A few days ago, IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) put out a press release titled “ten inconvenient truths“, which claims to offer new insights into the dirty world of digital piracy.
Apart from the fact that the titles is a rather weak reference to the movie about Al Gore and global warming (“An Inconvenient Truth”), it’s also rather funny to read. Sadly, facts are a little thinly spread, and no sources are given to verify the claims.
As the arguments given by IFPI here are not just one-sided (which is legit: IFPI is, after all, talking from a pro-copyright, anti-filesharing point of view), they’re also a bit on the radical/irresponsible side, here’s a quick shot at some of the main arguments. Please note that I’m not claiming to be neutral in this particular post.
Without further ado:
1. Pirate Bay, one of the flagships of the anti-copyright movement, makes thousands of euros from advertising on its site, while maintaining its anti-establishment â€œfree musicâ€ rhetoric.
Your point being? (Lobbying for non-DRM, maybe even non-copyrighted music isn’t the same as demanding the abolition of capitalsm/the market/cash, now is it?)
2. Allofmp3.com, the well-known Russian website, has not been licensed by a single IFPI member, has been disowned by right holder groups worldwide and is facing criminal proceedings in Russia.
Ok, so a commercial piracy operation was busted. Good news! Congratulations. But what’s the point here? Most people would agree that this is a good thing. (Yes, maybe even the Pirate Bay would say that.)
3. Organised criminal gangs and even terrorist groups use the sale of counterfeit CDs to raise revenue and launder money.
Wow, ok, hold it right there. Now this is getting irresponsible in the extreme. While it’s quite possible that criminal organizations also make money through “the sale of counterfeit CDs”, that has nothing to do with file-sharing as IFPI implies. Quite the contrary: As most file-sharing activities don’t include any kind of financial transaction, file-sharing will neither help those criminal organizations to make money, nor to laundry it. In fact, it’s more likely that this would try out the money channels created by sale of counterfeit CDs: After all, who’d buy a counterfeit CD after downloading the music?
Implying that file-sharing supports terrorism is both rhetorically and morally inacceptable. It also gives me the impression that the IFPI bends the truth where deemed necessary to support their arguments.
4. Illegal file-sharers donâ€™t care whether the copyright infringing work they distribute is from a major or independent label.
That may be so, or not. I can’t tell. And I’d guess, neither can you.
5. Reduced revenues for record companies mean less money available to take a risk on â€œundergroundâ€ artists and more inclination to invest in â€œbankersâ€ like American Idol stars.
Ah, right. Good point: Stop innovating, stick to whatever we’ve had before. Well, that’s a bit like claiming that nobody would invest in regenerative energies ’cause “hey, we have coal & oil, so why change anything? It’s cheaper, too!” Right.
6. ISPs often advertise music as a benefit of signing up to their service, but facilitate the illegal swapping on copyright infringing music on a grand scale.
Apart from the implications given the rather enthusiastic use of shaky legal terminology: Agreed. ISPs advertise file-sharing as a benefit, and deliver. Errr….
7. The anti-copyright movement does not create jobs, exports, tax revenues and economic growth â€“ it largely consists of people pontificating on a commercial world about which they know little.
That one’s part correct, but hilariously arrogant. Correct: The anti-copyright movement does not create jobs. (Well, that’s not quite correct, technically. Think lawyers, EFF etc.. But it doesn’t create exports or tax, probably.) That’s not the aim of a movement against a legal term, though. However, the free culture & Creative Commons “movement” creates art, creative works, promotion for artists and thereby enhanced sales. With sales come jobs, exports, taxes etc.
But what’s that part about “people pontificating…”? Come on, IFPI, you’re not really claiming that it’s just a bunch of tree-huggers, anarchists and communists who are against the copyright you’re promoting, or who download music? You don’t even believe that yourself, do you?
8. Piracy is not caused by poverty. Professor Zhang of Nanjing University found the Chinese citizens who bought pirate products were mainly middle or higher income earners.
Of course not. But CDs aren’t purchased by poor people, either. How much is a commercial CD in Beijing? How much in rural China? Oh, wait, you won’t tell us that the major part of CDs isn’t even commercially available there, will you?
9. Most people know it is wrong to file-share copyright infringing material but won’t stop till the law makes them, according to a recent study by the Australian anti-piracy group MIPI.
Err, technically, the law already made “them” stop the file-sharing of “copyright infringing material”, didn’t it? The commercial distribution of said material, too. Just what is “copyright infringing material” will have to be negotiated over and over a few times.
To give an infamous example: How come that the IFPI’s German partner GEMA requires artists to join them exclusively? According to the GEMA’s rules, artists have to choose between Creative Commons and GEMA membership: If you’re a member, you can’t release even a single song under Creative Commons license.
So what happens in case the Beastie Boys release a song under a Creative Commons license? Well, in the U.S., that’s perfectly fine. But since the Beastie Boys are pretty much by default a GEMA member, GEMA claims that the songs can’t be Creative Commons licensed.
Who said anything about IFPI acting in the artists’ interests?
10. P2P networks are not hotbeds for discovering new music. It is popular music that is illegally file-shared most frequently.
Maybe true, or not. The implication that file-sharing hurts music sales, however, is most likely untrue. A 2004 study by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina found that:
Even high levels of file-swapping seemed to translate into an effect on album sales that was “statistically indistinguishable from zero,” they wrote.
“We find that file sharing has only had a limited effect on record sales,” the study’s authors wrote. “While downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing.”
The fact that “popular” music is file-shared “most frequently” is rather self-evident, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t it be shared “most frequently”? Still, this doesn’t say that people don’t hear the music for the first time. Nor does it say anything about the relation between “popular” and less-widely known music: The theory of the Long Tail suggests that (while a very small number of hits are shared very, very often) in absolute figures, the vastly major part of file-sharing activities are those involving non-hits, or less-widely known songs.
Dear IFPI: Why don’t you go back to your desk, re-think the whole thing, and come back with something a bit more substantial? It’ll help us all to get the facts right first, and it’ll spare you the public self-humiliation.