Further Doubt Cast on UK Copyright Industry P2P Statistics

Late last night, we touched on statistics that were posted about file-sharing as the copyright industry sees it. While the copyright industry claims that this is just further evidence that points to a need to disconnect people from the internet in the UK, there has been an increasing number of people that think that the numbers simply don’t add up.

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

When the story first appeared online, the BBC is where we first heard about it, we noticed an eerie resemblance to a similar incident that happened in Canada where the copyright industry allegedly pressured a think-tank to pirate statistics from their own reports as unbiased information. Dubbed as little more then policy laundering by Michael Geist in the Conference Board of Canada’s IP report incident, some have already noticed similar policy laundering activity happening in the UK’s “Copycat” incident.

To make a long story short, someone followed the reports footnotes (something that didn’t completely happen in the IP Board incident where citations were either limited or entirely missing), one observer noticed that some of the statistics comes from a government statistic – which, in turn, cited a copyright industry statistic.

To get the record straight, a reporter from the Guardian decided to contact SABIP (the entity that commissioned the report) to get some answers. This is what happened in his words:

But what about all these other figures in the media coverage? Lots of it revolved around the figure of 4.73 billion items downloaded each year, worth £120 billion. This means each downloaded item, software, movie, mp3, ebook, is worth about £25. Now before we go anywhere, this already seems rather high. I am not an economist, and I don’t know about their methods, but to me, for example, an appropriate comparator for someone who downloads a film to watch it once might be the rental value, not the sale value. And someone downloading a £1,000 professional 3D animation software package to fiddle about with at home may not use it more than three times. I’m just saying.

In any case, that’s £175 a week or £8,750 a year potentially not being spent by millions of people. Is this really lost revenue for the economy, as reported in the press? Plenty will have been schoolkids, or students, and even if not, that’s still about a third of the average UK wage. Before tax. Oh but the figures were wrong: it was actually 473 million items and £12 billion (so the item value was still £25) but the wrong figures were in the original executive summary, and the press release. They changed them quietly, after the errors were pointed out by a BBC journalist. I can find no public correction.

I asked what steps they took to notify journalists of their error, which exaggerated their findings by a factor of ten and were widely reported in news outlets around the world. SABIP refused to answer my questions in emails, insisted on a phone call (always a warning sign), told me that they had taken steps but wouldn’t say what, explained something about how they couldn’t be held responsible for lazy journalism, then, bizarrely, after ten minutes, tried to tell me retrospectively that the whole call was actually off the record, that I wasn’t allowed to use the information in my piece, but that they had answered my questions, and so they didn’t need to answer on the record, but I wasn’t allowed to use the answers, and I couldn’t say they hadn’t answered, I just couldn’t say what the answers were. Then the PR man from SABIP demanded that I acknowledge, in our phone call, formally, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, that he had been helpful.

I think it’s okay to be confused and disappointed by this. Like I said: as far as I’m concerned, everything from this industry is false, until proven otherwise.

Essentially, proving or even verifying the statistics is a matter best left off the record. Obviously, this will do nothing for those who are already of the belief that the statistics presented by the copyright industry on the topic of file-sharing shouldn’t be trusted except to further cement that line of thinking. In any event, if evidence cannot be verifiable in anything, how much credibility can such evidence get?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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