Some years ago, incensed by the jiggery-pokery of the “copyright industries”, I wrote a post seeking to expose the way they went about making the most outrageous claims when it came to the volume of illegal downloads prevalent. I described them as Numbers of Mass Distraction.
It is clear that recent events surrounding SOPA do not represent the end of the war waged by the copyright industries; at most it’s a skirmish they will concede, albeit very grudgingly, as lost. Judging from the experiences we faced in the UK with The Digital Economy Bill (I covered some of those shenanigans here in Musing About Downloads In The UK) dealing with SOPA (and PIPA) is going to be a long hard war of attrition. A war where every one of us needs to understand the weapons being used against us, as well as the absolute flimsiness of the ammunition.
I intended to write another long post on this flimsiness, then found that someone else had done a far better job than I could’ve. So what I shall do instead is to link to the wonderful post on the subject by research fellow Julian Sanchez at the Cato Institute. Headlined How Copyright Industries Con Congress, it’s a must-read. While you’re at it, it’s also worth reading Julian’s earlier piece on the subject in Ars Technica. The elevator version is as follows: numbers related to the value of illegal downloads as well as numbers related to the number of jobs affected are at best wild unsubstantiated estimates, and at worst devious attempts to flim-flam a legislature crying out to be flim-flammed. The $200-$250 billion number, while it came from a sidebar in a reputable magazine, was actually an unsourced estimate of the value of all counterfeit and pirated goods worldwide, and was clearly stated in the magazine as such. And the 750,000 jobs lost number was taken from a 1986 speech by the then Secretary of Commerce, a number that has never been endorsed by the Department of Commerce.
Julian also reminds us that to make matters worse for the pedlars and purveyors of such phony pap, in April 2010, the United States Government Accountability Office released a report titled Intellectual Property: Observations on Efforts to Quantify The Economic Effects Of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods. Here’s what it says on the first page:
Incidentally, if you still don’t know what SOPA threatens to do, then this Khan Academy video is a good place to start.
Tim O’Reilly has repeatedly cited the lack of sound, independently verifiable, evidence on actual loss in the context of illegal downloads. It is not in the interest of the copyright-industries-lobby to participate in or support any activity aimed at filling this important gap. So more Numbers of Mass Distraction will continue to fly around, seeking to encourage lawmakers to enact first and ask questions much, much later.
We need to keep doing as much as we can to educate all and sundry about all this.