The Dutch Considerati think tank reported earlier this week that there is still widespread downloading in the Netherlands. But for an allegedly 'broad' piece of research, some key parties were missing - Bits of Freedom, for example. Nor did the study consider fundamental questions about the social or economic value of copyright that lasts for more than a century (when once it only lasted for 15 years), probably because those ordering the report did not want that question asked, let alone answered. There was also no mention of the copyright industry aggressively lobbying behind closed doors where laws are hammered out that our European representatives are not even allowed to see, let alone influence.
The entire debate is reduced to a financial accounting exercise for a particular industry. So all is perfectly OK then, as I have nothing to do with it – I don't work in that industry – nor indeed do the vast majority of people. The comments on Webwereld.nl quickly show that almost nobody takes such research seriously.
Now The Pirate Bay is outlawed in the Netherlands - although this ban has yet to be tested in Dutch courts - the copyright industry and its tame lobbyists face a difficult choice: should they take their customers to court or not?
This question is crucial to the survival of the lobby groups. Since the cost of fighting downloading is much higher than income, large entertainment companies constantly need convincing that all these indirect lobby costs will at least produce results in the longer term. Nobody wants to think that the funding of lobby groups is ineffective, even if those organisations claim hundreds of site removals annually.
In recent weeks a number of leaked documents has made it crystal clear how a cluster of companies (hereafter referred to as the "copyright industry") warns off any threat to its commercial interests. The copyright industry consists of all those companies whose business models are based on the most extreme neo-liberal interpretation of copyright. In this interpretation, the ability to make money by endlessly re-selling the same piece of intellectual property is considered more important not only than democratic control over the creation of laws, but also than basic civil rights such as the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
"You cannot compete with free" is a commonly held perception of the music industry in its fight against piracy. Piracy must be tackled with harder and heavier penalties. But is 'free' what the industry is competing with?
Long before the Apple iTunes Music Store came along, angry consumers were already sharing music online. An adolescent in an attic programmed the Napster service (the precursor to services like Kazaa and Limewire) and demonstrated that there was a market which, along with its billions of revenue, was rejected by the industry. For the consumer it was a logical step: content could be bought in the same way the Internet worked, without international shopping hours. Albums that were never released in the Netherlands could be on your hard disk ten minutes later. Films and series that were not released in the Netherlands could still be viewed immediately.