Playing With Numbers: Why SOPA Still Won’t Solve Internet Piracy
Playing With Numbers: Why SOPA Still Won’t Solve Internet Piracy
Playing With Numbers: Why SOPA Still Won’t Solve Internet Piracy

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    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
    came from.

    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.

    Ultimately, a
    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.