September last year saw the passing of France’s controversial three-strikes ‘Hadopi’ law which allows the music industry to track down repeated copyright infringers with the ultimate goal of decreasing the country’s piracy rate.
Under the new law alleged copyright infringers will be reported to a judge once they have received three warnings. The judge will then review the case and hand down any one of a range of penalties, from fines through to severing the Internet connection of the infringer.
Proponents of the new law claimed that the law would convince millions of people to stop downloading copyrighted content through file-sharing networks. Most critics, however, doubted the effectiveness of the system and pointed out that there are many ways to circumvent the law.
A new study published by the University of Rennes shows that the critics are indeed right. The researchers looked into the habits of downloaders before and after the law was implemented. They found that instead of reducing piracy levels, the piracy rate actually went up by 3%.
This increase in piracy shows that the French are not changing their downloading habits much, despite the tougher legislation. There is, however, an interesting shift in the sources people use to download copyrighted movies and music. At an increasing rate the French are using streaming services along with file-hosting ‘cyberlockers’ such as Rapidshare and Megaupload.
These services are not covered by the Hadopi law and therefore ‘safe’ to use. Conversely, usage of P2P services such as BitTorrent dropped from 17.1 percent to 14.6 percent between September and December last year. Overall the research seems to suggest that the looming disconnection threat has changed how and where people get pirated content, while the piracy rate itself increased.
Another remarkable statistic uncovered by the researchers is that half of all P2P users who download copyrighted content also buy digital content online. This means that if these users were disconnected from the Internet under the new law, the music industry would lose customers and thus revenue.
The overall message put forward by the research seems to be that it is hard to deter people from copyright infringement when there are plenty of alternatives to bypass the legislation. This does not only hold for the French case but can also be applied to the UK and other countries where tougher anti-piracy laws are implemented.
The answer to the increasing piracy rates worldwide is not legislation. Instead, the entertainment industry may accomplish much more by innovating and expanding their online business so that it meets the demands of today’s digital consumers.