Last week The Authors Guild sent an open letter to Congress, asking that the DMCA be changed so that ISPs shouldered the responsibility for keeping pirated content off the web (rather than copyright holders, where it belongs).
When I covered the story, I addressed the point that the proposal was unworkable in and of itself, but it turns out that I missed a key detail: that piracy is a relatively minor issue to the book industry.
This came to my attention when I was reading Joe Konrath's excellent fisking of The Author's Guild's letter. His take downs are always enjoyable, and he went into far more detail that I.
For example, he cited this sentence and questioned its accuracy, validity, and supporting evidence:
The publishing industry as a whole loses $80 to $100 million to piracy annually, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Piracy estimates like this are generally pulled out of someone's hat (or a part of their anatomy) so I usually ignore them, but this is one that deserves our attention.
When we consider it in terms of the size of the industry, we learn that piracy is not a serious issue.
You see, the AAP said that the US publishing industry was worth $28 billion last year. When compared to the total size of the industry, TAG's claim of $100 million lost to piracy is a rounding issue, and not a serious concern.
And while we're on the topic, this is also a lesson in why one should fact check one's sources.
While TAG may cite the AAP as the source, the piracy figure did not come from the AAP. It has been attributed to the trade group in the past, but accoridng to AAP spokesperson Marisa Bluestone, the Association of American Publishers never released this figure. It's not their data, and they're not going to vouch for it.
In short, the TAG is using a made up number from an unverified source to make a claim that piracy is a huge problem when in fact their figure says the opposite.
This is on par with most piracy estimates I have read over the 6 years I have been a blogger, so I'm not surprised.
Piracy can't actually be measured. Instead, the estimates are made up out of whole cloth, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. It would be like trying to count the number of items you don't have in the room with you; there's no way to measure it.
And as for fighting it, well, one could proactively fight against it, like the AAP wants. Or one could regard it as a problem to be solved rather than fought.
For example, there's the view that piracy is a sign of an under-served market. Netflix cottoned on to that idea a while back, which is why they now use piracy stats to decide where to expand next. And while not everyone is willing to agree on this point, history has shown that the level of music piracy in a country drops shortly after Spotify expands into that market.
I, on the other hand, don't regard piracy as a problem to be solved. Instead, I lean towards Neil Gaiman's view that piracy actually helps more than it hurts:
But no matter how you slice it, The Authors Guild wants to screw up the internet to solve a problem which they can't prove is a serious problem and which you can't even get everyone to agree is a problem.
The Author's Guild's solution is worse than the non-problem we have now, and for that reason alone it should be opposed.
image by ShardsOfBlue