New Research Once Again Confirms That Pirates Are The Best Customers

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The media industry really hates pirates. The companies that produce music, movies and everything else constantly berate pirates and tell the world that these people are destroying their business. These companies used to sue alleged file sharers, but now they're content with just throttling the bandwidth of accused pirates. A new study suggests they may want to rethink their tactics.

The American Assembly at Columbia University has teamed up with Google to publish a report titled "Copy Culture in the U.S. & Germany." As the name suggests, the study looks at the culture surrounding file sharing in the two countries where IP laws "play oversized roles in setting international IP policies." Some of the findings may be a little surprising to some, but it's kind of expected in today's connected world.

First of all, file-sharing is rampant in the U.S. and Germany. The study found that nearly half of all residents in both countries have "copied, shared, or 'downloaded for free' music, movies and TV shows." The trade off of these high numbers is that most of these "pirates" aren't downloading everything. Only 14 percent of adults acquired most of their digital music or video collections through illegal downloads. Going even further, only 2 to 3 percent of "pirates" have amassed a large collection, over 1,000 songs or TV shows, through illegal downloading.

All of this looks pretty grim for the media industry. It's no wonder that they are so hell bent on punishing file sharers. These pirates are not doing their part to support the labels and companies that criminally underpay the artists that they represent. If only these people would start buying music instead of illegally downloading all of it, right?

In all reality, file sharers are by and large the heaviest consumers of legal media content. The study found that file sharers "buy as many legal DVDs, CDs, and subscription media services as their non-file sharing, Internet-using counterparts." The study also found that file-sharers in the U.S. buy 30 percent more digital music and "display marginally higher willingness to pay."

This new study lines up with a report late last year that found pirates to be the media industry's biggest supporters. Of course, this report came out of Europe, but it found that "pirates" bought way more digital content than their file-sharing peers. As for physical media, both studies found that pirates and non-pirates buy about the same amount of content.

The most interesting part of The American Assembly's study, however, was when it looked at the differences in IP laws between the U.S. and Germany. The U.S. has a strict no sharing law even when making physical copies of CDs for friends and family from a physical CD that you purchased. Germany protects most of these actions through a "private copy" provision in copyright law that makes it okay to copy music for "noncommercial personal uses."

It seems that Germany's IP laws seem to understand that copying does not equate to a lost sale. In fact, the study found that those who copy music, movies, etc are still buying plenty of content. It says that "there is no significant difference in buying habits between those who copy or file share and those who do not."

Alongside these findings, consumers in both markets also support initiatives that would make it harder to access pirated content. A majority of Internet users in the U.S. support "a soft requirement that Web services like Facebook and Dropbox 'try to screen user activity and remove pirated files.'" That support begins to drop off once you bring government or the word "censorship into the mix." Support for self regulation could be why most Internet users are not raising a stink about the six-strikes anti-piracy plan going into effect early this year, yet raised high hell when SOPA and PIPA were making the rounds.

The final question posed in the study is by far the most interesting. Respondents were asked if they would be willing to pay a little extra a month to creators in Internet fees to legalize file sharing. An amazing 61 percent of Germans and 48 percent of Americans said they would gladly pay an extra €16.43/$18.79 a month for it.

These kind of studies pop up from time to time, but they are largely ignored by the media industry as it continues to push the dialog that all piracy is harmful. It's worrisome because these industries may push too hard one day, and as a result lose their most loyal customers. Most file sharers don't want to see their favorite creators stop making content, but they also wanted to be treated fairly by the companies that distribute said content. Consumers have been ready to find some middle ground for years, so now it's all in the hands of the media industry to reach out and work together with their fans for a brighter future.

[h/t: Ars Technica]

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