The Department of Media and Communications at the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics has just released a policy brief, entitled “Copyright & Creation: A Case for Promoting Inclusive Online Sharing,” which suggests that policy-makers and Big Media are gaining little from their efforts to enforce heavy and restrictive copyright rules. Online piracy, in fact, could bring more benefit than harm to the creative sector.

“Evidence does not support claims about overall revenue reduction due to individual copyright infringement,” claims the brief, in its introduction. “The experiences of other countries that have implemented punitive measures against individual online copyright infringers indicate that the approach does not have the impacts claimed by some in the creative industries.”

The LSE’s brief has been released partly in response to the September 2013 report of the UK House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee, already covered earlier in TeleRead, which strongly advocated very punitive sentences for copyright violation, as well as early and aggressive implementation of the UK’s Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2010, currently likely to be delayed until at least 2015. “The DEA should not be implemented [and the] measures should be reconsidered based on an independent assessment of the social, cultural, and political impact of punitive measures against citizens,and the risk that incentives for innovation and growth will be weakened,” the LSE brief countered.

The LSE researchers based their conclusions on findings from PricewaterhouseCooper’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook series of research reports and many other sources, demonstrating, among other conclusions, that: “the music industry has experienced overall revenue growth in recent times. In 2013, for the first time, UK revenues from online music were higher than revenues from CDs and vinyl combined.” Furthermore, “despite the MotionPicture Association of America’s (MPAA) claim that online piracy is devastating the movie industry, Hollywood achieved record-breaking global box office revenues of $35 billion in 2012 … Similarly, the publishing industry is performing relatively well with a strong capacity for innovation and with a record of revenue stabilisation. In 2013, the global book publishing industry was worth some $102 billion, larger than the film, music or video games industries. Although revenues from print book sales have declined, this has been offset by increases in sales of eBooks and the rate of growth is not declining.”

The LSE study also emphasized “a major problem with the claims and counter-claims about the impact of online copyright infringement by individual users. The large companies and their lobbyists in the creative industries refer to studies that they commission; while opponents cite alternative studies. The opponents have little or no access to the methodologies and assumptions built into the studies commissioned by these large players. Unfortunately, governments have little alternative but to rely on the studies commissioned by those in the creative industries.” In short, the creative industries feed governments the data they select to achieve the result they want.

Conversely, the LSE brief concluded that the best approach is to: “extend citizen online freedoms, civil liberties and privacy rights. Broader ‘fair use/fair dealing’  provisions , proposals for private copying exceptions and aiming copyright enforcement and prosecution at infringing businesses instead of at citizens who share online is likely to have the desired effect of balancing the interests of the creative industries and citizens.”

The brief stopped short of explicitly stating, as some reports imply, that piracy is actually good for creative industries. But it certainly concludes that they aren’t that hurt by it – and that efforts to solve this non-problem are likely to hit everyone far worse.


  1. My suspicion is that the media distribution industry (Amazon, Apple, B&N) has known all this for some time now. They perpetuate this mythology because it provides socially acceptable cover for the real reasons for making eBooks harder to read than necessary with DRM and the threats of statutes such as DCMA. It’s more about the distributors capturing and retaining customers at this stage of the game. Once this all shakes out and there is an established distribution oligopoly, publishers and authors may be in for a shock.

  2. “In 2013, for the first time, UK revenues from online music were higher than revenues from CDs and vinyl combined.” Yes, but a fairer comparison would be with current sales of online music compared with sales of CDs and vinyl at their peak–before piracy devastated those sales.

    “Although revenues from print book sales have declined, this has been offset by increases in sales of eBooks and the rate of growth is not declining.” For what sector(s) of publishing is this true? Certainly not for scholarly publishing, where declines in print revenues have far outstripped gains in revenues from sales of eBooks. And recent data i have seen even for the trade sector shows that eBook sales are no longer growing at such a rapid rate, but leveling off as a percentage of the overall market. I don’t know of any trade publisher whose revenues from eBooks yet equals its sales from print.

  3. Sanford Thatcher, what’s your point? That piracy does have a more severe effect on sales than the LSE study suggests? Potentially, but part of the point of the LSE study is that the data sources are not objective, and are driven by specific agendas. We now have the LSE brief and the Hargreaves Review both arguing for a lighter touch on the piracy question, versus government committees exposed to the full force of commercial lobbying and selective statistics. In the circumstances, I know who I’m more likely to trust.

  4. Having read the study and noted that many of the assumptions the study contains are based on the findings of the Hargreaves Review which in turn has be shown to be based on what the Government wanted the review to discover. Sorry Paul StJohn Mackintosh but if you don’t trust the government you therefore cannot trust Hargreaves even though it may appear to say what you want to hear. The LSE study fails to recognise that in the continued delay in DEA provisions is a sign that this government are not going to have OFCOM write to anyone this side of an election or ever for that matter. The focus has shifted to the suppliers. The LSE study also falls into the trap that in assuming that because big bad IP are actually making more money than they were then piracy is having no, or even a positive, effect. This is just a lazy repetition of so many articles and so called studies that have gone before. Its as invalid as the record companies screeching that they are being destroyed by piracy. The only one thing Hargreaves got right was ditching the Fair Use proposal and the LSE study fails to understand that Fair Use and Fair Dealing are not the same thing; just as they fail to understand that copyright is a properly right and that rights holders are not kulaks or crofters whose properly is to be approbated for some fluffy internet activist idea of the public right to free speech.

    The real questions are – how much more are the honest consumers paying because of piracy in order to keep record executives in the style that nothing is going to make them give up – What is the effect of piracy on the actual artists who once they become popular get pirated out of existencece because no one really pays anymore.