We’ve been having a lively discussion on the effects of digital piracy in Europe this week, including some debate on the best way to respond. It’s a controversial topic, and we wanted to hear a variety of different viewpoints, so we contacted Swedish Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström and invited him to join the debate.
In our last post, there was some disagreement in the comments about the actual effects of piracy. Glyn Moody argued that file-sharing can actually benefit artists, because it provides, in effect, free marketing for their work. Rob, on the other hand, argued that piracy is damaging the entertainment industry and costing billions each year. Which is it?
It’s beneficial. You can divide the studies into two groups. One is the studies that are funded by the film and record companies, either directly or through lobbying firms. They typically have the methodology that they pick two big numbers, multiply them together and say “Wow! We are losing billions”.
The other set of studies are those undertaken by independent academics and research institutes. There has been a study (PDF) done at the University of Amsterdam, for example. These studies show that the cultural sector is doing better than it ever has. But you need to differentiate between record companies and artists.
It is true that the record companies have lost half their revenues. I say: ‘Excellent! Half the job done’. What record companies do is distribution – it used to be an important function but now any teenager in his or her bedroom can do that work for free. In a market economy, your company will dissappear unless it’s competitive. The losses by the record companies just reflect a healthy market economy. If you look at the statistics, people are spending as much, or even more, on music. But the big shift is that the record companies, who used to take lots of that, no longer have such a large cut – so more money is coming into the cultural sector, but more is also going to artists directly.
We recently interviewed Francis Gurry, head of the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation, who suggested that in order to get more people to download content legally, it has to be as easy to pay for and download as it is to pirate. He suggested users need to be able to get in one click a global licence to use a film or book or whatever it might be.
Well, yes – that is absolutely true. We in the Pirate Party want to make non-commercial file-sharing as widespread as possible. But we have absolutely nothing against commercial alternatives. We like competition and we want many different choices. Currently, you’ve got 27 different copyright legislations in Europe, and all talk about an internal market is greatly exaggerated. When it comes to a single digital market, it simply doesn’t exist. Instead, we’ve got 27 different markets – and this is holding back the legal alternatives.
Let me give you an example: we have met with the legal council from Spotify. Spotify exists in 7 of the 27 EU member-states – and they would love to be pan-European. But in every single country they have to negotiate with half a dozen rights holders organisations. For them, it’s simply not feasible to put together a pan-European offering if you have to do 150 negotiations in 27 different countries. So, we would definitely need to reform European copyright laws.
Does there also need to be a “stick” as well as a “carrot”, though? Francis Gurry suggested that there need to be certain limits on what a person can do on the internet, and if somebody is a repeated offender of intellectual property rights – and if due process is followed properly – then it doesn’t seem to contravene questions of rights to cut off their internet access. Would you agree?
No, we don’t need a “stick”. First of all, you can’t have an efficent stick unless you infringe fundamental rights. The internet allows people to connect to each other – and there are a million ways you can do it. If you shut down file-sharing websites, then people can start sending music as email attachments to each other. If you want to monitor that, you will have to monitor people’s email. That would be an absolute infringement of people’s right to privacy.
Second thing – it isn’t working. Governments are introducing harsher rules, and still file-sharing is increasing. Even if you think it’s okay to infringe people’s right in order to defend copyright, it is still not an effective solution.
The third thing is, the artists are doing fine. It’s always been very difficult to make a living as an artist, but at least more is going to the cultural sector and to the people actually making the content.
What about you? What do YOU think the correct response to digital piracy should be? Do you agree that copyright laws need to be harmonised across the EU to create a single digital market? Do you think tougher sanctions against illegal downloaders are ineffective? Let us know in the form below and we’ll take your suggestions to policy-makers and experts for their reaction.
Lars Christian Engström is a Swedish computer programmer, activist and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Swedish Pirate Party.