Thursday 5 January 2012

Does copyright works if 'the price is right' ?

A US study has found that people are happy to pay for online content, provided that it is offered at a fair price and the service is convenient, and in general terms would rather not infringe copyright law. The research, based on a study of 2,303 people by US think-tank American Assembly, shows that illegal file sharing among family and friends is relatively common – but that people would prefer to use a legal alternative if one was available at the right price and usage point.

The data suggests that streaming music services are getting this right, but users are still unwilling to accept the current range of video streaming offerings at the current price and convenience points. The survey found that 46% people surveyed had engaged in piracy, with this rising to above 70% for people aged 19 to 27. Over two thirds of those questioned would share music within family or friends, and over half would share video content in the same group. But when it comes to uploading material, support drops off radically with less than 4% saying they would illegally upload files with 0% of the over 65s saying they would or had.

Over half of the under-29s surveyed were happy to use legal music streaming services but barely a third felt the same for video streaming. Interestingly legal film streaming was welcomed by the older generation, who were historically accustomed to paying for movies and found the sum of $15.99 a good price for a film. With video gaming, rates of piracy were far lower than for other content areas, primarily the survey says because of the technical know-how needed to modify consoles to play pirated games and less than 3% of those surveyed said they could play pirated games.

When it came to the penalties for piracy, the American public is clearly out of step with US legislation, US politicians and the statutory penalties awarded by US courts (and juries!). Three quarters of those surveyed felt that fines of less than $100 per song illegally downloaded were acceptable and only 16% felt that cutting off internet access was justified to stop piracy. Only a quarter who approved of disconnection – so just 4% - felt that more than a one month ban was warranted which must be a blow to the supporters of the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation currently being debated in the USA.

The research was sponsored by the American Assembly at Columbia University and supported by a research grant from Google and forms part of the Copy Culture in the US and Germany study. Further data is due shortly. More at and

And for more on what the US public do and do not know about the US copyright system, have a look at "The Insanity of Copyright Law – even professionals have no idea they are breaking the law” on Techdirt - the comments make for an interesting read and give a surprisingly wide range of views:


Andrei Mincov said...

Do anti-rape laws work if all victims consent?

The purpose of copyright laws is to allow copyright owners to enforce their rights even if potential users disagree with business models and prices.

The problem of public opinion does exist, and is a big one. In fact, it gets bigger as SUPPORTERS of stronger copyright laws continue to pacify the public with false premises that copyright laws are designed to benefit the society as a whole. Unfortunately, the idea that copyright should create a balance of interests between users and copyright owners became so mainstream most people no longer stop to think about it. To me, it makes as much sense as a balance of interests between rapists and their victims. I strongly believe that interests of users should only come into play in the most limited of cases, where there is clearly no detriment to legitimate interests of copyright owners.

It is no surprise that the public opinion is questioning the sanity of copyright laws, because the people are also (falsely) measuring their efficiency from the perspective of the interests of the public.

Stephen Moffitt said...

In the US at least, the purpose of copyright is "[t]o promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." (Article I Section 8 Clause 8) The rights secured by the authors are a quid pro quo and only exist to the extent that they promote that progress. The rights do not exist in and of themselves, independent of the greater social good. It could be argued, therefore, that if the arts and useful sciences continue to progress in an environment where copyright is not respected, there would be no constitutional justification for copyright.

Andrei Mincov said...

Stephen, well, this is precisely my point.

I have never stated that what I believe in is what the law currently is. But I strongly believe that this is what the law SHOULD be.

The moral and philosophical justification for copyright is that people who create something should be allowed to sell the products of their creativity on their conditions, not have other people take their works however they want.