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Chris Ruen has a book to promote. That promotion is best done through rabble-rousing headlines and inflammatory articles. And since that book is Freeloading: How our insatiable appetite for free content is starving creativity, naturally it’s going to be about the deadly dangers of piracy. And the New Statesman has kindly given him a platform, under the banner headline “Fifteen years of utter bollocks’: how a generation’s freeloading has starved creativity.”

The article starts off on slightly dodgy grounds anyway, because how many people are actually out there making arguments for digital piracy as the lead-in claims? Some of the more extreme Pirate Bay proponents, perhaps, but not that many, even here on TeleRead. Personally, for instance, I am for enforceable copyright (with reasonable terms). I am broadly against piracy. I think that ferociously draconian DRM may be the wrong way to tackle it, but I’m also comfortable with limited, user-friendly DRM.

My real issue with all this is not some anarchistic view that Content Wants To Be Free. It’s simply that, contrary to Ruen’s title, creativity is not being starved. Creativity appears to be earning media groups more money than ever before. And the anti-piracy crusade is serving their interests. Fine, maybe they’re entitled. But the UK Society of Authors and Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society both make very clear that traditional publishing contracts are penalizing authors – while publishers continue to make money hand over fist. And this isn’t just about books. Actual directors in the film business are making arguments, from the data, that piracy actually helps films. I won’t go that far, but certain filmmakers are very happy to. Hollywood director Lexi Alexander notes that: “piracy has NOT been proven to hurt box-office numbers, on the contrary, several studies say it may have boosted the bottom line.”

If the media groups aren’t losing money and sales, then overall there is no piracy problem, merely a sometimes unpleasant inconvenience. I mean, where else is piracy supposed to show its impact other than in actual sales figures? “The great majority of artists and musicians actually needed their legal rights enforced under copyright just to have the chance to break even,” claims Ruen. Well, as it happens, the numbers say the opposite.

The real question for any writer or reader, and anyone who genuinely cares about creativity, is why those bigger numbers aren’t filtering down to the actual content creators themselves. And the whole piracy debate is a diversion to that.

So, conclusion? If a book gets the fundamental premise in its title so wrong, how can the rest of it not be utter bollocks?

 
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