back to article Download data versus piracy claims: the figures don’t add up

First, a declaration of interest. Before I joined El Reg, I was working on an analyst project (PDF/721 KB) with Sydney company Market Clarity led by long-time friend Shara Evans. This project yielded a couple of data points that are relevant to claims about internet piracy in this country. The first is that while most …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Well we did send all those crims to Australia for a reason...

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  2. Craig Foster

    It's not ministerial staff..

    It's Senator Conjob.

    That complete tool is more than willing to make a dictatorial decision and damn the consequences. He's more than willing to be a patsy for the factions who receive and appropriate "donations". He's more than willing to silence opposition to his plans.

    The right person for the job is Kate Lundy, she has no factions backing her for Cabinet selection.

    While AFACT (ASTRONGLYHELDBELIEF doesn't have the same ring to it) was battling an ISP that refused to do the leg work for them, and in fact pushed the studios to follow the right procedure in asking for law enforcement help, Conroy stood on the sidelines and refused to even have an opinion.

    The man's a waste of public space, and I bet AFUKT it heavily advising him at the moment...

  3. OrsonX
    Big Brother

    Illegal Downloads Do Not....

    .... equate to lost sales.

    When will the content providers/government realise this?!

    Consider the lates blockbuster movie, eg, Saw33D. My viewing options are:

    A) torrent it

    B) buy/rent DVD

    C) wait for it to be on Film4 (about 3 weeks later)

    If option A is taken away from me then I am perfectly happy with option C.

    1. There's a bee in my bot net

      You forgot D)

      D) Don't bother watching it cause Jigsaw is dead and they are just doing it to wring the last few million pounds out of a lame franchise and also 3D gives me a headache...

    2. John G Imrie

      Illegal Coppying made a sale

      When I was young, the average price of a game for my ZX Spectrum was £5. When the Adventure game The Hobbit was released it cost £20.

      Well I couldn't afford that and neither could my friends. So 4 of us clubbed together to pay for it and made 3 illegal copies.

      If we hadn't made those copies none of us would have bought the game and the publishing house would have lost the sale.

    3. Anonymous Coward


      And I'm sure legions of broke students use the same argument.

      However, it reduces the amount Film4 are willing to pay, if no-one watches because it's been torrented to hell. That's lost sales. Both options (B) and (C) suffer if (A) is an option. This is surely blindingly obvious.

      The industry is acting in a purely self-interested way and exaggerating their claims, but so are you guys, so it's pretty much six of one and half a dozen of the other.

      However, the a priori moral wrongdoing is not coming from the studios (although they may act questionably after the fact).

  4. Mage Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    Great Article

    The ISPs, Government s everywhere need to ignore these guys. Yes there is some significant downloading of Copyright Material. But the response needs to be appropriate and proportional and not penalise the innocent majority.

    Wide Spread monitoring would add cost and drive the minority that do real piracy to use BluRay disks in post or encrypted vpns. It would catch very very few real pirates and substantially add to cost.

    Rights holders need to pursue real commercial pirates and also make content available to buy, universally in all markets at same time and price.

    A warrant should be needed to monitor someone's Internet connection, just like phone or mail.

  5. Phil Bennett

    Mobile broadband, Oz-style

    " the average mobile user’s download throughput was far less than the fixed user: around 2.5 GB per customer, per month."

    An *average* mobile user managed to download 2.5GB a month? Wow, I wish we had that in the UK. The outliers must be astonishing. Try finding a UK plan over 500 Mb that isn't 3 (their service is, charitably, awful).

    1. chr0m4t1c


      Are you confusing mobile broadband with phone data allowances?

      I've just had a quick look at Orange and O2; Orange offer 1G/month plans and O2 offer 2Gb/month plans - both of them also allow you to add data to those plans for the small cost of one extra limb.

      That said, my experience of mobile broadband in this country does suggest that you would have difficulty transferring 2.5Gb/month in most places, even if you were trying.

    2. Gulfie

      UK Plan over 500Mb...

      My Vodafone business account I signed up for last August. For £30 + vat a month I got an up-to-the-minute Android phone (with tethering/hotspot enabled) for £0, unlimited landline calls, 12 hours mobile calls, and unlimited (yes, I said unlimited) data every month. Oh and 250 texts but I don't do much of that.

      Carefully reading the contract I could find no fair usage policy or a call-out to 'other terms and conditions'. I understand from others with a similar package that Vodafone don't take an interest in you until you regularly exceed 8Gb a month...

