No drop in file-sharing despite crackdowns-Infopolicy

May 23, 2012

Study: Despite Tougher Copyright Monopoly Laws, Sharing Remains Pervasive

Rick Falkvinge

Falkvinge on Infopolicy: May 21, 2012


61% of 15-25-year-olds engage directly in sharing of culture. The social pressure for upholding the copyright monopoly laws is close to non-existent. The few who are deterred by harsher monopoly enforcement tend to compensate by anonymizing. These are the conclusions of a fresh study on the youths’ sharing of culture.

The Cybernormer group at the University of Lund has published a followup report from a 2009 study, showing that the current ban on sharing culture and knowledge remains utterly without public support, despite harshenings of the copyright monopoly law itself as well as of its enforcement.

  • 61% of 15-25-year-olds in Sweden share culture online, in violation of the copyright monopoly.
  • This fraction has not changed in size over the past three years.
  • The fraction who share heavily has even increased somewhat, from 18% to 20%.

The results are conclusive; despite tougher laws against sharing knowledge and culture in the past years in Sweden, these laws have not even made a scratch in the attitudes around file-sharing. If anything, the activity has even increased slightly. In my own experience, the social pressure is to be a good citizen and share, and not to obey the monopolies. The study agrees:

“We can safely say that the repressive legal developments in this field have very weak support in informal social control mechanisms of society”, says Måns Svensson, Ph.D. in judicial sociology, one of the researchers doing the study. “The social pressure is close to non-existent.”

Yet, the overall political trend has been tougher monopolies as well as harsher enforcement of them. Svensson sees a small dent in the behavior, but not necessarily the kind that leads to respect of the monopoly laws against the social norms – rather, many people find other ways to keep sharing and sleep well at night:

“Such strategies seem to have a minor deterrent effect on young people’s inclination to fileshare online”, Svensson continues. “However, without support in social norms, people tend to look for countermeasures, such as anonymity services. Or they turn to sneakernets when sharing media.”

(“Sneakernet” is a general term for offline technologies for sharing culture – such as bringing your two-terabyte portable hard drive over to a friend’s home.)

The researchers also note the overall implications on society of having monopoly laws that are this disconnected from the social norms:

“Of course, laws that lack societal support risk undermining people’s trust in democracy and the rule of law in the long run”, Svensson concludes.

This study – that harsher enforcement only serves to move file sharing into unenforceable territories, and even then, only in small amounts – is interesting in itself. But we should also take a look at the almost-two-thirds that share culture, and put that number in a household context.

Seeing that the 61% in the study covers people who directly partake in sharing of culture, a reasonable conclusion would be that practically 100% in this age group do it directly or indirectly – meaning that it’s usually one person in a household who does the file sharing, but all people in the household happily enjoy that culture once it’s brought to the household. When those who share directly reach as high a fraction as 61%, we are far beyond the saturation point where there are no more indirect beneficiaries of the activity. So while this was not part of the study, modeling on other social patterns, it would be a safe assumption that culture sharing has a practical 100% penetration in people’s daily lives in this age group.

This holds great promise for the future. The young of today do not accept repressive laws, and either ignore them or actively subvert them.

The Cybernormer group has its home here (in Swedish).


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