Intellectual Property

Next You'll Be Telling Me Illegal Downloading Doesn't Spike During the Super Bowl

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You may have heard that the U.S. has lost 750,000 jobs to piracy of intellectual property and that such infringment costs the American economy $200–250 billion each year. Over at Ars Technica, former reason staffer Julian Sanchez goes looking for the sources of those oft-cited numbers and finds…not much.

An excerpt:

With Customs a dead end, we dove into press archives, hoping to find the earliest public mention of the elusive 750,000 jobs number. And we found it in–this is not a typo–1986. Yes, back in the days when "Papa Don't Preach" and "You Give Love a Bad Name" topped the charts, The Christian Science Monitor quoted then-Commerce Secretary Malcom Baldridge, trumpeting Ronald Reagan's own precursor to the recently passed PRO-IP bill. Baldridge estimated the number of jobs lost to the counterfeiting of U.S. goods at "anywhere from 130,000 to 750,000."

Where did that preposterously broad range come from? As with the number of licks needed to denude a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know. Ars submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Commerce this summer, hoping to uncover the basis of Baldridge's claim–or any other Commerce Department estimates of job losses to piracy–but came up empty. So whatever marvelous proof the late secretary discovered was not to be found in the margins of any document in the government's vaults. But no matter: By 1987, that Brobdignagian statistical span had been reduced, as far as the press were concerned, to "as many as 750,000" jobs. Subsequent reportage dropped the qualifier. The 750,000 figure was still being bandied about this summer in support of the aforementioned PRO-IP bill.

Whole thing here.

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  1. I estimate that, in public policy debates, the percentage of figures that are utter bullshit to be anywhere from 50% to 95%.

  2. Since we were at 750,000 22 years ago and remain at 750,000 today, according to the same bunch of questionable figure quoters, as a percentage of the number of jobs in the economy the situation has improved markedly. Who knows, at this rate if they stick with this number it might eventually intersect with reality.

  3. The 750,000 jobs number probably came from Jack Valenti straight into Malcom Baldridge’s mouth.

  4. But how many jobs were created by people not spending billions of dollars for an engraved piece of plastic and spending it elsewhere?

    I’d have a lot more sympathy for the music industry if they hadn’t made it their policy to to sell $18 dollar CD’s with one good track and 10 pieces of crap that may or may not even be in the same genre as the single that got you to buy the thing (Looking @ you Everlast.) Before Napster if you didn’t want to get raped at the music store, you had to stick to bands you already trusted. I like being able to hop on emusic and end up downloading some techno, a Leadbelly album, and whatever else strikes my fancy for .20 a track, which they would never have allowed if not for all those pirates.

  5. I estimate that, in public policy debates, the percentage of figures that are utter bullshit to be anywhere from 50% to 95%.

    That strikes me as a low range. Even when bowdlerized to 95%.

    The 750,000 jobs number probably came from Jack Valenti straight into Malcom Baldridge’s mouth.

    I submit that the words “Jack Valenti” “came” “Malcolm Baldridge’s mouth” should never again be used in the same sentence.

  6. R C Dean,

    They threw Max Hardcore in jail for filming something just like that.

  7. “I submit that the words “Jack Valenti” “came” “Malcolm Baldridge’s mouth” should never again be used in the same sentence.”

    You’re right. Perhaps “squirted” would have been a more accurate choice of words.

  8. It’s common knowledge that up to 95% of the figures used in public debate are utter bullshi.

  9. Why are so many figures bandied about in public policy debates when 95% of them are bullshit?

  10. Bowdlerized?

    “to expurgate (a written work) by removing or modifying passages considered vulgar or objectionable”

    I submit that, to the small/journalistic mind, qualifiers such as “up to” are objectionable, and to be expurgated when the opportunity presents.

    See, also, Dowdified.

  11. “Why are so many figures bandied about in public policy debates when 95% of them are bullshit?”

    Because true believers don’t need true facts to sway them, and they believe that using made up data to influence you is justified. Also, because they’re terrible people.

  12. Baldridge estimated the number of jobs lost to the counterfeiting of U.S. goods at “anywhere from 130,000 to 750,000.”

    There’s another possible inflation here. When Baldridge said “the counterfeiting of U.S. goods” was he speaking only of intellectual property, or including everything? Faux Rolex watches, for instance. Huge difference.

    Why are so many figures bandied about in public policy debates when 95% of them are bullshit?

    The internet makes it easy to retrieve bullshit. And no one really knows how to debate any more.

  13. I’d have a lot more sympathy for the music industry if they hadn’t made it their policy to to sell $18 dollar CD’s with one good track and 10 pieces of crap that may or may not even be in the same genre as the single that got you to buy the thing (Looking @ you Everlast.)

