31 March 2011

How Rigorous Will the RAND Report Be?

Reports on piracy are like buses: you wait for ever, and then three come at once. In a way, that's not surprising. To begin with, the content industries thought they didn't need to bother with facts, and could simply define the debate with their ex cathedra pronouncements. And that worked for a while, because naive politicians seemed to believe them.

But then a few ill-mannered types pointed out that the Emperor had no clothes, and so, to back up their claims, the copyright maximalists commissioned a few reports that did, amazingly, back up their claims. And then the troublemakers (oh, that would be people like me) actually took the, er, trouble to read the reports in detail, and to check the methodology, only to find that both were pretty worthless: based on extremely naive assumptions, or simply ignoring important parts of the picture.

Worse, research started emerging that piracy really wasn't that much of a problem (lots of links in this submission to the IPRED consultation - BTW, I do hope you've submitted yours, since today's the last day...)

The obvious response to this turn of events is to commission yet more research that's a little bit more rigorous, but that still comes up with "right" answer on piracy. The danger is that this is precisely what the "The European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy" is up to here:

Much of the EU’s output is not the work of officials but rather of thousands of firms contracted per project. Tender reference MARKT/2010/03/D requested proposals for:

A study to assess the scope, scale and impact of counterfeiting and piracy in the internal market, through a defined methodology for collecting, analysing and comparing data.

This study will be the flagship publication of the European Piracy and Counterfeiting Observatory. The tender process concluded in December and the winner was announced in January: the RAND Corporation (UK), and they will be paid half a million euros for their labours.

That same blog post has a good explanation of why we have reasons to be worried:

Their selection warrants unease because although they would not be regarded as IP specialists, they do have form: in 2009, their US organization produced a lengthy report ‘Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism’. This study was financed by the Motion Picture Association, and much of the documentation compiled was assembled by a consultant on ‘organized crime’ employed by the MPA. RAND did at least disclose the relationship with a vested interest.


A reading of the document leaves one in no doubt that it’s primary objective is to convince the public that ‘piracy and counterfeiting is not a victimless crime.’ As a result the frame through which the subject is analysed is one where these activities are basically just the work of gangs, which need to be deterred, requiring more enforcement resources and tougher sentences -. it’s sort of the square-jawed GI Joe school of IP policy, in a comic book universe of make-believe economics.

So, how can we little people - the ones that are actually paying for all this work, but that are never allowed to provide any input - head off this danger of a biased, misleading report emerging from RAND Corporation?

I think the only way is to starting making noises about the fact that it *might* be biased and misleading, so that those preparing it at RAND Corporation know that we are watching them like proverbial hawks, and that we will assuredly tear their methodology to pieces when it comes out, and will thus be certain to find - and brandish - the slightest lack of rigour or bias therein.

Got that, RAND Corporation people? Excellent.

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Thomas said...

Hi Glyn,
This is extremely depressing. Hoping for something balanced from the RAND corporation? It couldn't be worse. The RAND Corporation? Because the little people are watching? The RAND Corporation?

You do know what they are, I suppose, and you are trying to find something salvageable?

Glyn Moody said...

@Thomas: exactly; of course, I'm open to other suggestions...