The Department of Media and Communications at the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics has just released a policy brief, entitled “Copyright & Creation: A Case for Promoting Inclusive Online Sharing,” which suggests that policy-makers and Big Media are gaining little from their efforts to enforce heavy and restrictive copyright rules. Online piracy, in fact, could bring more benefit than harm to the creative sector.

“Evidence does not support claims about overall revenue reduction due to individual copyright infringement,” claims the brief, in its introduction. “The experiences of other countries that have implemented punitive measures against individual online copyright infringers indicate that the approach does not have the impacts claimed by some in the creative industries.”

The LSE’s brief has been released partly in response to the September 2013 report of the UK House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee, already covered earlier in TeleRead, which strongly advocated very punitive sentences for copyright violation, as well as early and aggressive implementation of the UK’s Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2010, currently likely to be delayed until at least 2015. “The DEA should not be implemented [and the] measures should be reconsidered based on an independent assessment of the social, cultural, and political impact of punitive measures against citizens,and the risk that incentives for innovation and growth will be weakened,” the LSE brief countered.

The LSE researchers based their conclusions on findings from PricewaterhouseCooper’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook series of research reports and many other sources, demonstrating, among other conclusions, that: “the music industry has experienced overall revenue growth in recent times. In 2013, for the first time, UK revenues from online music were higher than revenues from CDs and vinyl combined.” Furthermore, “despite the MotionPicture Association of America’s (MPAA) claim that online piracy is devastating the movie industry, Hollywood achieved record-breaking global box office revenues of $35 billion in 2012 … Similarly, the publishing industry is performing relatively well with a strong capacity for innovation and with a record of revenue stabilisation. In 2013, the global book publishing industry was worth some $102 billion, larger than the film, music or video games industries. Although revenues from print book sales have declined, this has been offset by increases in sales of eBooks and the rate of growth is not declining.”

The LSE study also emphasized “a major problem with the claims and counter-claims about the impact of online copyright infringement by individual users. The large companies and their lobbyists in the creative industries refer to studies that they commission; while opponents cite alternative studies. The opponents have little or no access to the methodologies and assumptions built into the studies commissioned by these large players. Unfortunately, governments have little alternative but to rely on the studies commissioned by those in the creative industries.” In short, the creative industries feed governments the data they select to achieve the result they want.

Conversely, the LSE brief concluded that the best approach is to: “extend citizen online freedoms, civil liberties and privacy rights. Broader ‘fair use/fair dealing’  provisions , proposals for private copying exceptions and aiming copyright enforcement and prosecution at infringing businesses instead of at citizens who share online is likely to have the desired effect of balancing the interests of the creative industries and citizens.”

The brief stopped short of explicitly stating, as some reports imply, that piracy is actually good for creative industries. But it certainly concludes that they aren’t that hurt by it – and that efforts to solve this non-problem are likely to hit everyone far worse.