Stan Liebowitz on Piracy and Music Sales

Josh Wright —  23 January 2012

Stan Liebowitz (UT-Dallas) offers a characteristically thoughtful and provocative op-ed in the WSJ today commenting on SOPA and the Protect IP Act.  Here’s an excerpt:

You may have noticed last Wednesday’s blackout of Wikipedia or Google’s strange blindfolded-logo screen. These were attempts to kill the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act, proposed legislation intended to hinder piracy and counterfeiting. The laws now before Congress may not be perfect, and they can still be amended. But to do nothing and stay with the status quo is to keep our creative industries at risk by failing to enforce their property rights.

Critics of these proposed laws claim that they are unnecessary and will lead to frivolous claims, reduce innovation and stifle free speech. Those are gross exaggerations. The same critics have been making these claims about every previous attempt to rein in piracy, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that was called a draconian antipiracy measure at the time of its passage in 1998. As we all know, the DMCA did not kill the Internet, or even do any noticeable damage to freedom—or to pirates.

Scads of Internet pundits and bloggers have vehemently argued that piracy is really a sales-promoting activity—because it gives people a free sample that might lead to a purchase—or that any piracy problems have been due to a failure of industry to embrace the Internet. Yet these claims are little more than wishful thinking. Some reflect a hostility to commercial activities—think Occupy Wall Street, or self-interest. Others make “freedom” claims on behalf of sites that profit by helping individuals find pirate sites, makers of complementary hardware, or companies that benefit from Internet usage and collect revenues whether the material being accessed was legally obtained or not.

In my examination of peer-reviewed studies, the great majority have results that conform to common sense: Piracy harms copyright owners. I was also somewhat surprised to discover that the typical finding of such academic studies was that the entire enormous decline that has occurred is due to piracy.

Contrary to an often-repeated myth, providing consumers with convenient downloads at reasonable prices, as iTunes did, does not appear to have ameliorated piracy at all. The sales decline after iTunes exploded on the scene was about the same as the decline before iTunes existed. Apparently it really is difficult to compete with free. Is that really such a surprise?

Do check out the whole thing.