“Three Strikes” Anti-Piracy Strategy May Have Limited Impact

April 21, 2014

Piracy Three StrikesA recent study conducted jointly by researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of Rennes suggests that French anti-piracy rules may not be particularly effective at reducing copyright theft.  If this result is accurate, governments may want to reconsider the “three strikes” strategy which has become popular in many parts of the world.

France, and a variety of other countries, enacted a version of the “three strikes” rule in order to address the problem of digital piracy of copyrighted material.  This approach provides for increasingly severe penalties against individuals who violate digital copyright terms.

Those who take copyrighted material without complying with the associated license requirements are initially warned under three strikes rules.  If violations continue, penalties are assessed.  After multiple violations the violators may be denied Internet access.

Some critics of the three strikes approach contend that penalties such as denial of Internet access are too severe.  Others claim that this strategy places the bulk of the burden of copyright enforcement on Internet service providers, instead of on the owners of the copyrighted material.

The researchers surveyed two thousand French users of online music.  Approximately 38 percent of those surveyed admitted that they continue to access music illegally, despite the three strikes law.

The survey suggests that the three strikes penalties and more active copyright enforcement have led those who continue to access music illegally to alter their methods of acquiring the music.  Those who continue to obtain music illegally appear to be moving away from the formerly highly popular peer-to-peer file sharing systems.

The survey seems to indicate that those who continue to access music illegally in France now find websites that provide direct downloading of music to be more attractive than the P2P networks.  It is suspected that this change in access strategy has been influenced by the three strikes law.

Research continues in France and elsewhere regarding the actual impact severe anti-piracy laws have on user behavior.  This study suggests, however, that the adoption of increasingly severe sanctions against digital copyright piracy may not have as significant an impact on consumer behavior as many originally believed it would.

Policymakers should recognize that legal sanctions alone are not likely to make digital copyright more secure.  The most effective way to influence consumer behavior is to provide a digital media content production and distribution system which is fair to all parties involved and offers recognizable economic value to consumers.  The issue of digital copyright management is primarily economic, not legal, in nature.