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March 28, 2005

The revenge of Sapir-Whorf

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

One of the things the Cartel has most successfully done in this war is control the language, reporting, and thought around P2P music sharing.

One side effect of this is that there has been an almost complete shut-out of mainstream reporting on real research in the area. Why? I believe it's because every study that has been done since Napster has shown that music sharing has no negative effects on music sales (CD or downloaded). In fact, some show a positive effect. If that message got into the public consciousness the Cartel would be much worse off. Therefore, they've done all they can to frame the debate in terms of their scares, not science. So we have the scene - surely worthy of Beckett - in which a certified class of 27,000 songwriters and music publishers will argue against Grokster, as Tony Mauro put it on "casting it as a life-or-death struggle over theft of their means of livelihood."

There's just one eensy weensy problem here - NOBODY's livelihood is being stolen. It's just not happening. There were no WMD in Iraq, there was no cocaine on that boat (*), and music sharing does not cost artists money.

How do we know this? Well, we do studies. Like, for example, the just-published Japanese study by Keio Universtity Economics professor Tatsuo Tanaka, who looked at the P2P application "Winny" and its effect on Japanese music consumers. Prof. Tanaka's original study is reported on here (Japanese HTML), but fortunately for people like me there's an English translation (17 page PDF).

In addition to a lack of negative effects, the study argues, there is evidence for a positive correlation between sharing music and purchasing more new music. Not terribly surprising, if you've been paying attention over the last half dozen years and not been deafened by the drums of the other side. Sadly, just about nobody has been paying attention. We've been soundly defeated in the propaganda war. Here's hoping Tuesday goes better.

(*) The Usual Suspects reference, in case you were wondering

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies


1. Scote on March 28, 2005 4:48 PM writes...

It is fascinating how the RIAA frame the p2p argument. When CD sales are down, they blame p2p. When CD sales are up, the blame p2p for sales not being higher.

Studies have consistently shown that people have more entertainment options and don't spend as much on any single one as they used to. The RIAA and MPAA consistently ignore this evidence in their arguments.

Neither the RIAA nor the MPAA are entitled to have new laws written to artificially boost their business model at the expense of our constitution and its explicit limitations of copyright terms.

Permalink to Comment

2. jMHz on March 28, 2005 6:40 PM writes...

Here is another excellent study, very rigorous and scientific with lots of charts and figures.

It is called "The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales, an Empirical Analysis" - it concludes that "downloads have an effect on sales that is statistically indistinguisable from zero"

"The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales, an Empirical Analysis" by Strumpf and Oberholtzer.

Fat Cats Feer the Long Tail !

They have to establish financial pain because if p2p activity is seen as having no financial impact on their copyright markets it will be tossed out of court.

It isn't about copyright infringement - it is about controlling the means of distribution.

On the SXSW clip of the Bram Cohen talk someone asked if they could distribute their indie movie via bittorrent or if p2p distribution was in itself illegal *sigh*.

People listen to more music than they own.

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3. Morosoph on March 28, 2005 8:32 PM writes...

Don't forget the BBC's "Talking Point" when "piracy" comes into the news. They reported a narrow study of (relatively poor) students, ignoring the behaviour of the earning population, but ignored the study by Strumpf and Oberholtzer at the time, quoting "downloads have an effect on sales that is statistically indistinguisable from zero" only in the context of a study purporting to refute it.

It is a shame that they're letting what "ought to be true" to teach people "not to steal" overwhelm the evidence, and such minor details as pre-selecting the population are not to be seen in their reporting.

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4. Neo on March 29, 2005 12:50 AM writes...

"Prof. Tanaka's original study is reported on here (Japanese HTML), but fortunately for people like me there's an English translation (17 page PDF)."

Unfortunately, there isn't an English translation you can read properly in your browser. Why is it PDF when the original is HTML?

Re: the 3rd comment and the methodologically unsound study -- misrepresentation and deliberate fraud are only to be expected from those fighting for their "right" to continue making a dishonest living.

Permalink to Comment

5. stu willis on March 29, 2005 1:48 AM writes...

"Why? I believe it's because every study that has been done since Napster has shown that music sharing has no negative effects on music sales (CD or downloaded)."

Except for the studies which show otherwise... like... e.g.

Peitz, Martin and Waelbroeck, Patrick, "The Effect of Internet Piracy on CD Sales: Cross-Section Evidence" (January 2004). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 1122.

There are others, but this is a convincing, decently researced and balanced paper...

... and even if you don't agree with the paper, it shows that there are non-RIAA funded studies which show that piracy hurts CD sales.

I'm all for the copyfight, but I think its dangerous to deny that copyright infringement isn't hurting CD sales. Other studies* show that the most significant factor** in the reason behind people pirating via P2P is because the music is free. What, you think is it cost money to use Kazaa or BitTorrent it would still be popular? Very hard to compete with free. Of course, people tend to cite other reasons for their behaviour, but thats the whole banality-of-evil thang: people are very good at finding justifications for their behaviour.

* Such asGopal, Ram D., Sanders, G. Lawrence, Bhattacharjee, Sudip, Agrawal, Manish K and Wagner, Suzanne C, "A Behavioral Model of Digital Music Piracy" . Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, Forthcoming
** Such as convenience, 'clubs', ethical attitudes vis a vis the RIAA.

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6. Julian Bond on March 29, 2005 2:22 AM writes...

Stu Willis: "It's very hard to compete with free". However, downloading is not free if you include the effort involved in assembling an album encoded as you like it with accurate tags and filenames. I think it was Steve Jobs who made this point and said that you pay yourself minimum wage to do this work. I'm convinced there's a price point somewhere around $0.10 per song or $1 per album where lack of hassle trumps free. So Free+effort = Cheap+easy.

At which point, see Treat music as a long tail business and digitise everything that's ever been recorded and make it available in this style.

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7. Java Black on March 29, 2005 8:59 AM writes...

If they are actually gaining, or at least not losing, from file sharing, it is important to question why the big guys are spending so much in fighting it. Could it be that the corporations see a new avenue opening up where new distributers can add some competition to the closed market? Obviously. I hate it when I have to talk like an economist.

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