Piracy drops dramatically; Industry reacts by promising more measures to tackle downloading

Over the past couple of years, Norwegian authorities have implemented several measures to tackle online piracy of music and video. A new report shows that in just four years copyright infringing has decreased to just 17.5 per cent of its highest level.

For nearly two decades the movie and music industry has fought bitterly to eradicate the “scourge” of piracy by deploying various tactics ranging from aggressive litigation to the rather dubious “you wouldn't steal a car” campaign. Proponents of changes to copyright law have long screamed from the rooftops for sensible legal reform of the laws that govern how we share digital content in the age of the Internet. Governments have struggled with the problem of piracy as the generations of computer savvy grew up in a “free culture” where access to media was seen to be a given and sharing content a right. Now after a spate of new alternatives to accessing music and film without infringing copyright, a new report has suggested that illegal downloading of copyrighted files has decreased to 17 per cent of its former level. A recent report by Ipsos has found that Norway shows a significant decrease in infringing content as Norwegians downloaded 210 million songs last year – down from a whopping 1.2 billion songs in 2008. As expected, piracy of movies and TV shows in 2008 was at much lower levels than music, with 125 million movies and 135 million TV shows copied without permission. But by last year the figures for both had reduced by around half, to 65 million and 55 million respectively. The key to the reduction in piracy has been new initiatives to create and deliver legal alternatives like Spotify and Netflix. “When you have a good legitimate offer, the people will use it,” says Olav Torvund, former law professor at the University of Oslo.“There is no excuse for illegal copying, but when you get an offer that does not cost too much and is easy to use, it is less interesting to download illegally.”This is where it gets interesting. Every time the music industry releases a report claiming "theft" of music equals quadrillions, free culture advocates scream from rooftops about the manner in which organisations count their alleged losses. The RIAA and its British equivalent, the BPI, have in the past counted every song downloaded illegally as a "sale" lost ignoring the fact that users won't always pay for something that is accessible for free. So should we believe the claims in the Ipsos report when the converse happens? Some argue that the new legal alternatives are using private means of distribution copyrighted material.In the old days when Napster and Kazaa were in their infancy, it was relatively easy to monitor the number of songs downloaded because all the files were accessible through a central server. It was a simple act of monitoring and counting. The second wave of file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay used what is known as BitTorrent and seeding. The Pirate Bay has no servers and works by creating a link between numerous people who share the file to be downloaded. People use their interpersonal connections rather than the hub of a central server. There are numerous techniques to "hide" or "mask" when downloading files; for example, using proxy servers or by using tunneling techniques to mask the download. Therefore, it is a dubious claim that anyone can actually "count" piracy. It is always going to be a best guesstimate of loss of sales or downloads. The model of comparing the actual market versus probable loss in the market and then what loss is recoverable does not work for file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay.Last year the court issued a blocking order to the UK's top six ISPs ordering that they all block access to the Pirate Bay and have followed on with several other blocking orders for various other BitTorrent sites; however, the sites themselves are not down and can be accessed by several hundred other proxy sites that popped up in their place in the immediate aftermath of the court's decision.

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