by Ben Goldacre
That's about a tenth of our GDP. No wonder the Daily Mail was worried too: "The network had 1.3 million users sharing files online at midday on a weekday. If each of those downloaded just one file per day, this would amount to 4.73bn items being consumed for free every year." Now I am always suspicious of this industry, because they have produced a lot of dodgy figures over the years. I also doubt that every download is lost revenue since, for example, people who download more also buy more music. I'd like more details.
So where do these notions of so many billions in lost revenue come from? I found the original report. It was written by some academics you can hire in a unit at UCL called Ciber, the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (which "seeks to inform by countering idle speculation and uninformed opinion with the facts"). The report was commissioned by a government body called Sabip, the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property. On the billions lost it says: "Estimates as to the overall lost revenues if we include all creative industries whose products can be copied digitally, or counterfeited, reach £10bn (IP rights, 2004), conservatively, as our figure is from 2004, and a loss of 4,000 jobs."
What is the origin of this conservative figure? I hunted down the full Ciber documents, found the references section, and followed the web link, which led to a 2004 press release from a private legal firm called Rouse who specialise in intellectual property law. This press release was not about the £10bn figure. It was, in fact, a one-page document, which simply welcomed the government setting up an intellectual property theft strategy. In a short section headed "background", among five other points, it says: "Rights owners have estimated that last year alone counterfeiting and piracy cost the UK economy £10bn and 4,000 jobs." An industry estimate, as an aside, in a press release. Genius.
But what about all these other figures in the media coverage? Lots of it revolved around the figure of 4.73bn items downloaded each year, worth £120bn. This means each downloaded item, software, movie, mp3, ebook, is worth about £25. This already seems rather high. I am not an economist, but to me, for example, an appropriate comparator for someone who downloads a film to watch it once might be the rental value, not the sale value.