Monday, March 19, 2012

Rob Reid destroys entertainment industry’s piracy claims

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In case you missed it, here’s a great five-minute lecture by Rob Reid on the laughable claims about supposed damages that media piracy inflicts upon the movie and music industries:

My transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

ROB REID: The recent debate over copyright laws like SOPA in the United States and the ACT Agreement in Europe has been very emotional. And I think some dispassionate, quantitative reasoning could really bring a great deal to the debate. I’d therefore like to propose that we employ – we enlist – the cutting-edge field of copyright math whenever we approach this subject.

For instance: Just recently, the Motion Picture Association revealed that our economy loses $58 billion a year to copyright theft. Now, rather than just argue about this number, a copyright mathematician will analyze it, and he’ll soon discover that this money could stretch from this auditorium all the way across Ocean Boulevard to the Weston. And then to Mars. If we use pennies.

Now, this is obviously a powerful – some might say dangerously powerful – insight. It’s also a morally important one, because this isn’t just the hypothetical retail value of some pirated movies that we’re talking about, but this is actual economic losses. This is the equivalent to the entire American corn crop failing, along with al of our fruit crop, as well as wheat, tobacco, rice, sorghum. Whatever sorghum is. Losing sorghum.

But identifying the actual losses to the economy is almost impossible to do unless we use copyright math. Now, music revenues are down by about $8 billion a year since Napster first came on the scene. So that’s a chunk of what we’re looking for. But total movie revenues across theaters, home video and pay-per-view are up. And TV, satellite and cable revenues are way up. Other content markets like book publishing and radio are also up. So this small missing chunk here is puzzling.

Since the big content markets have grown in line with historic norms, it’s not additional growth that piracy has prevented. But copyright math tells us it must therefore be forgone growth in a market that has no historic norms, one that didn’t exist in the 1990s. What we’re looking at, here, is the insidious cost of ringtone piracy. $50 billion every year, which is enough, at 30 seconds a ringtone, that could stretch from here to Neanderthal times.

It’s true. I have Excel.

The movie folks also tell us that our economy loses over 370,000 jobs to content theft, which is quite a lot, when you consider that back in ’98, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the motion picture and video industries were employing 270,000 people. Other data has the music industry at about 45,000 people. And so, the job losses that came with the Internet and all that content theft, had therefore left us with negative employment in our content industries. This is just one of the many mind-blowing statistics that copyright mathematicians have to deal with every day. And some people think that String Theory is tough.

Now, this ($150,000.00) is a key number from the copyright mathematician’s toolkit. It’s the precise amount of harm that comes to media companies whenever a single copyrighted song or movie gets pirated. Hollywood and Congress derived this number mathematically back when they last sat down to improve copyright damages and made this law (Copyright Damages Improvement Act). Some people think that this number’s a little bit large. But copyright mathematicians who are media lobby experts are merely surprised that it doesn’t get compounded for inflation every year.

Now, when this law first passed, the world’s hottest MP3 player could hold just ten songs. It was a big Christmas hit. Because what little hoodlum wouldn’t want a million-and-a-half bucks’ worth of stolen goods in his pocket?

These days, an iPod Classic can hold 40,000 songs, which is to say eight billion dollars’ worth of stolen media. Or about 75,000 jobs.

Now, you might find copyright math strange, but that’s because it’s a field that’s best left to experts.

So, that’s it for now. I hope you’ll join me next time, when I’ll be making an equally scientific and fact-based inquiry into the cost of alien music piracy to the American economy. Thank you very much.

How intriguing. I had no idea that my hard drive alone was (conservatively) valued in excess of $200 million. Should I sell, or should I invest? Maybe I need a decent brokerage firm, first. Does anyone have any references? Ah, it’s so hard being this filthy rich.

Unless, of course, the MPAA and RIAA are completely full of guano or something. Who knows?

Relatedly, this explains everything.

Sidenote: It’s right after I’d spent half-an-hour tediously typing out the entire above transcript that I realized the whole thing was already available on the TED site. S’cuse me while I go break something expensive now.

(via Bad Astronomy)