Does copyright infringement negatively affect legal sales? This is a fundamental question with profound implications on the way copyright and copyright enforcement policy should work.
In January 2014, the European Commission awarded the Dutch company Ecorys a contract worth € 360.000 to conduct a study on the question.
The 300-page study was delivered to the Commission in May 2015, but was never published. Until today – I have managed to get access to a copy: Estimating displacement rates of copyrighted content in the EU (https://juliareda.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/displacement_study.pdf).
The study’s conclusion: With the exception of recently released blockbusters, there is no evidence to support the idea that online copyright infringement displaces sales. While this result is not unique, but consistent with previous studies, it begs the question:
Why did the Commission, after having spent a significant amount of money on it, choose not to publish this study for almost two years?
With the exception of recently released blockbusters there is no evidence to support the idea that online copyright infringement displaces sales.
Copyright policy is usually based on the underlying assumption that copyright infringement has a direct negative effect on rightsholders’ revenues. The most recent example for this kind of reasoning is the Commission’s highly controversial proposal of requiring hosting providers to install content filters to surveil all user-uploaded content (https://juliareda.eu/eu-copyright-reform/censorship-machines/). The Commission claims this measure is necessary to address a “value gap”, a supposed displacement of value from licensed music streaming services to hosting services like YouTube, which host a mixture of licensed and unlicensed content. To properly discuss such far-reaching proposals, we clearly need to have access to all available evidence on whether such displacement actually takes place in practice.
This study may have remained buried in a drawer for several more years to come if it weren’t for an access to documents request (https://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/estimating_displacement_rates_of?post_redirect=1) I filed under the European Union’s Freedom of Information law on July 27, 2017, after having become aware of the public tender for this study dating back to 2013. The Commission failed twice to respond to my request in time, but I expect a final answer with the study and some supplemental material to be officially released by the end of this week.
I would like to invite the Commission to become a provider of more solid and timely evidence to the copyright debate. Such data that is valuable both financially and in terms of its applicability should be available to everyone when it is financed by the European Union – it should not be gathering dust on a shelf until someone actively requests it.
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