The ‘copy culture’

Cat Big Music and Hollywood have their work cut out for them if they intend to turn the Internet  into their exclusive marketing and sales vehicle

Nearly half the adults in the US and in Germany  are involved in a broad, informal “copy culture,” characterized by the copying, sharing, and downloading music, movies, TV shows, and other digital media, say researchers Joe Karaganis  and Lennart Renkema  in their public opinion survey to find out how consumers were getting their media and what their attitudes were toward a variety of copyright enforcement strategies.

But,  the entertainment cartels needn’t worry too much because, “much of this activity is casual and small scale,”  say the two.

“In both countries only 14% of adults have acquired most or all of a digital music or video collection this way. Only 2%–3% got most or all of a large collection this way (>1000 songs or >100 movies / TV shows).

Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, including Renkemmka  and Karaganis’ Copy Culture in the US and Germany, traces the  “explosive growth of piracy” as digital technologies became cheap and ubiquitous around the world, and  tells of the growth of industry lobbies that’ve reshaped laws and law enforcement around copyright protection, arguing , “these efforts have largely failed.

Based on three years of work by some 35 researchers, the study posits the idea that “piracy is better conceived as a  “failure of affordable access to media in legal markets.”

And contrary to repeated assertions by Big Music’s RIAA, and Hollywood’s MPAA,  the study finds  “no systematic links between media piracy and organized crime or terrorism in any of the countries examined”.

In fact, “Today, commercial pirates and transnational smugglers face the same dilemma as the legal industry: how to compete with free,” it says.

Other findings >>>

  • Prices are too high. High prices for media goods, low incomes, and cheap digital technologies are the main ingredients of global media piracy. Relative to local incomes in Brazil, Russia, or South Africa, the retail price of a CD, DVD, or copy of MS Office is five to ten times higher than in the US or Europe. Legal media markets are correspondingly tiny and underdeveloped.
  • Competition is good. The chief predictor of low prices in legal media markets is the presence of strong domestic companies that compete for local audiences and consumers. In the developing world, where global film, music, and software companies dominate the market, such conditions are largely absent.
  • Antipiracy education has failed.The authors find no significant stigma attached to piracy in any of the countries examined. Rather, piracy is part of the daily media practices of large and growing portions of the population.
  • Changing the law is easy. Changing the practice is hard. Industry lobbies have been very successful at changing laws to criminalize these practices, but largely unsuccessful at getting governments to apply them. There is, the authors argue, no realistic way to reconcile mass enforcement and due process, especially in countries with severely overburdened legal systems.
  • Criminals can’t compete with free.
  • Enforcement hasn’t worked. After a decade of ramped up enforcement, the authors can find no impact on the overall supply of pirated goods

In both the US and Germany, “attitudes toward copying and file sharing track a loose distinction between public and private copying,”  says Copy Culture in the US and Germany, continuing:

“Sharing music and movie files with family is viewed by large majorities as ‘reasonable ‘behavior, with average support running 70%–80% in both countries.

But, “Facilitating online file sharing, in contrast, is viewed by large majorities as unreasonable.”

“Only 15% of US and 11% of German music file owners view uploading to sharing services as reasonable.

‘Sharing with friends’ is the pivotal issue in both countries, say Renkemmka  and Karaganis .

“Among those under 30, large majorities view the practice as reasonable (Music: 76% US; 73% DE. Movies/TV: 75% US; 79% DE).However,  “Among older groups, support drops sharply,” they state, adding.

“Among 50- to 64-year-olds in the US—the policy-making generation—only 48% of those with music files view sharing with friends as reasonable. Among those with movie/TV files, only 34% do. In Germany, among 50- to 69-year-olds, 37% and 45%, respectively, view these practices as reasonable.”

Renkema,  with a PhD in  social and behavioral science, has a special interest in  disruptive innovation.

Karaganis is president of the American assembly at Columbia University.  His work focuses on digital  convergence and cultural production, and has included research on broadband adoption, data policy, and intellectual property law.

He’s editor of Media Piracy in Emerging Economies (2011).

Before joining the  American Assembly, Karaganis spent 10 years was a program director at the Social Science Research Council.

Jon Newton — myblogdammit

Follow me on Twitter @jonnewton8, and/ or


Contact me @ myblogdammit (at) ca


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