For years, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and other interest groups made a simple argument whenever the topic of file-sharing came up: sharing songs, e-books, games, software programs and movies for free on the Internet—usually via peer-to-peer (P2P) networks—hurt artists.
Why would anyone actually buy a piece of media through regular sales channels, those groups argued, when it could be theirs for the low, low price of zero dollars?
But a new study from the American Assembly at Columbia University—made possible by a research grant from Google, which sells a variety of media through its Google Play online storefront—suggests that P2P file sharers are also heavy consumers of traditional media. “In the [United States], they buy roughly 30 percent more digital music,” reads the study’s introduction. “They also display marginally higher willingness to pay.”
Furthermore, “there is no significant difference between those who copy or file share and those who do not.”
Roughly 46 percent of American adults “have acquired media in ways other than buying a licit product,” the study detailed, “whether by copying files or disks from family and friends; downloading music, TV shows, or movies for free; or purchasing pirated DVDs.” Among those 18-to-29-years-old, copiers were much more prevalent—a full 70 percent of those surveyed.
As the study notes, governing bodies have taken several drastic steps over the past few years to limit peer-to-peer and online storage Websites such as Megaupload, which in turn has cast doubt “over the legal status of a wide array of web services.” Meanwhile, organizations such as human rights groups and even some courts have pushed back against what’s perceived as some of the more draconian regulatory measures.
Of course, file-sharing networks are also doing more to protect themselves. Back in October 2012, The Pirate Bay—arguably the most infamous of them all—announced that it was moving its operations into the cloud. “Now we’ve gotten rid of the servers. Slowly and steadily we are getting rid of our earthly form and ascending into the next stage, the cloud,” read a note posted on the Website’s blog. “Our data flows around in thousands of clouds, in deeply encrypted forms, ready to be used when necessary. Earth bound nodes that transform the data are as deeply encrypted and reboot into a deadlock if not used for 8 hours.”
Nor is streaming, viewed by some as a good way to mitigate piracy, a format in use by a majority of Americans: some 13 percent of adults surveyed by American Assembly indicated that they relied on streaming services for “most or all” of music listening, with half listening through paid subscriptions. Germans—the other major group involved in the survey—used those services even less.
Study results like these are unlikely to change the course of groups determined to harry file-sharing networks into nonexistence. But in the battle over copyrights to data, it does provide some interesting perspective.
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