Movie Politics and Piracy in the EU

With the news that a group of Dutch film companies are suing the Dutch government for alleged inaction on piracy, it seems worth re-upping this piece from 2011 about movie production and piracy in the EU.  In short, we’d argue that there’s a widespread misunderstanding of how IP and EU cultural politics really interact.  Here’s part of it:

For better and for worse, European film operates within a system of  high public subsidies, low production costs, and persistent cultural and institutional market barriers at the national level. The last estimate (in 2004) by the European Audiovisual Observatory put direct public subsidies for audiovisual production at around 1.3 billion euros. The resulting industry is a major success if measured by the quantity of production, and arguably also in terms of cultural diversity and ‘quality’ of the kind associated with the auteur tradition.  But the European cinema also remains resolutely ‘national,’ with a high proportion of revenues coming from domestic distribution and relatively few films attaining wider European (or global) success.


Some of this insularism reflects linguistic and cultural differences within Europe.  And some of it reflects the fragmentation of the European market.  The burden of rights clearance across 27 countries and innumerable production companies makes it very difficult to distribute European films widely within Europe–and far more difficult, in particular, than licensing large catalogs from the six US studios.  The EC has made reducing these market barriers a high priority, but has shown less certainty about how to move forward.  As EC reports have noted:


the practice of territorial licensing has a lot to do with commercial decisions based on the structure of a European market that is characterised by linguistic and cultural differences, as well as by high transaction costs in distributing local content across borders. (p.185)

In other words, it’s not clear where the market obstacles stop and the mismatch of product with demand begins.

Continue reading “Movie Politics and Piracy in the EU”

Tinker. Solder. Tap.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 11.31.13 AMI’ve had many occasions in the past few years to recommend Tinker. Solder. Tap.--a lovely graphic novel by Bhagwati Prasad and Amitabh Kumar about the roots of movie piracy in India (and an offshoot of the Media Piracy project).  Since most of the searchable links to the novel now lead to dead pages, I’m reposting the link to the downloadable PDF in the Sarai archive.


The Rise of the Robo Notice

Jennifer Urban and I just published a preview of our work on notice and takedown in the Communications of the ACM (currently paywalled but accessible through most universities).  Here’s the gist of it:

As automated systems became common, the number of takedown requests increased dramatically. For some online services, the numbers of complaints went from dozens or hundreds per year to hundreds of thousands or millions. In 2009, Google’s search service received less than 100 takedown requests. In 2014, it received 345 million requests. Although Google is the extreme outlier, other services—especially those in the copyright ‘hot zones’ around search, storage, and social media—saw order-of-magnitude increases. Many others—through luck, obscurity, or low exposure to copyright conflicts—remained within the “DMCA Classic” world of low-volume notice and takedown.

This split in the application of the law undermined the rough industry consensus about what services did to keep their safe harbor protection. As automated notices overwhelmed small legal teams, targeted services lost the ability to fully vet the complaints they received. Because companies exposed themselves to high statutory penalties if they ignored valid complaints, the safest path afforded by the DMCA was to remove all targeted material. Some companies did so. Some responded by developing automated triage procedures that prioritized high-risk notices for human review (most commonly, those sent by individuals).

Others began to move beyond the statutory requirements in an effort to reach agreement with rights holder groups and, in some cases, to reassert some control over the copyright disputes on their services.

Continue reading “The Rise of the Robo Notice”

The Global Cost of Piracy Breakfast

I’m a little late to this to say the least, but I recently ran across this 2011 video from one of the ‘IP Breakfast’ workshops that Drew Clarke used to run.  In it, you can find Bruce Lehman, Clinton point man on the major IP treaties of the 1990s; Loren Yager, main author of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the costs of IP infringment (which was notable for saying that nobody knew what they were); Steven Siwek, the copyright sector’s chief economist for maximizing claims of harm from piracy; Matt Robinson from anti-piracy outfit Attributor (now Digimarc); Morgan Reed from  software trade group the Association for Competitive Technology; and Sean Flynn from American University (and one of the contributors to the Media Piracy report).

