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Australian Copyright Lobby Tries To Fool Aussie Net Users With Misleading Stats

Posted by: , 15:46 AEST, Tue September 13, 2011

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An Australian copyright lobby group, the IPAF, may be using misleading statistics to paint a rosy picture ISP intervention (three-strikes), but the study the IPAF uses seems to point to the opposite conclusion

'Piracy threatens thousands of jobs but society still in denial, says study' (source: The Australian), and 'Television, film piracy crippling' (source:, screamed the headlines in the Australian press, and it all stems from a press release by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation (IPAF).

And it's certainly difficult not to come to the same conclusions if you read the press release, because the very first line reads "Research released today reveals 72% of consumers say they would stop illegal downloading activities if they received an educational notice from their ISP (internet service provider)", 72% certainly a solid enough number to suggest ISPs really do have the power to stop Net piracy once and for all.

But a little digging, and some simple arithmetic (arithmetic is apparently not a strong suit for the copyright lobby), reveals almost exactly the opposite situation, and highlights how "copyright education" may have become nothing more than a propaganda exercise, often using misleading data.

The IPAF, which only became a separate legal entity in 2009, lists the MPAA as one of its board members on its website - this is a credit to the organisation, since unlike the AFACT's lawsuit against ISP iiNet, the links to the MPAA are at least not hidden. Amongst the Partner Members is another familiar name, Sony DADC. For those that don't know, Sony DADC is responsible for all of Sony's disc based DRM initiatives (except for the, the brains behind the gaming DRM SecuROM, a bane of paying customers with its multi levels of annoyance that may actually drive some to piracy. Some have even described SecuROM as as "rookit", a piece of malicious software that has serious security implications for all concerned.

Also of interest is that Foxtel, an Australia subscription TV provider, is one of the board members. Foxtel is partially owned by News Corporation, and the IPAF press release was advanced forwarded to two News Corporation agencies, both linked to at the start of this article. News Corporation entities, including The Australian newspaper (which had the "Piracy threatens thousands of jobs ..." headline), have also been running a campaign against the Australian's government's National Broadband Network, which aims to provide super fast 100Mbps fibre connections to 93% of households.

But back to the press release at the center of this press frenzy. The study was compiled by Sycamore Research & Marketing, who, judging by their website, seems like a respectable organisation, even if they do not actually provide a physical address on their contacts page. But it is the nature of the study that is a concern. Many similar studies in the past, which has found ridiculous conclusions, such as that every pirate would spend $1,000 more a year if piracy was stopped, have been paid for by the same groups that use the data to promote their goals, and so the independence of the study is tainted from the start. And this study is no different. The IPAF admits in the same press release that the study was indeed commissioned by the copyright lobbying group. To the credit of Australian news agencies, this fact was highlighted in most of the articles published.

But by giving Sycamore the benefit of the doubt, and assume that the study was indeed independently produced, the conclusion that the IPAF makes from the facts of the study that was published in their press release, and subsequently republished in the major Australian news outlets, is misleading, to say the last.

The "facts" that the IPAF publishes say that ISP intervention would be a "quick and effective solution", as 72% would stop their piracy activities if their ISP notified them of a breach of Ts & Cs, while 74% would stop if their ISP warned of account termination. This appears to be a conclusive result, providing that ISP intervention can indeed be a good solution. However, both of these numbers are remarkably by compared to similar studies and surveys in France and the UK, both have either implemented an ISP intervention model, or are about to. In France, only 4% of file sharers said that ISP intervention would stop their pirating activities, and in the UK, only 6% of those polled said they would "share less" if ISPs started taking action. So the conclusion is that it appears the typical Aussie net users are far more afraid of their ISP, than people from other countries.

But, as usual, the devil is in the details. The French poll surveyed only those that admitted they were file sharers, while in the UK study, 85% of those sampled admitted they had also engaged in infringing activities online. So for the IPAF study, how many people actually admitted to downloading copyrighted content? According to the IPAF's own published facts, only 22% say they've used file sharing software, with only 11% saying that they do it "at least once a week or once a month".

While 22% is probably a fair reflection of the actual percentage of users that engage in piracy activities in Australia, a figure probably slightly higher than in other countries especially in relation to TV shows, as it is often hard if not impossible to access the latest episodes of popular American TV shows in a timely manner (say without one or two week or original airing in the US). 

But of interest is the 72% that say that ISP intervention, without even the risk of account cancellation, would stop their piracy activities. Is this 72% of all surveyed, or just the file sharers? The devil here is that the 72% is for all net users, including 50% of all surveyed that say they've never participated in any piracy activities, online or offline (and offline piracy, such as buying pirated DVDs, would not even be affected by ISP intervention. It's also worth noting that some online activities, such as direct download or streaming, cannot be monitored effectively by the ISP, and so the only figure that relates to ISP intervention is the 22% of those that say they've used file sharing software, such as BitTorrent based tools.

Another way of looking at the 72% to say that 28% of those surveyed would *not* stop their piracy activities if ISP intervention became a reality. 

Time for the real facts: 28% say they won't stop piracy (that can be monitored by their ISPs), while only 22% say they've actually conducted this type of piracy. ISP intervention, it appears, not only does not prevent piracy, it actually does the opposite, and an extra 6% of those surveyed will now actually consider net piracy for the first time.

Of course, the overlap between the 28% and the 22% may not be complete, in that some of those that said they won't stop piracy, may not be the same 22% that said they are already doing it (and vice versa), and without the key figure of "how many file sharers surveyed would have stopped piracy if ISP intervention became a reality", no real conclusion can be made, other than it seems that ISP intervention will not be the "quick and effective solution" the IPAF had concluded it to be.

The IPAF education initiative includes talks at schools and providing teaching resources to highlight the problem of piracy. The IPAF even provides a PDF file listing the "dinner conversations" that people should be having about the piracy problem. 

It appears the IPAF has no problem telling kids and adults alike what they should be thinking and saying, even as the real facts are being manipulated to present a singular point of view. 

Wikipedia defines propaganda as "often biased, with facts selectively presented (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented."

And so, is this propaganda?

You decide.