    Y’know, that’s never actually happened to me. Sure, there’s always one or two *standout* tracks, but I’ve never been disappointed at paying for an entire album. So even on emusic (which is where I get most of my music) I almost always go for the whole album. You just don’t know what you’re missing otherwise. Some of my favorite songs are “album tracks”.

  14. Since we were at 750,000 22 years ago and remain at 750,000 today, according to the same bunch of questionable figure quoters, as a percentage of the number of jobs in the economy the situation has improved markedly.

    It’s probably those same 750,000 guys! Those bastards don’t really want to work and they’re using piracy as an excuse to stay home and collect welfare.

  15. How can i download when i am too busy beating my wife?

  16. How can I download when I’m too busy beating my meat?

    It’s a widely known fact that at least 95% of downloads are porn.

  17. It’s a widely known fact that at least 95% of downloads are porn.

    No, No, a thousand times no!

    It’s 95% of all porn downloads during public debates about the Super Bowl are pirated.

    You’re just making up utter bullshit.

  18. I’d have a lot more sympathy for the music industry if they hadn’t made it their policy to to sell $18 dollar CD’s with one good track and 10 pieces of crap that may or may not even be in the same genre as the single that got you to buy the thing (Looking @ you Everlast.)

    So, stealing is justified when a merchant overprices their goods compared to their quality? I thought the proper response was just to not buy their products.

    Put another way, if you think the product the record labels put out is that bad, why are you downloading it in the first place?

  19. It’s 95% of all porn downloads during public debates about the Super Bowl are pirated.

    Oh, I thought that 95% of all porn downloads during public debates about the Super Bowl were pornography about pirates raping their wives.

  20. $18 dollar CD’s with one good track and 10 pieces of crap that may or may not even be in the same genre as the single that got you to buy the thing (Looking @ you Everlast.)

    Sugarcult s/b included there, too. “What you say” I say the rest of that album sucked so hard a small black hole resulted.

  21. With Customs a dead end, we dove into press archives, hoping to find the earliest public mention of the elusive 750,000 jobs number. And we found it in–this is not a typo–1986. Yes, back in the days when “Papa Don’t Preach” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” topped the charts…

    If only Madonna and Jon Bon Jovi were two of the 750,000 jobs lost back in the ’80s…

  22. Please it is not stealing!

    Stealing occurs when you take posession of another guys property thus denying him the use of it.

    Everlast, for example, can still listen to their music even if every other person on the Earth illegally copies the music.

    There is nothing immoral in copying a pattern per se. For example, if you read Milton Friedman’s explanation of why racism incurs sever penalties in a free market, and use that argument in a debate with your socialist sister in law, you have not committed an immoral act.

    The state has decreed that there is a property right in patterns and that anyone who copies particular patterns without the state and the pattern owners permission is guilty of stealing. The state also used similar arguments of maximizing the public good to decree that black people were not entitled to the same legal protections that white people were. Thus I would take state decrees wit a grain of salt and search for independent justifications of copyright.

    And, under the current system, where the state automatically assigns a copyright to all new pattern inventions, and can levy draconian fines/impose criminal penalties even for accidental independent inventions of the same pattern, without the pattern creator lifting a finger to announce to the world that the pattern belongs to him, you can’t really justify treating patterns like homesteaded land.

    Furthermore, like the Lehman executive in an earlier thread, it is possible to admit that aperson is a victim of a crime, while withholding any sympathy for the victim.

    Imagine, for a moment, that Ted Bundy had escaped from prison. So he is driving his minivan, cruising for chicks, when he is carjacked and murdered. In that extreme case, would you not feel any outrage at his demise?

    The record companies have fucked things up. The copyright laws they have lobbied for have made us all poorer. Hell, thanks to those laws, my kids will never see WKRP reruns with the original sound track. They have taken what should have made their lives better (the ability to cheaply make music available to a wider audience) and fucked it all up. That people are ripping them off is hardly suprising, and given some of the egregious barratry they have engaged in protecting their copyright, I certainly have no sympathy for them whatsoever. I am not a file sharer, I don’t care about file sharing. I have no sympathy for the RIAA because they set themselves up for this. Moreover, their CD sales are tanking because they have forgotten that to make money you have to convince customers to give you money in exchange for something they want. They blame file sharing for what is, in reality, the fallout from their luddite business practices.

  23. tarran,

    Nice try Mr. Laissez Farrie. That’s quite a theory you got there, but you can’t expect anyone to believe it without some figures to back it up.