Amusingly, it turns into a free-for-all about the Piracy report, with Siwek defending his methods, Lehman parsing what it meant for the US to be a pirate nation in the 19th century, and Sean parrying with both of them and also an angry guy in the audience  accusing the report of anti-americanism, anti-commerc(ism?), and–I think I heard this right– pro-Viking(ism), which has something to do with pillaging.  Sadly, Sean did not address our position on Vikings.  Anyway, it’s a nice time capsule of IP debates circa early 2011 (pre SOPA).


Confederate Copyright Policy and the Limits of Dickens’ Abolitionism

Most histories of copyright discuss Dickens’ frustration with the lack of protection for international copyright in the 19th century US.  This I didn’t know:

Charles Dickens was an abolitionist and wrote of his feeling of the uncanny when encountering his first slave, serving him dinner at his hotel in Baltimore in 1842. Yet, when senators from the slave states assured him of their support for international copyright, he warmed up. His intense dislike of the Northern publishers, who chiseled him out of his royalties, encouraged his eventual support for the Southern cause during the Civil War. One might have thought that the Southern states had more pressing concerns in 1861 than copyright (just as one might have thought this about the French revolutionaries in 1791). But the political implications of copyright were significant enough to justify such an investment by the rebel politicians. With few publishing interests the South stood to lose little to copyright. To distinguish itself from the North, cultivate an aristocratic and nonmercantile national identity, and appeal to the British, the Confederacy passed an international copyright law, protecting foreign authors whose governments extended reciprocal protection to Americans. Southern gentlemen, one Confederate journalist claimed, would rather pay quintuple the price for a British edition than buy a pirated Yankee one.

From Peter Baldwin’s excellent The Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Transatlantic Battle.


A Note on TERA’s “The Economic Contribution of the Creative Industries to EU GDP and Employment”

TERA Associates has released a follow up to their 2010 study on the impact of “piracy” on creative industries in the European Union.  The new study, entitled “The Economic Contribution of the Creative Industries to EU GDP and Employment,” makes three arguments:

1)     That the creative industries include 8.3 million “core” creative jobs and 5.7 million “interdependent” and “non-dedicated support” jobs, totaling 14% of the EU27 workforce and contributing 6.8% of GDP (€ 860 billion).

2)     That between 2008 and 2011, piracy “destroyed” € 27.1 – 39.7 billion in economic value, resulting in a loss of between 64,089 and 955,125 jobs.  According to TERA’s forecast, these numbers are likely to climb to € 166-240 billion by 2015, with 600,000 to 1.2 million jobs lost.

3)     That although economic depression and other factors may play a role in some sectoral changes (such as retail), these job and economic losses are primarily attributable to the failure of EU member states to adopt stronger IP enforcement measures.

As a researcher responsible for several studies of the impact of piracy on creative economies, I was asked by consumers’ and citizens’ rights groups in 2011 to provide an independent review of the first TERA study.[1]  In those comments, I argued that the report offered a selective account of the economics of infringement that overstated the impact of piracy.  Since the new report doubles down on those findings and introduces some new methodologies, I have prepared new comments.

Download the note.

Continue reading “A Note on TERA’s “The Economic Contribution of the Creative Industries to EU GDP and Employment””

We’re Back

The site suffered a nasty attack last week that took some time to resolve.  If you run across any lingering problems, I’d welcome a note.



Can Former “Pirates” Fix a Broken Movie Market (in Ecuador)?