      Now you won't get that by just going in and expecting it to be handed to you, but if you want a business account you can tell them how important having data is and that the standard amount is too low, maybe I should talk to O2 or 3... worked like a dream for me.

  6. Eddy Ito

    Simple math

    According to theGOOG here: the average web page is 312KB. Adding the averages of 185KB for images, 66KB for scripts and 27 KB for stylesheets gives a total download size of 590KB per page. Assuming an average of 6.5GB per month give a basic estimate of about 11000 pages per month or about 366 pages per day. This might seem like a lot even when split among the users on a single line but add in the likes of the Facebook Farm Mafia and what do you get? I'm fairly certain Google doesn't have its spiders playing games of Facebook or anywhere else, but I could be wrong.

    1. Woodgar

      Re:Simple math

      Good point, but a lot of that data is likely to be cached locally, which would bring down your estimates by a fair bit.

      Still, it would be useful to see the stats for someone who does nothing more than heavy surfing.

  7. Gannon (J.) Dick

    The patient pirates of Oz

    I know the author is trying to be fair, but seriously, the 'replay' button is there for a reason.

  8. Oddlegs

    Flawed logic

    While I don't doubt that the industry is massively inflating the number of pirates out there your logic that only people who transfer large amounts of data can be pirates is equally flawed. Not all pirates will be downloading the entire internet each month. Infact I suspect the majority download a handful of mp3's rather than GB's of data. This could easily be as little as 20MB, something it's quite possible to do on the most basic of internet packages.

    1. Captain Underpants


      I take your point, but when the content industry insists that all unlawful downloads are directly equatable to lost sales, the logical drive is thus to focus on targeting those who are consuming the most without paying for it.

      I mean, if we're going to talk about flawed logic, the more worrying examples are the "all unlawful downloads=lost sales" and "high download volume = high unlicensed download volume" ones, since they don't take into account factors like material not available for sale (things like content being out of print, not released on your local region optical media, or being a limited edition that can only be found at stupid prices in secondary markets that don't benefit the publishers anyway) or legitimate high-consumption download services (Steam, iPlayer/4OD/FiveTVPlayer/ITVPlayer streaming, Youtube, emusic subscriptions, ad-hoc Amazon download purchases, and so on).

      The thing about pirates who download a handful of mp3s is that, at this point, it's a pricing issue. If it's affordably available from Amazon or iTunes or whoever, it's more hassle (ie only an incentive for the truly skint) to pirate (and wait for it to be seeded/uploaded, and hope the quality's not shite, and that you're not actually getting Mongolian dogporn instead of the latest album by Whoever And The Bad Examples) than it is to throw a few quid at one of the legitimate retailers and buy the damn thing. And, well, if someone's truly skint you're not getting money out of them anyway. At which point there's no real benefit of haranguing them to the courts and back over pirating a half a dozen mp3s, because all you'll do that way is guarantee they never give you any money in future...

  9. Zephyrus Spacebat

    Australians don't pirate because of download allowances

    We pirate because our games are so insanely expensive!

    (Australian Game Price = American Game Price * 1.5 (The Aussie Tax) * 1.1 (GST))

  10. url
    Paris Hilton

    i think the real problem with the claim

    is that you can actually download anything in .au at all.

    each and every internet denizen from .au has always claimed to have an utterly utterly rubbish connection.

    so yeah, anecdotal evidence collated over 15+ years suggests piracy in australia is no where near as good as it is anywhere else. reckon I'd find more supporters of my claim than any industry sponsored report, no issue.

    sack up guys, get some proper pipes please.

    (paris knows a decent pipe when she sees one)

  11. Jim 59


    Home Taping is Killing Music

    1. Naughtyhorse

      that old chesnut

      To put it another way, and the MU used to:

      home taping is skill in music

      twas bollocks then and still is today.

      When i was a lad, and under the misconception that pimply faced tossers with extravagant hair had something to say that was worth listening to. I and 1000's and 1000's of equally pimply faced tossers like me used to dilligently listen to the top 40 every sunday and tape the living daylights out of it.

      piracy on a massive scale.

      difference is that that was much harder to count than downloads. (or guestimate)

      the music biz today is still awash with cash (it's target audience have disposable income, no finacial commitments and poor judgement, same as always)

      the changes to the business model will ultimately squeeze the hell out of the business side and ultimately content providers will come out on top.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    off-line pirates?

