a recent congressional hearing on H.R. 3261 “Stop Online Piracy Act”,
Representative Conyers stated, “25% of Internet traffic is copyright
infringement.” This dramatic figure is meant to justify SOPA as the solution to
ending online piracy. But before we take this figure at face value, much less
decide if SOPA is the right solution, it’s important to know where this number
of all, quantifying the amount of infringing content on the Internet is a
difficult task. According to a 2010 GAO report, data on illicit
activities such as counterfeiting and piracy is difficult to obtain for both
governments and industries. The estimate that 25% of the Internet is
copyrighted content most likely came from a report commissioned by NBC
Universal prepared by Envisional, a “brand protection” company.
Envisional report estimates that 23.76% of global Internet traffic is copyright
infringement. Envisional arrived at these figures by first analyzing four
studies released by network monitoring companies. Those four network reports
estimate what the Internet is being used for as a whole, with nearly a third of
all traffic consisting of web browsing (visits to sites such as Google, Yahoo
and Facebook). Another third consists of video streaming, followed by
BitTorrent at roughly 18%, with cyber locker sites, gaming and non-BitTorrent peer-to
peer sites sharing the final 22%.
next step was to estimate the amount of infringing content found within the
following categories: BitTorrent, cyberlocker sites, video streaming sites, and
Usenet. For example, in order to estimate how much of BitTorrent traffic was
considered infringing, Envisional sampled PublicBT, the largest tracker in the
world. Envisional gathered data on PublicBT by selecting the 10,000 most
popular shared files (out of 2.7 million) over the course of a day. From this
one-day sample, they concluded that 63.7% of content managed by PublicBT was
copyright infringement. A similar sort of analysis led them to find that 98.8% of
files on eDonkey and 94.2% on Gnutella were infringing. For selected cyberlocker
sites like Rapidshare, Envisional looked for publicly available links into
cyberlockers and found that 73.15% of those shared links were infringing. The
study also estimated that 4.7% of streaming data on select sites such as ThePirateBay
and Isohunt was infringing.
final step in Envsional’s method was to apply its estimated proportions of
infringement to the estimates of Internet usage, and voila: they concluded that 23.76%
of the Internet consists of infringing content. The breakdown of this figure
concludes that roughly 11.4% of infringement on the Internet occurs via
BitTorrent, 5.8% via other peer-to-peer networks, 5.1% via cyberlocker sites,
and just 1.4% via video streaming. Moving past the shortcomings of this
methodology (like the small sample size, or the fact that a majority of files shared
within cyberlocker sites are not public), readers have to ask: Is SOPA a good
solution for this problem?
what do these numbers mean for SOPA? After all, they’re being pushed to support
passage of the bill. The study seems to indicate that the biggest component
of online infringement is based on peer-to-peer networks, while SOPA supporters
are continually raising the examples of streaming sites and websites. After
all, several measures are already in effect to target peer-to-peer file
sharing, like the “Copyright Alert System” that the content industry rolled out
to great fanfare earlier this year. One of the main
targets however would be video streaming, which according to Envisional is
responsible for just 1.4% of copyright infringement online. To put this figure
into perspective, the most recent Sandvine estimates place legal video
streaming via Netflix at 23.3% of all Internet traffic. Is it really worth all
of the risks to the Internet to target infringement
that makes up less than 2% of Internet traffic? Congress would essentially be
using a sledgehammer to kill a fly with SOPA.
damage would spread to many unintentional targets. Websites such as Google,
Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit, all of which have expressed
opposition to SOPA, run the risk of being starved of funds and later shut down.
Congress would be risking these businesses and the integrity of the Internet,
with little effect on actual piracy rates.
would? One recent study points to the answer: collapsing
release windows and offering affordable legal online alternatives to
infringement. Netflix actually pulls people (23% of all Internet traffic!) away
from seeking illegal content by providing a viable alternative, and it makes
money for artists and for itself while doing so.
majority of the Internet is comprised of lawful use of content. It is important
to accept that Internet piracy will never be completely eliminated. Congress
can do better than accepting the first over-reaching solution that is sold to
them by industry and the statistics that come with it.