1.3B Canadian Downloads, 1.3M UK Downloaders – Coincidence?

After getting busted for pirating a deceptive statistic and trying to use the mask of an independent organization to push for restrictive copyright agenda in Canada, it almost looks like the copyright industry is attempting to pull the same stunt in the UK – the nearly identical numbers between two countries, though, was a surprising find.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

In Canada, it was almost a farce in the eyes of some. The copyright industry contributed a major amount of funding to get the Conference Board of Canada to publish an IP study that suggested that Canada needed to ratify the WIPO treaties and introduce copyright legislation that would, among other things, introduce anti-circumvention laws and allow the copyright industry to start suing users en-mass much like what has been happening in the United States. Unfortunately for the copyright industry, Michael Geist busted the Board for merely copying, rewording and pasting whatever was in a previous IIPA report (IIPA being an organization run by the US copyright industry). After being caught for ignoring contradicting evidence from independent researchers, the Board ultimately retracted the report saying that the report didn’t meet the high standards expected by the Board.

For Canadians watching how copyright is unfolding in the UK, they may realize that they dodged quite a bullet. According to the BBC, researchers figured that 1.3 million people were using a network (which network wasn’t disclosed) on a weekday. The Intellectual Property Minister said that the report puts into context of illegal downloading on the copyright industry. Already, the copyright industry is attempting to get UK ISPs to disconnect file-sharers for copyright infringement.

But, hang on a second. First of all, doesn’t that 1.3 million number sound familiar? Check out this CBC article which has the following:

Because of “lax regulation and enforcement,” internet piracy is rising in Canada, the board said. “The estimated number of illicit downloads (1.3 billion) is 65 times higher than the number legal downloads (20 million), mirroring the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s conclusion that Canada has the highest per capita incidence of unauthorized file-swapping in the world,” the board said.

It’s a strange coincidence that the only differences between the stat in Canada and the stat in the UK is three zero’s and the fact that one is downloads and the other is supposedly actual downloaders. Already, numerous statistics purported to show the seriousness of file-sharing have a major shadow of doubt over them. For instance, in Sweden, the BSA admitted that their piracy rates were hypothetical with no Swedish firms being contacted to gather the statistics. A similar thing has happened in Canada recently where the, again, the BSA admitted that the piracy rates in Canada were little more than guesswork because Canadian entities and Canadian users were never contacted. Especially after the Conference Board of Canada’s IP report fiasco, and the fact that Canada has still been miraculously put on top of the two piracy watch lists in the US, many have fresh reasons to doubt any numbers the copyright industry has been handing out these days.

Another reason to doubt the statistic in the UK is the fact that they counted the number of people connected to a network. Apparently, connecting to a file-sharing network and had access to pirated material. This is pretty much assuming that all downloads, bar non, is copyright infringement even though services like Jamendo, the eMule Content Database, and MiniNova’s Content Distribution services all use file-sharing for completely legal reasons (and that’s just the start of a long list of legal file-sharing services) Connecting to a file-sharing network and assuming all traffic is copyright infringement is, at best, very misleading.

Surprisingly, the copyright industry went further to say over half of all traffic in the UK is illegal content. One wonders how that can be in the face of the traffic generated by e-mail, user-generated content, legal streaming services (not limited to music and movies), online gaming (WoW and the endless supply of Flash video games to name two), and general web surfing. Of course, there is no telling whether or not all the streaming traffic is automatically assumed to be copyright infringement. Could the research tell the difference of someone streaming a mainstream music video on YouTube and someone streaming amateur skating video’s on YouTube?

The report, according to the BBC article, concluded with this:

The latest report for the SABIP, said the new generation of broadband access at 50Mbps could deliver 200 MP3 files in five minutes, a DVD in three and the complete digitised works of Charles Dickens in less than 10.

It said the seven million people who access files illegally could not all be students and that many of them were uncertain about what was illegal.

The fact that so much on the internet is free only added to the confusion, it said.

There’s no definition of what they deem about uncertainty of copyright law, the study apparently assumed that everyone with a 50Mbps will always be constantly used for copyright infringement. It also assumed that things being free adds to the confusion of copyright laws. The article did not highlight whether or not that included free things like this article for instance.

In any event, it appears that this study, which is questionable at best, appears to be currently in use to push through legislation that would disconnect people from the internet, legislation that would, again, be in direct violation of an EU law that says that internet access is a right. Given that the idea of disconnecting internet users is something that UK ISPs don’t seem to be too keen on following through on, probably in part because it would make the marketplace unsustainable for ISPs in light of a similar thing that is happening in France where 1000 people are projected to be disconnected per day.

In any event, the Open Rights Group did suggest that the statistic, if believable, shows just how big the market place is and the need for an ‘all you can eat’ service. It’s a proposal that is similar to that of a Green Party MEP who suggested that there should be a flat rate on ISPs so as to legalize file-sharing.

[Hat Tip: Open Rights Group]

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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