Brilliant New Study Finds People Visit Websites That Facilitate Piracy
A couple of weeks ago, MarkMonitor released a new study (found here in PDF) purporting to shed light on the complexity and scope of the current online piracy and counterfeiting situation. According to the study, websites that offer pirated software, media, and counterfeit goods such as drugs and designer products generate 53 billion visits per year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the websites that sell fake prescription drugs and designer products only account for just fewer than 100 million of these visits. That leaves roughly 52.9 billion for the websites hosting what we traditionally think of as pirated content.
What websites are the worst offenders? Apparently, Rapidshare.com, Megavideo.com, and Megaupload.com (which I will refrain from linking here, lest I appear to condone piracy) account for 21 billion of the visits. Thus far, the only site to fire back a response to the study is Rapidshare (who MarkMonitor names as the world’s biggest piracy platform), arguing that the majority of their patrons are legitimate users with legitimate reasons for using the site.
My problem with this study is twofold. First, it seems to support the aforementioned idea that the websites themselves are to blame. For those unfamiliar, Rapidshare (and sites like it) simply allow users to upload their files and share them with other users. It is against the site’s terms of service to illegally share copyrighted material, but obviously this is something that is difficult (if not impossible) to enforce. It isn’t entirely different from putting an MP3 on a USB flash-drive and then handing it to a friend. Some would construe that situation as questionably legal as well, but I doubt anyone would say we need to hold the company that makes the flash-drive responsible.
The second issue I have is with MarkMonitor’s calculation that the global economic effect of piracy is something to the tune of 200 billion dollars. The error that MarkMonitor seems to make is probably the most common erroneous assumption when dealing with online piracy; when evaluating the actual cost of such piracy, they seem to assume that a download is the equivalent of a lost sale. This is exaggerating the actual impact of internet piracy because not every single person who is downloading a piece of software, music, movie, etc. would actually purchase a copy, were no free alternative available. In fact, I am of the opinion that a majority of internet pirates likely download copyrighted material simply because they can.
Now we must ask ourselves what we’ve learned from this study. Obviously, piracy and intellectual property theft is a serious problem. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how studies that discuss the extent of such piracy (and probably largely overstate it) do anything other than give legislators more facts to point to when they are advocating for draconian regulation that does nothing more than attempt to treat a symptom of a greater problem. Once again, I ask the readers to weigh in. How much value can be derived from this study, and how accurate and important do you think this new information is?