    I think some of the "pirates" copy their music by ripping other peoples CD's or using USB keys. It is still possible to transfer data without using the internet.

    1. PerfectBlue

      USB Keys?

      Who uses a USB key these days?

      They simply plug their iPod Touch into somebody else's computer and transfer 100gig of music from one PC to another throught a "backup' program.

      1. Bob. Hitchen

        There are numnuts everywhere

        Anybody that wants 100G of music should really be in an asylum forthere own protection.Wirelee

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Facts Vs Old School Businesses & Terrible Laws

    The false piracy claims/imaginary damage/IP abuse etc etc can be bounced back an forth until they lobby enough to have our thoughts filtered. What I wanna know is if Chigwin has met Orlowski. I know who I'd be jumping in for.

    Yours sincerely,

    Freetard, software developer, embarrassed by pretty much all governments, disgusted by content industry.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      False and false

      Of course lobby groups exaggerate the figures. I've written many times that two thirds of people (in the UK) don't download unlicensed material at all. The "we are all Pirates" claim is empirically false. But it isn't one being made here - it's merely an analogy.

      The contention that piracy hurts legitimate markets is not falsified by this. (There is plenty of research on this - Google for "substitution ratios".)

      Nor is the contention that creating new legitimate paying markets (that grow the industry, like DVDs did for movies) made much harder when they have to compete with freetards falsified, either.

      If you're suggesting that piracy is a victimless crime, the data shows otherwise. It harms small bands, small publishers, small labels. You may _wish_ it to be otherwise, but that's neither here nor there.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A good point well made

        "If you're suggesting that piracy is a victimless crime, the data shows otherwise. It harms small bands, small publishers, small labels. You may _wish_ it to be otherwise, but that's neither here nor there."

        I know plenty of freetards who claim that they only download material from big corporations, big bands, big publishers, etc. and they support the little guy financially. However I've found that most of them are talking out of their hole and actually download anything that takes their fancy.

        Just like the people who claim that they always buy the stuff they download and like and delete anything they don't. Any reasonable person knows that's a crock. How many movies have you enjoyed on one viewing, but not enough to go out and buy the damn thing on DVD or Bluray or whatever?

        I'm not saying I've never downloaded anything "illegally". I will admit to having downloaded stuff I already own on vinyl. I will also admit to having downloaded stuff that I already bought, but has been lost or damaged. And finally to having downloaded stuff that I simply couldn't find anywhere to buy. And I know that all those actions are technically illegal, but I like to think they are morally acceptable. I'm sure there are those who would disagree.

        Back in the day everybody used to tape albums. Although there was the whole "home taping is killing music" campaign it wasn't demonised te way it is today. It all got demonised when pirate video became big business* and organized crime gangs got involved. So these days the industry like to tar all downloaders with the same brush. If you take the view that pirate DVDs fund people trafficking and drug smuggling then illegal downloading can only be seen as a good thing. Who's going to buy a pirate DVD when they can download it from the interwebs for free?

        * And I do wish Lynn Folding Wood or whatever her name is would shut up about pirate DVDs funding the drug trade. If the drug trade needed funding that would mean it was running at a loss. If it was running at a loss it wouldn't exist.

  14. Crellin


    The other possibility is they took a small sampling set deliberately from a section of population thats statistically more likely to be pirates, high school pupils for example. And then upscaled the results to form a "statistic" (I place it in quotation marks because any "statistician" doing that deserves to be beaten to death.......... with probability distribution tables). I don't know if they've done this, haven't seen an indepth breakdown of the analysis and the data that generated it.

    Although, to be honest it looks like another attempt by the industry to prop up a lame business model, and a stubborn refusal to kill the business model. Seriously, whats the problem with trying to create Streaming services, like many UK channels have done. Has no-one in Australia/USA worked out that if you give the people a legitimate way to watch the programs/listen to the music, that it stands a good chance that they will? Or that you can do whats know in broadcasting as "advertisements" to raise funds to do such a system/make money?

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Once you look at the numbers like that

    The industry claims look like *total* BS

    Of course most of the decision makers are probably not smart enough to use a VPN from home.

    Thumbs up for a short, smart explanation and refutation, *not* for the situation.

  16. Denarius Silver badge
    Big Brother

    once I had broadband

    used to have a mostly tolerable broadband plan once.

