Tim over at Open Bytes has a new article, DCC, Bittorrent and Usenet – Is Bittorrent so great?, one part of which really caught my attention:
Since the vast magority(sic) of file-sharing on a p2p network is infringing copyright
Now, here’s the question. Can anyone prove this? Does anyone have a solid, peer reviewed study, that gives figures proving that the majority of file sharing is infringing copyright? To the best of my knowledge, no such study has yet been carried out. There have been studies carried out by the Business Software Alliance, and other industry bodies, but they have an axe to grind, and because of this their figures are not believable (for instance in one study, they assumed that every computer ever made had a copy of Microsoft Office, even those which were incapable of running it, and made no provisions for Free Software alternatives such as KOffice and Open Office).
Now I personally suspect that Tim is correct, and that over 50% of the sharing is copyright infringing. However the total lack of proof from an unbiased observer bothers me intensely. The usual reason that there isn’t any proof from an unbiased observer, is that the proof doesn’t exist, because the conclusion is incorrect.
That said, a quick perusal of the listings on ‘The Pirate Bay‘ would seem to offer proof that the statement is correct, however there are thousands of other torrent sites, and there are also the Peer to Peer networks such as Gnutella, never mind IRC, Usenet, Direct Download sites such as RapidShare, and all of the other possible ways to transfer files. No one has ever done a proper study taking into account all of the alternatives, so making a blanket statement that the majority of files are infringing is a dangerous thing to do. The majority of files may be infringing, however at present this has not been proven.
Also the Free Software, Open Source Software, and Creative Commons alternatives need to be considered. Ten years ago I knew a lot of people who ran illegal copies of Microsoft Office. Today I don’t know anyone who does, they are all running Open Office, KOffice, or Gnome Office. Why pirate Microsoft Office, when there are free alternatives, alternatives which offer superior performance? Ten years ago it was extremely difficult to produce and market your own videos, today it’s a lot easier, so people like the incomparable Taunya Gren (disclosure, she is a friend of the family) are able to produce things like the video series ‘Raising Kayn‘ on a small budget, and made it look great. Taunya lives in Utah, her sound track engineer lives in England, they collaborate over the net, something that would have been difficult even ten years ago, and impossible twenty years ago.
I think that it is probable that online copyright infringement is actually dropping. No, I can’t prove this, no more than anyone can prove that online copyright infringement is the majority of the the files transferred on Peer to Peer networks. But while I can’t prove it, I can point to things like YouTube, where you can find a huge amount of amateur video (I’m addicted to funny cat videos myself). And there’s people like Tom Smith, who are now able to make a living from music, using the internet to connect with fans (disclosure, I’ve known Tom for nearly twenty years). Other friends are posting their newest novels online, I suggest you check out Shirley Meier’s ‘Eclipse Court‘, and Karen Wehrstein’s ‘Chevenga Lives‘, both of which are well written (disclosure, I’ve known both Shirley and Karen for a long time – nearly twenty-five years now).
It is unlikely that online copyright infringement would ever stop, no matter what was done, however it’s like smoking cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes was once socially acceptable. It no longer is socially acceptable. Or drunk driving – at one time everyone did it, now it’s so socially unacceptable that very few do so anymore.
The curious thing is that all of the laws which have been enacted, appear to have had virtually no effect on online copyright infringement. What has had a huge effect was legal options. People love to show their appreciation for value, especially when they can show that appreciation directly to the artist, or software developer.
Friday August 27, 2010