Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Copyright theft: do crackdowns help?

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Today’s The Guardian reports from Sweden that music sales have gone up 18% in the first nine months of this year, which record labels are citing as evidence of the potential for similar crackdowns elsewhere given April’s introduction of anti-piracy laws in the country and a court ruling against the operators of the Pirate Bay website.

Of course, it may be nothing of the sort: successes in one country aren’t necessarily replicable elsewhere (even if there is also evidence to the same effect from South Korea); the introduction of the new laws in April, three months into the year, may well have had only a limited impact on music sales for the first nine months. Besides, following seven years of losses, improved turnover over nine months of the eighth is clearly an insufficient foundation for confidence that the corner has been turned.

At the same time, Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for the information society and media, has greeted Spain’s attempt to cut off internet access of illegal downloaders with with strong words and threats of potential action from the Commission [registration required; limited viewing time] (not least since this goes against the intention of the fragile compromise, put together between the Council and the Parliament and due to be voted shortly [edit on 25 November: it was overwhelmingly approved by Parliament], to have a judicial procedure in place – so Reding may simply be being politically careful). At the same time, Reding is reported to have commented that ‘repression will not alone solve the problem’. So, do crackdowns work?

Well, the simple answer is – as I’ve said already – that it’s far too early to tell from the Swedish experience. Nevertheless, the first half of Reding’s quote cited here (‘We need to find more modern ways to protect intellectual property and artistic creation’) is being done in Sweden with the creation of new innovative services for which people are apparently prepared to pay while The Guardian article also quotes Ludvig Werner, Chair of the Swedish industry record labels association:

It’s like speeding, put up cameras and people will start to ease off the gas pedal. Even if it doesn’t change the attitudes, they find legal alternatives because they don’t want to get caught.

Not an analogy to push too far, perhaps. But, a combination of carrot and stick – new opportunities combined with the threat of action for transgressors – may well carry some weight. People don’t just need alternatives; they need to be convinced of the benefits of using them and of the need to do so. These pages have previously argued that there is merit in the threat of action against illegal file sharing, provided it doesn’t infringe online privacy, as well as for a proper campaign on the problems that it causes to copyright holders (and, indeed, an event along these lines is taking place today with the aim of convincing parliamentarians of the need for action). What the Swedish (and the South Korean) experience does seem to demonstrate quite well therefore is that both carrot and stick are likely to be necessary in changing behaviours on illegal filesharing.

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Written by Calvin

24/11/2009 at 7:42 pm

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