    Every 6 months I hit the 20 GB day limit and most of offpeak limit when a new distro was released or Sun put out an update.

    So these suited petty thieves then assess users like me as pirates simply for saying current in work skills ?

    Back to the late middle ages in attitudes as the dregs of western culture abandon reason, democracy and adulthood.

    I can see it now, a piece of dead tree required to download more than 20 Mb a week, to be applied for from ACMA and delivered to the local cop shop for the network unlock pass-key, valid for 2 whole days on port 21

  17. Euchrid
    Thumb Up

    Good read

    I have absolutely nothing to add to the debate - just wanted to give the thumbs-up to a very interesting article.

  18. Graham Marsden

    "it either equals or slightly exceeds...

    "... the number of household fixed broadband connections"

    Well obviously some of them are downloading films, music, games etc *TWICE*!!!

  19. PerfectBlue

    Blah, Blah, Blah

    The key here is to look at the way that the content industry calculates their figures for piracy. They don’t simply ask people about their downloading habits, they apply a series of “modifications” to the answer that people give them, and then present that as their final figure.

    A year or so back a British computer magazine did an editorial about a recent (for the time, that is) survey that claimed that piracy was rife in the UK. The found that the company took data from a small number of people, decided without actual evidence that a significant percentage of the people who said that they didn’t pirate were lying, and changed their answers, then extrapolated this across the entire internet using population of the UK. Along the way they turned a handful of people who admitted pirating stuff into millions of people.

    Basically for every 12 year old son admitted that one time they downloaded a single music track, they determined that there must be a couple of dozen 90 year old grandmothers who downloaded Call of Duty 1 to X.

    Seriously, they "extrapollated" the data so far that it became meaningless.

    There was also a report done a while back on pirated iPhone apps. When the report was analyzed, and the number of pirated apps was compared to the number of people who'd actualy jail broken their phones so that they actually could use a pirated app, it turned out that the average iphone app pirate must have something like 1 million apps on their handset.

  20. Alan Twelve

    Thought experiment, of something...

    So let's imagine that the content industry's figures are correct and the majority of us broadband users are breaking IP laws. Is it maybe time to consider that the laws themselves are the problem, and not the downloading? Perhaps, rather than increasing the scope and enforcement of current IP laws, we need to do away with them altogether for non-commercial copying, and stop attempting to criminalise the majority of the online population?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I totally agree

      Your point is most interesting and I subscribe to it 100%.

      If I were a politician and content creators came to tell me that 100% of the population are pirating stuff, then the obvious thing - WHAT THE PUBLIC WANTS - is to legalize piracy.

      And I would do it in an instant - well, right after having had a proper, earth-shattering public announcement drawn up.

      Man, I would love to be in THAT press conference !

      1. Darryl

        No, you wouldn't

        If you were a politician, you'd do exactly what the content creators told you to do after they handed over that large 'campaign contribution" cheque.

        That's what being a politician is all about.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The public gets what the public wants?

        The public want all sorts of things. They want zero taxes. They want high quality free public services. They want all sorts fo things to be legalized. The public at large want a hell of a lot. And they get none of it.

        There's a simple reason for this: it's not up to the public to decide in any nation on earth. Never will be either. There are those around who are niaive enough to believe that systems like a parliamentary democracy somehow mean that the public do get to decide, but they are wrong. A parliamentary democracy means the public get to choose who rules them, nothing more or less.

  21. Glenn Charles

    and, well, dangit

    I have Aussie friends who play RoM too. Not that that places heavy traffic on my connection or anything...

  22. Anonymous Coward

    The quick fix

    Copyrights & patents, both government issued monopolies.

    The fix, stop issuing monopolies, the problem goes away.

    Now for the more difficult problem, getting the politician to do what the voter wants rather than what the lobbyist wants.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE Average users vs. Pirates

    I know there are different ways of determining the average for a data set, however it is reasonable to expect that given a sample size of over 4 million the different methods are likely to deliver results which are fairly close.

    That said, in pretty much any normally distributed type system where you define an average roughly half the samples will be below the average and roughly half above.

    If you then eliminate the samples that are well above the average you don't reduce the percentage of samples above / below the average, you just reduce the average.

    eg: monthly download values of:

    1, 1, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7 = average of 41/10 = 4.1 ==> 5/10 above average = 50%

    Remove two bad boys and you get average of 27/8 = 3.375 ==> 4/8 above average = 50%

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