Mark's Musings

A miscellany of thoughts and opinions from an unimportant small town politician and bit-part web developer

More BPI Guff

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A report on the BBC website claims that

Illegal downloading in the UK is growing, with around 7.7 million people choosing not to legitimately buy their music online, according to new figures.

This is from a press release apparently issued by the BPI, although it’s not on their own website yet so I can’t be certain what it actually says. However, the gist of it is clear: People are downloading music, the BPI thinks the sky is falling and urgently wants legislation to protect them. According to the BPI,

It is a parasite that threatens to deprive a generation of talented young people of their chance to make a career in music, and is holding back investment in the burgeoning digital entertainment sector

The problem with this, of course, is that it makes the usual false assumption that every file copied is a sale lost. That’s simply not true. Even if downloaders are spending less on music as a result (and it’s not clear that even this is the case), most downloaders copy music almost indiscriminately, just because they can. Someone who might previously have bought ten albums a year may now be downloading the equivalent of a thousand. But that isn’t a thousand lost sales, because if they couldn’t download a lot for free they’d simply go back to buying a few.

What neatly skewers the BPI’s argument, though, is a previous article based on figures from – yes, you guessed it, the BPI. As the BBC reports:

Earlier this year the BPI reported that music sales in the UK had grown for the first time in six years.

It said that legal downloads had boosted sales, rising by more than 50% to earn £154 million, compared with £101.5 million in 2008.

If the BPI are to be believed, then both filesharing and sales are growing. A more rational person might wonder whether there’s a correlation there, and think about ways of harnessing the massive growth in music consumption to benefit creators.

Incidentally, 7.7 million downloaders is a lot of people. The number of students in the UK, for example, is just under 2 million. 7.7 million is a large number of potential voters. The people that the BPI represents may be rich and able to employ powerful lobbyists, but in the long run the weight of democracy is against them. So is common sense.