for free, and enjoy using them, perhaps even use them in commercial work, and earn money themselves.
    i’m not naive, i understand very well that a large percentage of these people would never have paid for it, but in my opinion there IS a percentage who would have done so if it hadn’t have been so readily available on torrent sites. I would guess that if they had purchased it, i might well have been able to buy a house by now. you may say otherwise.

    Some of the posters above seem to object very strongly to the term ‘thief’. fair enough, maybe its not exactly the same ( although it does feel like it to the victim).
    Perhaps it’s fairer to say that ‘people who download illegally are criminals’? since software piracy is a crime, then surely ‘criminal’ is not too strong a term?

    anyway, i don’t want to get to emotive over this. What I am genuinely interested in is what the people who defend piracy would say to me? Hopefully it won’t be the usual ” ah, well, you’re a small company, you’re different, people should buy your stuff”. they don’t. it isnt different to them.

  97. gnola14 said,

    July 15, 2009 at 4:51 am

    Many of the comments here are real insightful, and will provide me more arguments when faced to those who still support the actual copyright law and music industry.
    I hate when people defend so wholeheartedly the “downloading music is bad” rap, but actually download (illegal) music themselves. Even worst: many of them have downloaded music from some legal online store, but are listening to them over a pirated Windows! Now that’s hypocrisy!

    And while music is an “intangible asset that can’t be treated like manufactured products,blah,blah,blah…” is nice to see how the music industry usually make analogies with tangible things (like stealing a car, etc).

    Just posting my 2c.

  98. Becks66 said,

    August 25, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I agree that the figures the industry comes out with are squiffy. I believe some downloading is opportunistic, done by people who wouldn’t have paid for an album (CDs overpriced and most of the profits go the label/manufacturers/distributors without ever reaching the artist). Musicians would be much better off if they could charge $2 for an album from their own website. Authors charging $2 for an ebook would get more than they would from an $8 book sold on the high street – and more creative freedom to boot. But once the gates are thrown open to mass, free filesharing, and an entire generation decides that “free is everything”, who is even going to pay $2? Only the honest people who appreciate the work and investment put into the art.

    I think it would be more helpful to think of this in terms of benefit, rather than product. If you listen to my album when you get home in the evening to chill out, or if you read my book to entertain you, then I have provided a benefit to you for which you have not paid me. I have enriched your life but you have not enriched mine in return – bad karma for society. You may not have taken anything *physically* from me but we have had a 100% one-way transaction of benefit. If you don’t like my album or my book, then you’ll delete it and not bother with my future work – I haven’t enriched your life so no harm no foul. But if you do like it, will you (a) download my other work for free, or (b) buy my other work? I’d like to think the latter but I’m afraid that there would be quite a lot who would take the former path.

    But wait – do I get enriched by knowing that my work is being appreciated? Well, if you actually drop me an email and tell me how much you loved it, then yes I do. But how many people would do that, really? How many say thank you? Paying a small amount for my work is not just a way of keeping a roof over my head, but also a way of saying “thanks, your work is worth something”. Paying nothing for it is, on an emotional level, saying “your work is worth nothing to me – making the sunshine is your hobby, and my hobby is to bask in it”.

    Of course, musicians can make money by touring, as music by its nature lends itself to the live experience. How many authors do you think could make a living from live performance? You may say “well, libraries didn’t kill publishing” but every time a book is borrowed from a library, a small payment goes to the author. The current rate in the UK is 5.98p going direct to the writer for each lend, capped at £6,600 per author per year. Not a lot, but it’s a small thank you nonetheless.

    And all of this relates to art that can be cheaply and easily created at home. Software and movies are very different issues – the huge sums of money needed to create something of high quality make investment prohibitive if those with the money don’t believe they will ever recoup it. I must admit I get rather annoyed when I hear stories of actors being paid huge sums to appear in a film, and I’m sure they could bring their budgets down if they tried (just as football teams could bring their ticket prices down if they didn’t pay ridiculous wages to the players) but a good film with effects and location shooting is still going to cost millions whatever you do. Now, even if you took away DVD sales, films can still try to make money through (a) cinematic releases – an evening out and an experience you can’t get at home, and (b) TV repeats. What can those who develop software do? Like authors, their work is usually intended to be consumed at home, and with piracy rife there’s no need for anyone to pay a penny to do just that.
    So, please, all you who download lots of free music, ebooks, software, movies, whatever – make sure that you balance your karma by doing *something* to give back to those who have made your lives better.

    (BTW before anyone accuses me of being a new-age hippy I’m not suggesting that karma, in the Buddhist sense, is a real thing – I’m using it as a way of expressing that as a society we should not be wholly selfish, or society itself is damaged.)

  99. wayscj said,

    November 21, 2009 at 6:29 am

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  100. Dionysus said,

    January 4, 2010 at 1:48 am

    It’s not stealing. It is sharing, and it is a gesture that points beyond a society whose reproduction is based on the commodification of all things, including human beings. When you go camping with your family and friend you don’t tend to try to establish market relations and if somebody picks up a guitar, she doesn’t charge you for listening.

    Most of the arguments above presuppose commodity production and its law/morality (the one where even the bones of the saints could not withstand the alchemy by which everything becomes saleable), and downloading is judged to be right or wrong according to whether or not it costs the owner of the property. I think this misses the point and the actions of downloaders (everyday people) should be interpreted as acts of resistance to capitalist processes of enclosure and a desire for a life beyond capital.

  101. Dionysus said,

    January 4, 2010 at 2:01 am

    And further to the above…

    Framing the debate in that way is like arguing for or against the necessity of producing and maintaining enough bombs to destroy the earth n-times over on the basis of spurious concepts like “the national interest” or “national security”. That is, both sides reproduce the limits of the society that creates the so-called necessity for bombs (or IP) and avoids the real problem.

  102. themusicmag said,

    May 6, 2010 at 5:06 am

    Definitely agreed on the subject of downloading, i mean how many more bands can get their music across now with the emergance of myspace, facebook, etc.

    Yes some of the bigger bands may suffer, but they still make millions and if they are good enough people will pay to see them live and buy merchandise

    see more on the subject matter that i posted on, specifally focusing on unsigned artists at Unsigned Bands