Thursday, 21 March 2013

A call for more critical thinking: The example of studies showing 'piracy does not harm legal sales'

I feel compelled to add my two cents on the ongoing trend that is the findings of a recent report by the European Commission which suggests that piracy has no impact on legal digital sales.

Firstly, and importantly, it is crucial to acknowledge that this might very well be the case. Other research has made similar claims. However, many more studies (some of which are reviewed in a previous blog entry here) arrive at the opposite, more intuitive conclusion.

They can't all be right.

The methodological approach to measuring this phenomenon is the likely source of the lack of uniform findings, and that's what I want to talk about (though I welcome healthy skepticism over 'hidden agendas').

Digital piracy is difficult to measure. Just a few reasons for this include, to draw from Hargreaves (2011): it leaves no physical trace; survey respondents are often confused over what is legal and what is not and may be motivated to deny or exaggerate piracy behaviours; free downloads are not always illegal nor are paid downloads always legal; what is legal in one country may be illegal in another; not all P2P is illegal; studies measuring piracy using internet traffic are unable to take into account various factors when drawing conclusions.

This final one is most relevant for the study under question here, where IFPI condemns the methodology used, quite rightly drawing attention to some of the particular shortcomings in the approach.

In all likelihood, you, dear reader, may have 'made your mind up' on piracy long ago but regardless I urge you to be more critical when interpreting such studies.

Who is saying what? Why? How did they arrive at their conclusions?

It's so rare to see informed debate on research methodology in piracy research in the mainstream, so congratulations Music Week for publishing that article. I hope you, dear reader, will consider taking that extra few minutes when you stumble upon some research to ask some important questions about how the results you are confronted with came into passing.

Think of it like that extra few minutes to make sure your food is cooked thoroughly. Without it, the truth might taste bad for a particular reason: it just ain't right.

As a sidepoint, I'm sure you can also think of plenty of other difficulties which confront the digital piracy researcher (I know I can).

 Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Aguiar, L. and Martens, B. (2013). Digital Music Consumption on the Internet:Evidence from Clickstream Data. Working paper.

Hargreaves, I. (2011). Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth. London: HM Treasury

Pakinkis, T. (2013). IFPI slams EU piracy study as 'flawed and misleading' [online]. Available from:  [21 March, 2013].

1 comment:

  1. Finally some critical commentary on this from Forbes @