15 January 2010

SABIP Finally Enters 21st Century

It looks like at least one government department, the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy (SABIP), is starting to get a clue about the digital economy, and the fact that constantly harping on about *online* file-sharing misses the bigger picture:

Today sees the publication of the first comprehensive review of currently available national and international research into consumers’ attitudes and behaviours to obtaining and sharing digital content offline. Much of this activity infringes current copyright law in the UK.

Because what do they find?

# Estimates indicate that between 7-16% of the UK population buy discs (DVDs, CDs, & video games) which infringe copyright. Very little is known about other forms of physical peer-to-peer file sharing (e.g. hard drive swapping) and the few estimates that exist vary greatly.

# Demographics for consumers who acquire offline/hard copies which infringe copyright appear to be different from those that engage in online copyright infringement: they are often older, with dependent(s), and are more likely to belong to lower socio-economic groups - ie. they are more ‘ordinary’ than the predominantly younger, well educated, technologically-savvy group who infringe copyright online.

# The evidence is mixed as to whether consuming content through infringement substitutes or complements legal consumption. For example, while the music industry points to falling sales, some evidence suggests that consuming music illegally does not substitute legal consumption but that both types of consumption may sit alongside each other.

# Initial evidence indicates that online downloading and file sharing is substituting offline counterfeit sales. Anecdotally some suppliers suggest that the market for counterfeit content is declining - this is corroborated by falling seizures of counterfeit discs.

They suggest:

* The sharing of digital content offline needs to be looked at through a new lens. It has been predominantly studied using criminology or social psychology. But these perspectives tend to carry value judgements about what is considered right or wrong which implicitly shape the research. This means that other factors, eg, economic criteria, have rarely been considered. Industry and government surveys suggest that these additional factors are very important to any consideration of copyright infringement.

* There is little research that looks at the effect of ignorance of IP law. Copyright law is complex, and difficult for the average consumer to fully understand (where consumers are aware it exists at all). The default position in previous criminology-based research is that people know that they are breaking the law and make a choice to do so, but this is not empirically proven.

Who would have thought that economic criteria might have played a role in people's decisions to share copyright materials offline? Similarly, who would have thought that the fact that in recent decades copyright has been framed solely for the benefit of content owners, and not content users, means that it is user-hostile to the point of opacity, and that "ordinary" people make no attempt to navigate its thickets?

Let's hope this report is the first in many that shows some realism on the part of not just SABIP, but the UK government.

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Anonymous said...

It's interesting that they mention to terabyte hard drive method you've been banging on about for a long time now.

It seems to me that sharing usb sticks in the playground/workplace or whatever is simply the latest incarnation of sharing of media that's been going on since the cassette tape and then the CD-R came on the scene.

People share. It's natural and it's probably beneficial to the artists. I know that I've bought David Bowie's back catalogue twice (LPs then CDs) because I copied a cassette in the 80s and played it to death.

It's a similar story for other artists and other methods. Beyoncé is now on my shopping list because I downloaded a torrent. Before I'd actually repeatedly listened to her latest album, I thought she was crap.

Glyn Moody said...

I'm glad somebody noticed about that terabyte drive stuff...

"People share": indeed - it's what your mother told you to do: share nicely...