  24. Let’s also not forget that the poor, victimized record companies routinely stick it to the actual creators of the intellectual property they sell at such high markup. Legends have grown up around the shady accounting practices that “document” that a particular album release or movie “broke even” or even “lost money,” despite being considered among the biggest commercial successes in history, solely to reserve profits to the producers and the studios, leaving the musicians or other performers penniless or even in deep debt TO THE STUDIOS!

    I have long thought that artists and performers should establish online “tip jars,” so that people who pirate intellectual entertainment property can send donations that will go directly to the right people, instead of being diverted and confiscated by the industry parasites.

    Anybody want to work with me to create such a “donation clearance house” approach? We ought to be able to use technology to shut the parasites out, or at least reduce them to minimal impact, wouldn’t you think?

  25. “To promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts,..”

    Somehow, I don’t think the framers had baby boomer pop rock cultural gibberish in mind.

  26. “by securing for limited Times….”

    Not so tightly drafted there, Mr. Madison. However, such ambiguity has enabled both solicitor and barrister to be paid fortunes for their intellectual property.

  27. Warren,

    Fine, you want figures? I’ll give you figures!

    And being an Austrian Fanboy, and thus mindful of the fact that you can’t aggregate apples and oranges into one number, I will now list the precise losses to the U.S. economy as a result of copyright law, using the Imara-Mitsui algortihm which is a numerical implementation of the Alvarez-Donaldson refinement of the Eldri/Ivars-Thomas-Umbers-Peterson method of estimating economic losses:

    $3,654,452,211 FRN, 66 lbs Gold, 21 Tons of Tin, 34,456,321 barrels of oil, 3 million chickens, 456,321 windows and -1 Rick Santorum (the existence of Rick Santorum has a negative effect on wealth). Oh, and 15 men could not afford the plastic surgery that Peter Griffin had on that episode when he was inducted into the Beautiful People Club.

    In non-economic terms, copyright law also hooked 456,489 children on marijuana, 670,457 of those children took up their habit before they were 1 week old. Also, through a complex geologic process that you non-geologists are incapable of comprehending, it caused the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

    One other non-economic loss, remember the movie the Italian job? Remember “the Napster?” Thanks a lot RIAA!

  28. “So, stealing is justified when a merchant overprices their goods compared to their quality? I thought the proper response was just to not buy their products.”

    Perhaps, but violating a government-mandated monopoly intended to promote the public good may be justified if official corruption and public complacency has ensured that the monopoly right largely serves a politically powerful private good at public expense. Hypothetically, I mean.

    “Put another way, if you think the product the record labels put out is that bad, why are you downloading it in the first place?”

    What leads you to believe that a person who only wants one song off of an album will download the whole album?

  29. “So, [infringement*] is justified when a merchant overprices their goods compared to their quality? I thought the proper response was just to not buy their products.”

    Justified or not, Napster drove the industry to embrace marketing models that the people want. And since cunnivore likes to play fast and loose with words, it should be noted that toxic said, “I’d have a lot more sympathy for the music industry” not “I find it justified”. Maybe toxic meant the latter or maybe toxic stopped short of saying that for a reason.

    *Corrected for accuracy.

  30. The record companies have fucked things up. The copyright laws they have lobbied for have made us all poorer. Hell, thanks to those laws, my kids will never see WKRP reruns with the original sound track.

    OK, that’s true, but lots of bad laws have positive side effects. That doesn’t make them right.

  31. Stealing occurs when you take posession of another guys property thus denying him the use of it.

    No, you’ve still stolen my whenever you take possession of it, regardless of whether you deny me the use of it.

    If you steal my car, you’ve still stolen it even if you park it back in my driveway before I notice.

    If you come onto my ranch without my permission, you’re still trespassing, regardless of whether I even notice you are there.

  32. “If you steal my car, you’ve still stolen it even if you park it back in my driveway before I notice.”

    Not really. Auto theft requires the intent to deprive the owner of the right to the vehicle (or to deprive him of the benefit of the vehicle). With a car, taking it without permission leads to the inference that one intends to at least temporarily deprive the owner of the car. However, auto theft is different than joyriding. Joyriding is basically auto theft without the intent to deprive the owner of the car.

    All this is basically semantics because joyriding is still a crime, and many in law enforcement use the word “theft” to refer to acts that aren’t defined as “theft” under the statutes, i.e., joyriding. Moreover, stealing is a much lesser crime than piracy, and nobody seems to care that the word piracy has been expropriated. Gem from wikipedia: an early reference [to piracy] was made by Daniel Defoe in 1703 when he said of his novel True-born Englishman : “Its being Printed again and again, by Pyrates”. However, though courts have generally used piracy interchangeably with with infringement, none have gone so far as to call infringement stealing.

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