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Carnegie Mellon Prof. Addresses ‘Piracy Myths’

Speaking at the Digital Book World Conference in New York earlier this week, Carnegie Mellon University’s Michael D. Smith addressed three myths common to discussions of illegal downloading, according to Media Bistro.

The first of these myths, according to Smith, is that piracy doesn’t hurt sales. Conceding that there have been three published studies which suggest that piracy does not have a negative impact on sales, Smith claims there are 25 others that show the opposite.

Second, Smith takes umbrage with the oft-repeated lament that “you can’t compete with free,” arguing that “(c)ompeting with free is just a special case of price competition.” Citing the example of what happened when NBC decided to remove its content from the iTunes store (as part of a conflict between NBC and Apple), Smith contends that the far worse option is to not try to compete with free, at least where the digital environment is concerned.

Smith draws a direct, causal relationship between NBC’s decision to remove its content from iTunes in 2007 and a rise in the piracy of that same content following that action. “When people couldn’t find it in iTunes anymore they went to piracy,” Smith says.

Further, Smith says that was a “negative spillover effect” for the entire TV content industry, because “people went and learned how to pirate” as a result of NBC’s actions. Piracy didn’t just increase for NBC following the iTunes dust-up; ABC, CBS and FOX also observed an increase in piracy of their content over the same period.

The last of the three piracy myths Smith takes aim at is the idea that anti-piracy regulation and enforcement of copyright on the part of rights-holders doesn’t work — a point we here at DMCA Force make until we’re blue in the face.

“(W)hen you look at competing with free, using anti-piracy measures to make piracy less attractive does work,” says Smith.

That’s certainly the implicit strategy behind services like ours here at DMCA Force; the fight against pirates is about reducing the visibility of their illicit wares, while continuing to vigorously promote the legitimate versions which they have pilfered in an attempt to enrich themselves. To my knowledge, nobody really believes that piracy can be eliminated through using services like ours; what you can do, however, is make their life more difficult, and make their illegal copies of your copyrighted works harder to find, by demanding take-down of infringing files, and demanding removal of links to those infringing files from the search engine responses on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other major search engines.