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Did the EU Commission hide a study that did not suit their agenda?

By EDRi · September 20, 2017

In 2013, the European Commission announced a launch of a study on copyright – and never published its results. Julia Reda, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), tabled a freedom of information request on this issue and was eventually granted access to the study.

Even though the independent study was finalised in 2015 and financed by public funds, the European Commission failed to publish the research. A possible reason for this behaviour might be that the key results do not seem to serve the initial purpose of the study – to justify the plans of introducing stricter copyright legislation as part of the reform launched by EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

The study’s main focus was how online piracy affects the sales of copyrighted content in four different industries: music, films, books and games. Between September and October 2013, a representative survey was conducted with approximately 30 000 people from six EU Member States (Germany, France, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and UK).

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One of the main conclusions of the study states that there is no robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online piracy. This means that the study could not prove any negative consequences of piracy on the sales of copyrighted content. In fact, the study even found a slight positive trend in the gaming industry, implicating that the unauthorised playing of games eventually leads to paying for games.

The only partial exception to this is the film industry, where the consumption of ten pirated movies leads to four fewer cinema visits and thereby to a loss of five percent of current sales volume. This might be due to the higher price policy for films in comparison to the music, books and games industry.

Interestingly, these results concerning the film industry found their way to a publication of an academic paper by Benedikt Hertz and Kamil Kiljański, both members of the chief economist team of the European Commission. Yet the other unpublished results, showing no negative impact of piracy in the music, book and games industry, were not mentioned in the paper. Beyond that, the original study itself is not referred to either.

This seems to substantiate suspicion that the European Commission was hiding the study on purpose and cherry-picked the results they wanted to publish, by chosing only the results which supported their political agenda towards stricter copyright rules.

We understand that the Commission says that it is a complete coincidence that its decision to publish the study, a year and a half after it was finished, happens to coincide with Ms Reda’s freedom of information request. If this is the case, it would be a pity : Having experienced delays, obstruction and obfuscation from the European Commission in response to freedom of information requests, we thought that this time, it had at least acted in an appropriate, honest and timely manner this time, in response to Ms Reda’s request.

Estimating displacement rates of copyrighted content in the EU

Access to documents request: Estimating displacement rates of copyrighted content in the EU (27.07.2017)

Estimating displacement rates of copyrighted content in the EU, Final Report

Movie Piracy and Displaced Sales in Europe: Evidence from Six Countries

Copyright reform: Document pool

(Contribution by Maren Schmid, EDRi intern)