Illegal downloads have been at the heart of European politics this week.
The Pirate Party, which wants to legalise internet file-sharing and protect people’s privacy online, won two of Sweden's 18 seats in the European parliament, AFP reported. Although it had nothing to do with the Pirate Bay filesharing website – whose founders were prosecuted and handed draconian sentences earlier this year – the Party benefited greatly from the publicity surrounding the case and is a clear indication of what many Swedes think about the entire issue.
France’s highest court decided that the French government has no right to disconnect internet users for illegally downloading material – see today’s news story – despite this being a course of action close to the French President’s heart.
The British government’ sympathies are in line with the French President’s and it was quick to endorse a report by the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property (SABIP), which reckoned at least 7 million people in Britain download material illegally, costing the economy billions of pounds and thousands of jobs, according to a report.
The UK film industry told the authors of the report that there were just under 100m illegal DVD downloads in 2007 and the global film industry is thought to lose more than £4bn a year.
The report found music downloading had "become part and parcel of the social fabric of our society despite its illegal status". Creative industries provide about 8% of British GDP, which allegedly translates into the loss of 4,000 jobs and £10 billion lost to the Exchequer.
David Lammy, minister for intellectual property, said, "The report helps put the scale of the problem into context…Illegal downloading robs our economy of millions of pounds every year and seriously damages business and innovation throughout the UK.
The report warned it may be difficult to change attitudes due to "huge confusion" about what is and is not legal. It also claimed that 70% of those aged 15 to 24 did not feel guilty about illegal music downloads and 61% of the age group did not feel they should have to pay for music they listen to.
What these respondents appear to feel instinctively, becomes a far more reasonable attitude once more accurate facts are established – but I have only come across one article, in The Guardian, whose author had the wit to question the figures instead of restating them with terrific gusto.
Journalist Ben Goldacre points out the 4,000 jobs and £10 billion figures were in fact estimates dreamed up by “rights owners” in a press release issued in 2004, which have been recycled ever since, without any proof of their accuracy.
He also pointed out that other figures that were cited in support of large corporate content owners were rubbish too: lots of media coverage repeated that the 4.73 billion items illegally downloaded in the UK annually were equated to £120 billion in lost sales. Actually, that would mean £8750 for every British man, woman and child –
approximately a third of an average British wage. Which is nonsense – turns out figure put out by SABIP was wrong by a factor of ten, it should have been 4.73 million! Which still puts the per item price at £25, another piece of balderdash.
Is it any wonder that internet users don’t trust their governments, the laws they seek to exploit or the entertainment industry? It is demonstrable that figures are habitually skewed to support the entertainment industry’s rising hysteria as its old business models fold and it fails to come up with new ones? And governments enact laws to spy on their citizens and even favour changing the open nature of the internet through content filtering, all in the name of defending that industry?
Something needs to change, but it won’t be public opinion.