The Swiss government commissioned a study on the impact of copyright-infringing downloading. The independent study concluded that downloaders use the money they spend to buy more legitimate entertainment products. So they’ve concluded to maintain Switzerland’s extant copyright law, which makes downloading for personal use legal. It’s a rare victory for evidence-based policy in a world dominated by shrill assertions of lost jobs and revenue, backed by funny-number “statistics” from industry-commissioned researchers.

The report states that around a third of Swiss citizens over 15 years old download pirated music, movies and games from the Internet. However, these people don’t spend less money as a result because the budgets they reserve for entertainment are fairly constant. This means that downloading is mostly complementary.

The other side of piracy, based on the Dutch study, is that downloaders are reported to be more frequent visitors to concerts, and game downloaders actually bought more games than those who didn’t. And in the music industry, lesser-know bands profit most from the sampling effect of file-sharing.

The Swiss report then goes on to review several of the repressive anti-piracy laws and regulations that have been implemented in other countries recently, such as the three-strikes Hadopi law in France. According to the report 12 million was spent on Hadopi in France this year, a figure the Swiss deem too high.

The report further states that it is questionable whether a three-strikes law would be legal in the first place, as the UN’s Human Rights Council labeled Internet access a human right. The Council specifically argued that Hadopi is a disproportionate law that should be repealed.


(Via Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing, under a Creative Commons license.)


  1. @Steven Lyle Jordan: Not always, some people download a book and then, if they liked it, buy it. I do that and have friends that do the same. And free ebooks make books available in markets where they would not be otherwise. In my case, I live outside the US and can only find some books if there’s a translation, so the book has to be popular to begin with.

    One other factor is the ebooks pricing. I refuse to pay the same price of a paperback for an ebook, and most of the time I would not be really buying it but renting it, thanks to the DRM.

  2. @Steven

    Maybe they download your book, like it. Tell a friend or their twitter stream – few of those then buy your book.

    Witness the Baen Free CD sets – I first discovered those and since then have spent $100s with Baen Books.

  3. I think the point is kind of that they are NOT illegally downloading it. Seeing as it’s the government that grants the copyright in the first place. They can say it’s not covered if they want to. It looks like commercial sites would still have a problem and I’m not sure, but uploading it may still be illegal. And no, just because one side of a transaction is illegal doesn’t mean the other side has to be.

  4. I think the American perspective is generally that it is your work, you have control over it. If an author wishes to restrict unauthorized copies of his, then they should be free to do so (whether it is in their best interests or not).

    If making free copies available helps sales, then smart authors (or publishers) will release their content for free.

    Of course, Americans also feel entitled to making purchases on their own terms. Unfortunately, books are not viewed as interchangeable items and people are not willing to wait for publishers and authors to be dragged into the future.

    @Resh, you touch on the other points people contend with (availability for purchase and use being big ones). However, pricing is not a great reason to infringe copyright. I understand the frustration (it is really aggravating when I have to be a few bucks more for an electronic copy than the paper copy), but it isn’t a _good_ reason.

  5. Even in the US you can’t restrict all copies of a work. The US has a mandatory license for song writers and a mandatory license for the visually disabled. An author can NOT stop either of those from being exercised. There’s also fair use. That’s a bit fuzzier, but has been found sometimes to include copying the complete work.

  6. If Sweden decides not to protect copyright, they will find out it is a poor choice. They are signatories to various international copyright agreements where they agree to protect copyright so they will face the wrath of many of the major countries of the world as well as various international courts.

    Their media outlets and translators will have a hard time finding international material because of their refusal to protect copyright.

    If their people decide they’d rather spend their legal money on American or European media instead of Swedish media, Sweden will be cutting its cultural throat.

  7. Sweden and Switzerland are two different countries.

    Also if I understand correctly it is not clear if downloading is illegal in the US or not.

  8. @Marilynn

    First, it’s Switzerland, not Sweden.

    Second, I have not seen proof that publishers are willing to protest an entire market because of a lack of desirable local enforcement laws. I’d love to see evidence that publishers are willing to turn down money because of a perception that they should be making even more.

    Third, there is a difference between respecting copyrights and enforcing copyrights. I have not read the treaties, so I can’t really comment on what is required, but a government choosing not to spend its money on active enforcement of a law (see enforcement of dog licensing as one example).

    Finally, the summary (I didn’t bother trying to translate) merely states that it isn’t worth the time and money of the government to expand the existing laws. In other words, this reports states that things will merely continue on as they have (a generally safe approach).

  9. I was in a hurry and mistyped. So sue me.

    If you think media and other governments don’t pay attention when a country doesn’t honor its agreement to protect copyright, you should do some research about China’s, among other countries, who are being forced to clean up their acts about enforcing copyright if they want to continue to do business with the West.

    And, yes, the worst hit industries like the movie industry have been refusing to do business in these countries.

    The publishing industry certainly has been leery of doing business in these countries.

    I can’t quote chapter and verse because I don’t have time to chase down the information, but I read the publishing trade press, and I’ve seen instances of this more than once.

    And, what I was saying is that Switzerland may find it has no choice but to spend the money fighting pirates and illegal downloads if it discovers it must honor treaties like the Berne Convention on copyright which it signed.

  10. “the budgets they reserve for entertainment are fairly constant.”

    This is presented as a positive thing. To me, it looks more like “they consume twice as much media but only pay for half of it”.

  11. Switzerland has been a signatory to the Berne convention FAR longer than the US has. (December 5, 1887 vs. March 1, 1989) This isn’t a recent change to their laws, it’s just a decision not to change their current law. I think it’s unlikely to have any affect on who will do business with them.

  12. @Resh & Nicholas: “Some” and “maybe” doesn’t alter the fact that I am not getting paid for my low-cost, no-DRM, internationally-available books.

    If the Swiss want to publicly support illegal activity, as they do in their fascinatingly-amoral banking system, then s***w ’em. I hope Germany invades them, takes all of their money and flushes their crappy chocolate down the nearest drain.

  13. Exactly what conventions are they supposed to break? The Berne convention says:

    “(2) It shall, however, be a matter for legislation in the countries of the Union to prescribe that works in general or any specified categories of works shall not be protected unless they have been fixed in some material form.”

    And I also suppose we would know if this was against the Berne convention since the law is old.

  14. Interesting fact: Berne (as in Berne convention) is the Swiss Capitol.

    If you mix up Switzerland and Sweden you loose quiet a bit of credibility when talking international law.

    copyright situation in Switzerland: it is allowed to download for personal use. It is not allowed to upload copy protected content! So there you have it. Copying for private use was actually allowed in most countries until recently. Of course this was with old analogue cassettes in mind, however, the law was pretty clear on this at least here in central Europe. To cover this, any medium which could be used for copying (cassettes, videos, CDs, hard drives, plain paper) cost more and that money goes to the organisation who represents the interest of the copyright owners. Copyright owners then will get some of this dough, just like that (do not ask me how this is distributed, no clue).

    So, if you choose not to distribute your work here in Switzerland, then you will not get any of that money. However, you still risk that it will be downloaded, legally! The law does not need to adapt for your business model to work, a business model should make money within the boundaries the laws give.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail