Have you seen this ridiculous story? Apparently, a study backed by the European Union and the TUC has “found” that “a quarter of a million British jobs in the music, film, TV, software and other creative industries could be lost over the next five years if online piracy continues at its current rate.” It says that in the EU as a whole, as many as 1.2 million jobs are in jeopardy as piracy looks set to strip more than €240bn (£218bn) in revenues from the creative industries by 2015, unless regulators can stem the flow.
This is a lovely little scare-tactic story, designed to scare us all into accepting the UK government’s upcoming Digital Economy Bill, which hopes to introduce draconian powers to cut people off the internet if a film or music industry rights holder alleges that a person has infringed copyright. Anyone accused of copyright infringement will have their internet access disconnected, with no trial and no effective right of appeal.
The diabolical thing about this study is that its figures mean absolutely nothing. The claim is that illegal downloads are causing a financial loss to the entertainment industries of more than €240 billion. How did the study come up with this figure? By asserting that every single illegal download directly deprives the rights holder of the price of that downloaded material. For instance, if I download an album that costs €20 in the shops, that’s €20 I have actually stolen from the record company.
The entertainment industry has been using this formula for a long time now, so they have been able to claim millions of euros in compensation from average joes who share their music and films over peer-to-peer systems like bittorrent. But the formula is utterly ridiculous. Take “my friend” for instance. He has downloaded several rock albums over the years; and yes, if he had bought those albums legitimately he would have paid maybe €300 for them. But the point is this: if he had not been able to download these files for free, he certainly would not have gone out and bought them. Indeed, during this time he has spent a good few hundred euros on other albums. He downloaded many of these albums, to listen to and decide if he liked them – and when he decided he actually did like them, he went down the record shop and bought them on CD. If he likes a record, he wants to reward the artist – by paying for CDs, by going to concerts, by wearing official merchandise… he has absolutely no problem with paying for this stuff. But the albums he hasn’t paid for, he considers are not worth buying. So he hasn’t bought them – he never would have bought them – and the record industry has lost zero sales, and therefore lost zero money.
He likens this system to what we all used to do in the time before bittorrent. I would borrow an album from a friend and listen to it. If I liked it, I would go to the record store and buy myself a legitimate copy. If I wasn’t so keen on a record, I might record it onto a blank audio cassette; but I wasn’t depriving the record company of any money because I had no intention of buying it at all. If I hadn’t been able to copy a friend’s record, I certainly wouldn’t have gone and bought a legitimate copy. I would have gone without it. And I was certainly not alone in this.
At that time, we all saw those ominous posters that said “Home taping is killing music”. But, funnily enough, home taping didn’t kill the music industry. Plenty of legitimate records were bought. And a similar thing happened with video. When consumer VCRs hit the market, the film industry was up in arms. Why would anyone pay to see a movie when they could just get a bootleg copy? was the big question. But, as we all now know, the VCR did not kill the movie industry. Far from it: the video cassette gave the industry a new and lucrative income stream. People bought legitimate videos by the wheelbarrow-full. It’s true that the cinemas took a hit. But that loss was more than made up for by the revenues from video sales and rentals. New technology scared the industry for a while; yet within a very short time, that new technology became the new cash cow.
So, yet again the entertainment industries are worried about the new technology. All they see is doom and gloom. But if they were capable of learning from history, they would soon realise that computers and the internet will soon pour untold riches into the industry coffers. Some companies are already moving into new business models – companies like Netflix are making good money from selling an online streaming service. And in time, more possible solutions will present themselves. The digital revolution is going to be as big and important as the introduction of “talkies”. Why can’t the entertainment industries just get up off their asses and come up with new business models? Why do we all need to suffer, just because the fat slobs are too lazy to do their stinking jobs? New technology always changes the status quo – not always for the better, but very often it’s easy to see the silver lining. Why can’t the movie and recording industry bigwigs see the silver lining here? How in hell did such blind, lazy good-for-nothings ever get to be so successful? Idiots.
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