This week MEP Julia Reda shared an unpublished report of a study examining the effects of copyright infringement on sales of creative works. Apparently the contract for the economic research was tendered by the Commission in 2014 for €360,000. It was completed in 2015 but never published, and Reda received a copy of the report after several freedom of information requests.
The background of the study hinges on the assumption that “illicit use of copyrighted material reduces revenues of rights-holders and thus their incentives to produce content.” (p. 19). As our friends at EDRi are pointing out, this assumption is one of the underlying motivations for the Commission’s deeply flawed crusade against open online platforms. So what does the research show? From the report (our emphasis):
In 2014, on average 51 per cent of the adults and 72 per cent of the minors in the EU have illegally downloaded or streamed any form of creative content […] In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements.” (p. 7)
This result is not shocking. Many online content providers are finding that users will pay for content when that content can be conveniently accessed at a fair price—hence the significant growth of popular online film and television streaming services like Netflix. But this is not the narrative that the Commission wishes to promulgate, as it doesn’t fit their worldview. Or more accurately, it doesn’t align with the interests of the incumbent content industries, who, as we’ve argued, want nothing more than “to minimize the impact of the fundamental changes brought about by digital technologies and the internet on legacy business models.”
One assumes that the findings from this study would have been a useful input into the Commission’s proposal for the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. And surely it would have been interesting to creative sector economists, the startup and technology communities, consumer rights organisations, civil society advocates, and the public at large. Instead, the Commission pushed ahead and introduced restrictive copyright reforms that blindly tries to stop something, which according to research commissioned by the Commission itself is not a problem.
This incident makes a few things crystal clear: 1) the Commission has confirmed it has no interest in pursuing evidence-based policymaking, and 2) freedom of information laws are an increasingly vital tool by which to shed light on the shady workings of some public institutions.