Efforts To Prevent Piracy Destined To Fail – It’s Hard To Police People At Home [INTERVIEW]

image from www.alphagalileo.org This is part two of my interview with Joe Cox. He is an economist at of the University of Portsmouth. He recently published a paper titled Seeders, leechers and social norms: Evidence from the market for illicit digital downloading and proclaimed that file-sharers see themselves as the Robin Hoods of the digital age. In this interview, Cox talks about our efforts to curve piracy and music as a public good.

Hypebot: Would you say that the efforts to curve piracy are both destined to fail and have a negative effect?

Joe Cox: In my opinion, efforts to prevent piracy on the part of copyright owners are entirely justifiable, as rationally they would want to maximize the return to their intellectual property. Their actions might have a negative effect on pirates, but many would argue that this is a good thing although, in my opinion, efforts to curb piracy have imposed very little negative effects on a majority of pirates to date. However, it should be remembered that the threat of piracy has been in existence long before the dawn of the digital era and the growth of the internet.

What has changed in the last decade is the ease and effectiveness with which pirated materials have been made available to the general population. The internet has made it possible to distribute near-perfect copies of a vast catalogue of creative materials entirely within the confines of the home and it has always proven difficult for law enforcement to encroach upon what people get up to in their own homes. I think, for this reason, that efforts to prevent piracy are destined to fail, as technology and innovation is now progressing at a rate that is far in advance of copyright holders abilities to curtail file sharing activities through the imposition of technical constraints or restrictions.

Hypebot: Why do you believe critics reject the notion of creative works being considered as a "public good"?

Joe Cox: A public good is one which exhibits two characteristics: non-rivalry and non excludability. The former means that one person’s consumption does not diminish the ability for others to consume the good. The digital revolution has certainly meant that creative works fit this criterion, since consumers are able to make perfect digital copies of any media that they have access to while still being able to make use of the original.

The latter criterion applies where individuals can’t, in any practical sense at least, be prevented from consuming the good if they haven’t paid for it. Despite the best efforts of governments, copyright agencies, record labels etc., it seems for the most part that it has proven almost impossible to prevent the unpaid digital consumption of creative content. I therefore find it difficult to accept an argument that creative output in the 21st Century could not be considered to exhibit the characteristics of a public good. I think anyone making a strong argument to the contrary has a vested interest in maintain the status quo.

Hypebot: Are we underestimating the determination that seeders have to ensure music is available for free?

Joe Cox: I certainly think that seeders derive a benefit from making materials available to others, not least in terms of notoriety or infamy on the file-sharing scene.

As such, I suppose a simple answer to the question would be ‘yes’ and while more stringent laws, severe punishments or tight technical restrictions might hinder the activities of seeders to the point where their numbers are reduced, I don’t think it is going to prove possible to prevent the seeding of material altogether.

There are always going to be individuals or groups that crave the notoriety badly enough to attempt to beat the law or to circumvent technical copy-protection mechanisms.

Hypebot: Will the digital ecosystem evolve beyond file sharing if enough music innovations are embraced?

Joe Cox: I think one clear lesson to take from this is that technological innovations have the potential to take established markets into a whole range of unforeseen directions, so to an extent it’s impossible to predict what the future might hold. In the longer term, perhaps file sharing will become a redundant practice, especially if the creative industries become willing to consider alternative sources of income generation or other radical innovations.

However, in the short run, I don’t see the file-sharing phenomenon disappearing, especially not as a consequence of the kind of legislation currently being bandied around in the U.S. and Europe as a means by which to tackle the issue.

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