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.