A new study by the University of Amsterdam, which sought to identify the short and long-term economic and cultural effects of unlawful file sharing by broadband ISP customers, claims that such activity appears to be considerably less harmful than Rights Holders maintain and could even be beneficial to music, film and video game sales.
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About 44% of the Dutch Internet population over the age of 15 that had Internet access (4.7 million people), admit to file sharing on one or more occasions in the previous 12 months. Music is the most downloaded entertainment product: 40% of those who have Internet access do so.
The figures are apparently in tune with results from France and the USA. Films (13%) and Games (9%) follow music at some distance. File sharers are predominantly young (15-24 years), male, particularly when it comes to films and games. A notable finding is that a large number of file sharers are unable to say what method or technology they use for downloading (e.g. P2P, Newsgroups, FTP etc.).
Most file sharers said they only engaged in downloading and did not upload, though the study believes this to be improbable as most P2P programs upload automatically. It seems likely that many file sharers are unaware that they are uploading. Just 1 in 20 sharers admit to adding new uploads themselves.
Buying and file sharing also turned out to go hand in hand. Music sharers ended up being just as likely to buy music as other people: 68% of file sharers also purchase music. File sharers buy as much music as non-file sharers. However, file sharers spend more money on merchandise and go to concerts significantly more frequently.
As for films, file sharers turn out to buy significantly more DVDs than nonfile sharers. On average, file sharers and non-file sharers go to the cinema equally often. Game sharers also buy games, and significantly more frequently too.
Interestingly 63% of music file sharers went out to buy the music they first got for free online. Their main reasons for buying are loving the music – a key motive for over 80% – or wishing to support the artist (over 50%). Owning the CD sleeve and booklet are mentioned by a third of eventual buyers, as well as the higher quality of the CD. 48% of film sharers will buy a previously downloaded film at a later date, citing such reasons as liking it a lot or wanting the extra features the DVD offers.
"All in all, these figures show that there is no sharp divide between file sharers and others in their buying behaviour. On the contrary, when it comes to attending concerts, and expenses on DVDs and games, file sharers are the industry's largest customers. Note that no causal relationship is implied here. Aficionados of music, games or films will typically buy more, get into related products more but also download more."
The study concludes by saying that, conversely, only a small fraction of the content exchanged through file sharing networks comes at the expense of industry turnover. It claims that this renders the overall welfare effects of file sharing robustly positive.
Interestingly the survey is somewhat scathing of the creative industry, blaming it for causing today's problems by being "unable to stem the tide of unlicensed music file sharing with their conservative strategy of abstaining from innovation, promoting legal measures against supposed offences and digital rights management.