ArsTechnica analyzes the figures used in war on piracy

ArsTechnica has done an excellent job in debunking the two most often used figures to justify the war on piracy.

The content producers and the US Government often quote two numbers: $250B in economic losses and 750,000 jobs lost due to IP theft in the United States. ArsTechnica tried to find the source for both of the numbers and found out that there really isn’t any realiable source.

It seems as if the job loss number came from a piece of IP legislation during the Reagan years. The authors of the bill were quoted of saying that between 130,000 and 750,000 jobs are lost due to counterfeiting US products. The bill itself didn’t include any information about those numbers, nor did the authors ever produce any source for them, other than the unsubstantiated claims they made themselves. The authors also never mentioned whether the job losses were annually or for some other duration. Subsequently people have just started quoting the upper limit of the range mentioned in the 80s. Between 130,000 and 750,000 first become “upto 750,000” and most recently just “750,000”.

ArsTechnica had even harder time finding out any justification for the annual economic loss of $250B due to piracy. They couldn’t find a single source for that figure other than a self-referential tangle of quotes from various content producer lobbying groups and the US Government. ArsTechnica did find some slightly more “scientific” sources, but the dollar amounts didn’t come anywhere close to $250B. Instead the only actual source they found from 20 years ago quoted $60B, and when they dug a little deeper they found that even that number was misrepresented. The actual study the number came from had a dollar amount of $23.8B and the study mentioned that even that number “could admittedly be biased and self-serving”.

So there you have it. The two numbers ($250B and 750,000) used to justify draconian IP legislation are at best guestimates and at worst pulled out of some entertainment industry bigwig’s ass and completely overblown.

ArsTechnica concludes its article:

Still, anything is possible: The figures could happen to be more or less accurate. But given the shady provenance of the data, the one thing we know for certain is that we don’t know for certain. And we’re making policy on the basis of our ignorance.

The US legislators should be ashamed, but then we all know they don’t make policy out of ignorance, but out of campaign donations by the entertainment industry. There is no ignorance here, rather willful negligence.


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