So, after all the froth and ferment and the eventual passing (despite much opposition) of France's Hadopi 2 anti-piracy legislation (that's the infamous "3 strikes and you're out" one) the latest figures show that the incidence of illegal downloading has actually increased since the law was introduced. Martyn Warwick reports.
A new study carried out by the University of Rennes and focused on the illegal downloading of online music and video in France reveals that it grew by three per cent between September and December 2009 - despite the noisy and bad-tempered passing of a contentious law designed to outlaw the practice.
The report shows that 30.3 per cent of all Web users in France illegally downloaded content over the quarter. Over the period 1 July to 30 September it was 29.5 per cent.
That gives some indication of just how intractable a problem Internet piracy really is and exposes the paucity of imagination in those who have dedicated themselves to it's eradication. They might as well try to stop the Seine flowing to the sea by damming it with some of Marie Antoinette's famous cake.
The law as it stands is unworkable and practically unenforceable. OK when it is applied (and the first warning messages to presumed miscreants - and that is what they will be, presumed - won't be sent until this summer at the earliest) there will no doubt be a some well-publicised test cases where a few individuals will be cut off from the Internet and cast into the outer darkness "pour encourager les autres" but, as the leaders of the campaign to get the law repealed say, "They can't jail the lot of us." And "they" can't.
What the Rennes University work throws into stark relief is the feebleness and structural shortcomings of an ill-conceived piece of legislation that was foisted on the government by intense lobbying by vested interests within the content industry. It was conceived in a panic and rushed through without any real analysis or understanding on the part of the legislators of the way the Internet actually works.
That's because Hadopi 2 only targets P2P file sharing networks and completely ignores streaming sites.
However, the numbers of people who watch and/or download video, film and music via streaming is growing rapidly, while the numbers who do so via P2P networks is in equally rapid decline.
The Rennes Report shows that the percentage of French Internet users who favour streaming sites rose from 12.4 to 15.8 between September and December last year. At the same time the percentage of those using P2P networks declined from 17.1 to 14.6 over the same period. I wonder why that was?
Even more interestingly, the study also shows that those who routinely and frequently buy and download content legally also use illegal platforms. It also comes to the conclusion that the suspension or permanent removal of an individual's Internet connection will be counterproductive as many who do pirate content also pay for stuff as well. Thus legal video and music sales would fall.
Basically, those so keen to disenfranchise miscreants from the information society would be cutting off their nez to spite their visage. Pointless.
What is desperately needed is a new business model for downloadable content. One that's relevant to the 21st century and not rooted in distribution models that worked well in the 1940s and 1950s when film was delivered to cinemas in cans and music came either printed or as shellac discs that spun at 78 rpm.
The content industry is trying to keep the old and increasingly irrelevant cash cow alive whilst being in denial that things have changed irrevocably and for ever. Sure, a new model would probably mean a diminution in the amounts the content industry rakes in and that's the reason for all the threats and bluster, but in the longer term, and as more and more of the world's population gets web access for the first time, the potential sales to a brand new mass global audience, albeit at lower prices than currently pertain, should surely more than compensate for any short-term downturn in takings.
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