Who knew the Swiss wouldn’t take sides?

The Swiss government has decided against any major action on the issue of digital piracy


Simon Pearson/Flickr

You may have seen the news that the Swiss government has decided against any major action on the issue of digital piracy. The government’s report found that one third of its population engages in downloading; the report doesn’t seem to distinguish between illegal and legal downloading, but it found that many people don’t distinguish either. (That is, the difference between legally and illegally downloaded content is nebulous to a lot of people.) The conclusion of the report appears to be that the economic benefits of anti-piracy legislation are limited because people often take the money they save through piracy and spend them on other forms of entertainment. So, in theory, it all balances out.

There are a ton of holes in this theory, starting with one that was already pointed out in a comment on the linked article. Piracy is international, while a lot of non-computerized entertainment spending is local. So it may make business sense for the Swiss government to be lenient about piracy: it drives more money into their local entertainment economy and less into legal international entertainment. And on that theory, piracy may still hurt the companies or industries it’s directed at, even if it helps others.

The other thing is that the balancing-out idea makes more sense in the context of a very large company, or a very large industry, rather than the forms of art that are most vulnerable. It may turn out to be true (or it may have already proven to be true) that people save money on piracy and then make up for it by using that money for legal entertainment purchases. But if someone saves money on something that has trouble making a profit, and then uses that money to go see a huge hit movie, that contributes to extremes in entertainment: the profits of a big movie are even bigger than ever, but it becomes even tougher than ever for something smaller to make money. Which, in fact, is a process that’s been ongoing for a while, and pre-dates internet piracy by a long time. The rewards in a big hit are bigger than ever, while the rewards in something that’s not a big hit become smaller.

On the other hand, since this is an ongoing process that pre-dates the internet, it’s hard to say how much piracy really contributes to that. And it seems likely that most of the material that is pirated is probably not marginal or struggling material, but big hit material.

Filed under:

Who knew the Swiss wouldn’t take sides?

  1. It seems ridiculous to me to still be talking about whether or not downloading pirated material is justifiable or not.  Some one put a lot of time and effort and money into something (music or movie etc.), if they expect to receive payment for it and I take it without paying, it’s stealing.  Just as if I lift a pair of sunglasses at the mall.
    “With all this money I’m saving by stealing from people I’ll buy a new car and save the falling economy!”

    • Kindly don’t equate copying to stealing.  When you do, you’re just opening yourself up to be shot down because the original owner doesn’t lose what you copied.  When you lift a pair of sunglasses at the mall, they’ll argue, the owner can no longer sell those sunglasses to anybody.  However, when you copy a file, they’ll say, the owner hasn’t lost anything.

      Personally, I find it more logically compares to slavery — in that you’re taking the work and effort of another human being without their consent or any form of recompense.

      • Sorry, if I create something and then loose revenue from it because you ‘copied’ it, it’s still stealing.  He’s lost a way to make a living.

        • And the rebuttal is: How do you know it would have been bought? Perhaps any price point other than free would have been too high for the person to purchase it, so it wouldn’t have been purchased anyway.

          Again, these arguments are all well trodden ground, and there are standard rebuttals to them. So when you use those arguments you give them easy fodder to distract from the main idea that it’s deliberately taking control of something someone created away from them — and that’s wrong. Just don’t use them, don’t call it stealing.

        • It’s lost *potential* revenue. Not stealing. You’re still free to sell it to others. Calling it stealing is little more than attempting to lend it a more emotionally-charged word to express the unfairness or dislike for the situation.

          To derive benefit from someone’s intellectual property without recompense is still and ethical and moral wrong (unless they offer it up for free), but it’s not theft. You don’t suffer in the same way. 

      • And what about cases like Song of the South, Adam West Batman, the Star Wars Holiday Special, etc. where there’s literally no revenue to steal because there is zero alternative to piracy.

  2. “The other thing is that the balancing-out idea makes more sense in the context of a very large company, or a very large industry, rather than the forms of art that are most vulnerable.”Lol, who are you kidding, really? Most vulnerable? More like: so powerful it can force governments to step down on issues of internet copying, like it was done in many european countries!Your whole argumentary is based on nothing more than what you were told to write by your big music corporation friends, therefore invalid.

    • That’s what he’s talking about – the big companies will still be fine, but the indie music labels and artists will suffer, because people will steal their stuff. I’m not saying that I 100% agree with this line of reasoning, and Weinman himself goes some way towards refutig it himself later in the piece, but you aren’t actually arguing against the article.

  3. The Swiss Government is going the right way. It’s adjusting to the reality of the Internet. The Songwriters Association of Canada is also looking at it from a practical point of view.


    Big entertainment industries are not losing money. Year in, year out, they post lavish revenues. They do not oppose any kind of “pirating” for the sake of the economy. What they want is complete control over content and distribution to maximize their profits. It’s a trickle-down type of economy where the CEOs get the bulk of the revenues.
    The younger generation of artists, on the other hand, attuned to today’s reality, is faring better with the Internet than the previous generations did when they had no other choice than to rely on some big company to get their stuff out. Not many of these young artists are becoming millionaires overnight, if ever, and that’s not their goal. Their goal is to be heard, to be seen, and the social exchange happening on the Internet, including the downloading of their work for free, — which they call file-sharing, not pirating, — give them exposure and ultimately a return on their investment (to talk in economic parlance): People go to their show, buy the by-products (t-shirts, posters, etc.), without mentioning the fact that most of them, if they allow free downloading, also offer the option of buying their work online.

    Downloading, uploading, file-sharing, pirating, whatever, that won’t stop, so might as well adapt to it and find ways to fairly compensate everybody involved instead of a few overlords at the top. 

    • En plein dans le mille!

Sign in to comment.