This week I attended the launch of a CREATe report named ‘A review of the causes and impacts of unlawful file sharing’ (not yet available online). The report itself offers a fascinating insight into the research conducted on the effects of file-sharing, and it represents an important addition to the literature. However, the report is not what prompted this article, but rather some of the questions and comments asked after the presentation.
There is a sub-species of copyright industry representatives that go to these events with the sole purpose of asking questions and making comments. This would be fine if it wasn’t for the type of questions asked, which are laughably misinformed at best, and wilfully misleading at worst. There was the obligatory dig at academics by hinting that nothing we do has relevance in the real world, or that we are not creators in any sense of the word. A music representative even repeated the threat that unless music pirating stops, the supply of music will dry-up. Yes, the industry still believes that creators are only motivated by money, and everyone will stop making music overnight. There was an economist for the industry who made some spectacular assumptions about trends by stating that music sales are down, so all media sales will go down as well.
But the most interesting question came from a representative of the British TV and movie industry. He claimed that DVD sales had been an important part of the copyright economy, and a good source of income for the industry, which is true. Then he said that this was caused by the fact that it was very difficult to pirate DVDs, and that the only source of such content was dodgy Chinese knock-offs. This is a remarkably false claim, as DVD ripping has been extremely easy for more than a decade. He then went on to claim that DVD sales were down, and blamed piracy for the sudden drop. This seemed to me to be something that can be tested specifically in two parts. Have DVD sales gone down? And if so, what is the real cause?
The answer to the first question is a resounding yes. DVD (and Blu-ray) sales have been going down for some years now. DVD sales peaked at around 2008, and since then there has been a steady decline in sales every year. So, what is the cause for such a drop? The initial culprit was to be found in other entertainment sectors, particularly the games industry, which has been growing steadily while other types of entertainment have stalled or declined.
The other main culprit of the decline in DVD sales is of course streaming. I am part of a generation who is still attached to the idea of owning physical copies of things, but this is a dying trend. As people move to digital ownership, the concept of attaching importance to pieces of plastic is becoming quaint, as these items occupy valuable shelf space in smaller homes. We are watching more content in smaller devices that do not have any sort of optical media connection, so streaming and digital copies become the logical and viable solutions for those interested in storing space. Just look at what has happened with Netflix’s stock in recent years, and you will begin to see where the money in entertainment is going (source):
The future is digital. That is where the sales are going. Continuously blaming piracy will no longer work.