Three-strikes anti-piracy law 'doesn't deter piracy'

A study has found that three-strikes policies don't work, even when consumers overestimate which channels are being monitored for piracy.

A study involving thousands of French internet users has found that the country's "three strikes" anti-piracy policies don't actually curb piracy.

Researchers from the universities of Delaware and Rennes looking into the impact of France's Hadopi law — which threatened to cut off internet access for users found to have infringed copyright three times — have found the legislation is probably not having its desired impact of detering piracy and converting pirates into legal consumers.

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The researchers tested their observations of 2,000 French citizens' legal and illegal consumption of music, movies and TV programmes, as well as their knowledge of the Hadopi law, against the model of "intertemporal criminal choice".

The model looks at how people weigh-up gains from committing a crime against the cost of being caught, in a scenario where a person can enjoy something today and face the threat of uncertain punishment in the future.

"A graduated response policy like the Hadopi law alters the timing of detection and punishment (by delaying punishment until a third warning is received)," the researchers said.

While an increased chance of getting caught should deter piracy, the researchers' say their model correctly predicted that under a graduated response system, a higher chance of detection doesn't affect whether or not a person pirates online content.

"Consistent with theoretical predictions, our econometric results indicate that the Hadopi law has not deterred individuals from engaging in digital piracy and that it did not reduce the intensity of illegal activity of those who did engage in piracy," they note.

Also, while services like iTunes and Spotify are often credited with combating piracy by providing legal channels to purchase music and other media, the fact that penalties for copyright-infringement are uncertain and delayed may actually create an incentive to increase illegal content acquisition — at least before a warning letter is received.

A third factor is that those wise to the law, who, for example, know that only P2P traffic fell within the scope of anti-piracy legislation, may turn to alternative illegal sources, such as direct download or streaming sites.

The survey found that on average, people believed their probability of detection was 36 percent, but most people overestimated the reach of the law. While most people (75 percent) understood that P2P networks were monitored, 68 percent incorrectly believed direct download was also being monitored, 37 percent believed streaming sites were being monitored and 12 percent believed offline sharing was being monitored.

Despite the high-level of over-estimation, the researchers didn't find evidence to support the prediction that a graduated response policy deterred individuals from engaging in digital piracy.

On the other hand, they not that "there is evidence that the law encourages internet users who better understand the law and alternative piracy channels (those with many digital pirates in their social network) to substitute away from the monitored P2P channel and to obtain content through unmonitored illegal channels." 

They conclude that graduate response polices are not effective deterrents "at least until a significant portion of the population has received initial warnings and faces punishment upon receiving a subsequent warning."

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