Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Piracy and the numbers

On perusing the internet, one may find arguments on both sides of Piracy. One of the arguments that has surfaced in favor of piracy regards the question as to whether or not piracy is technically "stealing". This argument essentially states that piracy isn't stealing, as piracy simply makes a copy of the product, but does not actually remove a product from a shelf. One post states that when a company, such as Macsoft claims that piracy has cost them millions and millions of dollars, they are pulling numbers out of their behind. The claim shared by many in favor of piracy assumes that the pirates would not even purchase the product had piracy not been available, so to claim "loss", by their logic, is inaccurate as a physical ownership never occurred. 
                Here's the problem: to a certain degree, this argument is correct, insofar as many companies will publish statistics claiming a certain amount to have been "lost" due to piracy, when this number is created assuming that every one of these sales would have happened had piracy not been an option. Some companies will go so far as to inflate the statistics to make piracy seem even worse. In one instance, the Business Action To Stop Counterfeiting produced  a statistic claiming that piracy will have cost Europe "over 240 Billion Euros by the year 2015 and result in 1.2 million jobs being lost in the same period." These claims were later revealed to have been inflated heavily, and to have unsuccessfully posted a thorough explanation of the study's means of achieving these statistics. This seems to be a ubiquitous phenomenon on the internet. A number can be scary, but who is to say whether or not it is accurate? 
                So yes, companies will claim losses higher than what actually occurred, but this does not mean they are not hurt. On the Pro-piracy argument, the assumption is made that NONE of the those who pirated would have ended up buying if piracy was not an option. This is false. One should not make blanket claims about the population without actually addressing the population. As piracy deals with the subject of potential, one must address how people would act--which is exactly what one study did, when analyzing losses to the MPAA due to Piracy. This study noted how it is inaccurate to claim all instances where someone pirated a copy of a film a loss, as, not every person would have bought one had piracy not been available. SO in order to more accurately portray the losses, this study DID THE RIGHT THING and asked the people! In several extensive surveys, they were able to determine who would have bought a film if piracy were not available--and the numbers were substantial. Here are the statistics:

-$5.5 billion annually loss to U.S. workers, $1.9 billion from workers in the motion picture industry, $3.6 billion from other workers in U.S. industries.

-141,030 new jobs would have been added to the U.S. economy.

-$837 million in lost tax revenue.

This study analyzed statistics limited to the film industry, but was able to determine what how this sample represented the whole of U.S. economy. So no, "stealing" is not occurring, as this word applies to the physical loss of a product, when the losses considered due to piracy are all theoretical. This argument, however should not be used to rationalize piracy. Convenience does not muddy the law, but it does seem to muddy many people's sense of ethics. On the other end, however, it is the responsibility of these statistic-publishing companies to give accurate, nonskewed data with listed sources and information on the means of achieving statistics. lists such as these are clear and thorough, but they do not publish much information, if any about sources or methodology. When trying to battle piracy, insulting pirates' intelligence is not the best way to go. 

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