Bogus Math and the Copyright Law

March 26, 2012

Bogus NumbersIn a very interesting presentation at the TED Conference, Rob Reid offers a critique of the statistics which are often used to justify aggressive copyright law measures employed against piracy (“The Numbers Behind the Copyright Math”). 

Through use of publicly available data, Reid challenges the validity of the argument that theft of copyrighted material results in unacceptable levels of economic loss and unemployment.

By calling into question the dire statistics commonly used to justify severe copyright law enforcement measures, Reid helps to provide a more accurate assessment of the actual nature of the economic threat posed by piracy of copyrighted material.

Advocates of more stringent anti-piracy measures point to the devastating economic consequences of theft of copyrighted material. 

Those arguments were clearly on display in the recent debates surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Supporters of rigorous copyright enforcement laws have argued that the United States economy has lost nearly $60 billion and slightly less than 400,000 jobs as a result of copyright piracy.

Using a combination of data from the U.S. government and from the industries most affected by piracy, Reid suggests that the figures used to justify aggressive anti-piracy laws appear to be dramatically out of line.

He calculates an economic loss of, at most, $8 billion.

Additionally, Reid’s figures question whether there are even 400,000 total jobs in the economy directly affected by piracy.

If the job loss figures used to justify copyright protection were accurate, Reid suggests that his calculations indicate that there would be no more jobs left in the copyright industries, and they would already be out of business.

Reid is particularly critical of the significant fines that have been levied against individual consumers under copyright law.

He notes that approximately 30,000 individual consumers have been fined for copyright piracy.

Reid argues that advances in digital downloading and storage technologies, combined with the severe fines authorized by copyright law, make it possible for an individual consumer to be fined literally billions of dollars if maximum fines are applied, given the large storage capacity of modern digital media devices.

He contends that potential fines of that magnitude against individual consumer are unjustified.

Undoubtedly, copyright piracy presents legal and policy challenges that must be addressed.

Reid’s arguments, however, help to place the scope of those challenges in a more accurate context. 

Effective identification of the true nature and extent of the piracy challenge is essential to the development of laws and policies that adequately address piracy in a fair and reasonable manner.

Rob Reid’s work illustrates the importance of accurate data to support policymaking.