Reposting a link to this piece in Ars Technica by Evelin Heidel, Ezequiel Martin Acuña, and me.  Here’s how it wraps up:

The combination of wider distribution and lower pricing has also begun to influence practices of financing. “Right now, traders are becoming investors,” Moscoso said. “Large retailers are becoming producers, distributors are making movies, and thus they don’t depend only on the state to produce films. Here, making a movie used to be like climbing the Everest in flip-flops and a T-shirt. You had to be lucky if you wanted to show your movie in the cinema. You had to have contacts or come from a family with a good social position. If you didn’t have any of that, you’d be happy if you managed to get your film shown once at a cultural center. But now you have the option to sell it in markets and shopping centers, where it will continue to sell.” Continue reading “Can Former “Pirates” Fix a Broken Movie Market (in Ecuador)?”

The Global Congress Research Survey: Research Priorities, Part 5, Methods, Communication, and Social Movements

Still more recommendations from the 2013 Global Congress Research Survey, focusing on methodology, communications, and social movement issues.  This is Part 5 of 5 (for now).

If you’d like to submit a couple paragraphs about research priorities, you can do so here.   We’d be happy to publish Part 6, 7, etc..

More research ideas here, here, here, and here.

 Alek Tarkowski, Centrum Cyfrowe/ Creative Commons Polska / Communia, Poland  

Strengthening economic research and tying it to social and cultural studies is an effort that is, in my opinion, crucial – and could for instance be addressed by a workshop-type interdisciplinary conference. Existing economic studies are useful and important (albeit nondecisive about key economic effects of either informal circulations or free / open content1 – but it rarely attempts to become engaged with social and cultural research. Access to data is obviously a challenge – in Poland a treasure-trove of data on informal practices is held by administrators of the “Chomikuj” file locker service – who will never make it available, as from a different perspective this might constitute proof in court…

Finally, as with any internet studies, methodologies still need to be developed, to provide in-depth understandings of use of content. Copyright, just like digital technologies, is a difficult matter, and thus not easily related by respondents in interviews, and even harder to understand through questionnaires.

Our community needs more opportunities to meet, and discuss in particular theoretical matters – it often feels like research is very policy oriented, which has the attached risk of being relatively shallow in terms of theory. Both researchers and activists would benefit not just from strong ties between research and activism or policy work, but also a strong shape of our research community itself. Continue reading “The Global Congress Research Survey: Research Priorities, Part 5, Methods, Communication, and Social Movements”

The Global Congress Research Survey: Research Priorities, Part 4, Creative Economies and Practices

Another installment from the 2013 Global Congress Research Survey, focused on research priorities around creative industries, incentives, and changing cultural practices.

See Part 1 for an explanation of the survey and some comments on international scholarship and needs
Part 2 focuses on copyright reform and enforcement.
Part 3 focuses on trade, patents, and health.

As always, if you’d like to submit a couple paragraphs about research priorities, you can do so here.

Christopher Sprigman, NYU, USA 

We have largely one-size-fits-all IP law that treats a range of very different creative industries similarly. So copyright law imposes basically the same rules on software that it does for motion pictures. And patent law imposes basically the same rules on pharmaceuticals as it does on technologies in smartphones. I would like to see more studies focused on the innovation conditions in particular industries, aimed at understanding what the drivers of innovation are in those industries, and whether innovation in that particular setting thrives with more, less, or no IP protection. Understanding innovation better at the industry level would help us determine whether IP rules should be made more industry-specific, or whether the domain of IP law should be expanded or contracted.

Relatedly, I would like to see more research on the effect of IP rights on both competition and sequential innovation. We have a fair amount of economic theorizing on both, but relatively little empirical evidence regarding how IP shapes competition and sequential innovation in specific markets.

Joel Waldfogel, University of Minnesota, USA

One of my messages of late has been that, as important as piracy is, researchers should move beyond piracy and should instead ask the broader question relevant to whether copyright is working:  in light of various different technological changes – some of which reduce revenue and other which reduce costs – what’s happening to the flow of new products.  My own work is empirical using large-scale real world (as opposed to experimental1.  The main challenge is generally getting access to such data, which exist but are often expensive. Continue reading “The Global Congress Research Survey: Research Priorities, Part 4, Creative Economies and Practices”