Geist and Pollara Exchange Shots Over P2P Study

It has become a tradition in Canada – never trust statistics.

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

If organizations responsible for statistics wanted to be more credible, the recent comments Pollara made on a file-sharing study might not have helped any.

Statistics gathering organizations were dealt a huge blow in the last Canadian election. They predicted that there would be a Conservative majority win. All of the predictions would prove to be blatantly wrong when the election was actually over with the Conservative party winning a minority government. It is one thing for ones own statistics to be wrong in the public eye, but it is another to publicly appear biased for ones own client.

Pollara, a Canadian market research firm, was responsible for collecting the data for a controversial study funded by the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association). The response by the copyright community to the Pollara “study” was, for the most part, to blame filesharing for all of their financial woes. Critics pointed out that blaming filesharing for their financial problems isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, critics also pointed out many other factors associated with the “losses” in CD sales, such as the rise in sales at the iTunes music store.

As such, Pollara’s reputation started to slip once the other studies suggested that file-sharers actually pay more for music. It was later learned that the full Pollara study was quietly released in full. Michael Geist read through the study and reported that it is actually going more in line with the other studies reported earlier, confirming what they presented.

One would have thought that this would be the end of this chapter in the CRIA’s campaign to promote tighter restrictions of copyright in Canada. Not quite. It was then that Pollara threw an interesting curveball by sending a memo (PDF) in an attempt to debunk some of Michael Geist’s claims. The memo states, “We have reviewed Mr. Geist’s statements and found them to be variously misleading, incorrect and inconsistent, and therefore feel compelled to respond.”

Trying to stay as unbiased as a research firm should be, they continue, “All the data that we have collected on this topic points to a strong inverse relationship between downloading and music purchases.” One may wonder if they heard that sentence before. As a matter of fact, they have. In a report earlier this month “The CRIA said the decline resumes an almost decade-long spiral paralleling the rise of music file swapping on the Internet and continues unabated due to the failure of the Canadian government to enact much overdue copyright reform.” Such a correlation may have a negative impact on the credibility of such a firm as Pollara given that they have already fuelled speculation and criticism as it is.

Pollara then claims, “The availability of P2P downloads has a direct and negative effect on the purchase of legitimate recorded music.” They then attack Michael by saying, “All in all, Mr. Geist’s comments are not only inaccurate but are unhelpful as his misinterpretation of the data does little to advance our understanding of this behaviour and its impact on other media in Canada. His intrusion… is impertinent and presumptuous. Let us hope it does not distract us from the serious business at hand.”

To say that Pollara attacks with mere words would be incorrect as they do try and backup their claims with their statistics. One of such statistics to help further their “understanding” of the Canadian culture in the digital era is, “the following chart, from the NDP in the United States, we find and interesting confirmatory data, which shows that less than one third of the music obtained by young adults and teenagers was actually paid for.” They further state, “there is no emphasis on teenagers in the Pollara study… In fact, an entire section at the beginning of the study is dedicated to an analysis of 13-24 year olds’ behaviour.” Pollara then claims, “Those who download “illegal files” tend to be those who purchase the least music.”

Michael Geist then responded to claims like these and more in his blog. In short, he reminds Pollara that Canada has a private copying levy which does more then enough to compensate for “illegal files” on CD’s.

Michael Geist cited misleading and embarrassing questions as a cause for some of the questionable data obtained in the study. Copyright Watch responded with a study done by Pollster instead. They suggested alternative questions that Pollara could have asked.

One such example of an alternative question was, “Some people have said that the current copyright laws are sufficient to protect artists, and others suggest that Canadian laws should be up to international standards that have been drafted by the WIPO, the world organization responsible for copyright. Generally, do you think Canadian copyright laws should be up to international standards or is the present law sufficient?”

With the recent events refuelling controversy and debate, it seems that the debate in this current saga may not end any time soon. One may take note that it may also help polarize the positions people might take on this delicate and less-than-mainstream issue.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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