Three Strikes Law Does Nothing to Curb Piracy, Research Finds

Several countries including the US and France have implemented so-called “strikes” systems to warn and punish P2P file-sharers. The goal of these programs is to reduce piracy, but do they have any effect on people’s downloading habits? New findings published by U.S. and French researchers show that these anti-piracy measures don't stop or even reduce piracy.

pirate-runningIn recent years many initiatives to curb online piracy have emerged and in several countries so-called “graduated response” schemes have been implemented.

In France, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea strikes schemes are baked into law, a similar policy is in place in Ireland, and last year the United States rolled out its voluntary “alert” system commonly known as six-strikes.

The goal of these policies is to track down copyright infringers and warn them that their behavior is not acceptable. After repeat warnings, these accused file-sharers then face a penalty ranging from a fine to prolonged Internet disconnection.

But are these programs the anti-piracy silver bullet copyright holders believe them to be? A new paper published by researchers from the U.S. and France suggests they’re not.

Based on a large survey among 2,000 French Internet users, the study finds that the local three strikes law didn’t stop or even reduce piracy.

“Consistent with theoretical predictions, our econometric results indicate that the Hadopi law has not deterred individuals from engaging in digital piracy and that it did not reduce the intensity of illegal activity of those who did engage in piracy,” the researchers write in their paper.

“While several factors affect the perceived probability of detection under the law, our results show that the propensity to engage in illegal file-sharing is independent of these beliefs,” they add.

In other words, threatening to punish people for online piracy does nothing to reduce copyright infringement. A result that’s independent of people’s perceived chance of getting caught.

One weakness of the “strikes” systems is that they only cover P2P file-sharing, and not any of the alternative ways people use to download pirated material. This leaves the option open for Internet users to switch to these unmonitored services, but the researchers don’t find any evidence that this is happening across the board.

The results do suggest that those who have more pirates in their social networks switch to alternatives, such as direct download sites and newsgroups.

“There is evidence that the law encourages Internet users who better understand the law and alternative piracy channels (those with many digital pirates in their social network) to substitute away from the monitored P2P channel and to obtain content through unmonitored illegal channels,” the researchers write.

Overall the searchers conclude that the three-strikes law failed to curb piracy, suggesting that similar initiatives such as the U.S. six-strikes scheme are not very effective either.

Previously the French government sanctioned a panel to investigate the effectiveness of their three strikes law. This panel concluded that the law had failed to benefit authorized services as promised. It also recommended that the ultimate sanction of Internet disconnections for infringers should be dumped, which happened soon after.

While disconnections are now off the table, the graduated response scheme lives on in France for now. But according to this new research, it is unlikely to achieve much in the fight against piracy.

Update: We initially linked to the wrong paper, the article was updated with the right link.

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