Ever since the internet became a place where copyright infringement was rampant, we’ve seen the same basic playbook from the legacy entertainment industry: pass stricter anti-piracy laws. In the 30 years predating the big fight over SOPA in 2011-2012, the US had passed 15 separate anti-piracy laws. Countries around the globe (often under pressure from the US) have passed increasingly more draconian copyright laws designed to “stop piracy.” And when they can’t pass laws directly, they resort to international trade agreements, like the TPP, whereby trade negotiators (who are directly influenced by the legacy entertainment industry) negotiate deals in back rooms that require stricter anti-piracy laws. And none of it works. Sure, when a new law first goes into effect there may be an initial, short-term decrease in piracy rates, but it doesn’t last for more than a few months, as people quickly go back to finding ways to access the content they want.
So how about a different approach? One that actually does work. One that has been shown, time and time again, to actually reduce piracy rates? Enabling more innovation and allowing more services to legally deliver what consumers want.
The story in Sweden is somewhat famous. Sweden was home to the Pirate Bay and had sky high piracy rates. And then Spotify — a company also born in Sweden — launched at home. And piracy rates fell off a cliff. But only for music. Piracy for other products such as TV and movies remained high. Under pressure from the US, Sweden passed a strict anti-piracy law, IPRED. And when it went into effect, there was a notable decline in piracy rates… but within months, those rates rebounded to where they had been before, as people quickly figured out new ways to do what they were doing before. And then Netflix launched in Sweden. And piracy rates for TV and movies dropped.
This story made us wonder, so we’ve been digging into similar situations around the globe, and this morning we’re releasing our latest report: The Carrot Or The Stick, in which we compare attempts to ratchet up anti-piracy enforcement against simply enabling more innovation, and the impact both have had on piracy rates in a bunch of different countries. Over and over again, we find the same basic story: anti-piracy laws have little to no long-term impact on piracy. Any impact is, at best, short term. However, when innovative services are allowed to thrive, and when there’s real innovation, the public is more than willing to sign up in droves, often leaving their pirating ways behind.
Thus, if the entertainment industry is truly serious about decreasing piracy, why are they so resistant to the facts? Why do they fight tooth and nail against these services, demanding rates that are sure to bankrupt them, or putting ridiculous restrictions on them that limit their value to users? Why do they demand DRM or limit selection? It’s difficult to make sense of this strategy.
And, yes, I know that some will claim that the two things (anti-piracy laws and innovation) go hand-in-hand — and that the anti-piracy laws are necessary in order to make it possible for authorized services to thrive. Once again, however, our research showed that does not appear to be the case at all. In most countries we studied, the number of authorized services tended to rapidly expand before the introduction of new anti-piracy laws. And, in fact, sometimes we saw the number of services decline after these laws were in place, and after the “winners” in the market had already been established. In other words, entrepreneurs and users of these services saw no reason to wait for these laws, and the laws themselves don’t appear to have done much to encourage more innovation in the field.
You can read the full report in the Copia Library. Oh, and as a reminder, the White House’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator is still asking for feedback on how to best use the federal government’s resources on this issue. One would hope that learning what’s in this new report would be helpful to him in crafting his new plan.