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Should Congress Be Afraid of Online Piracy?

November 4, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

One of the only things Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem to agree on these days is passing legislation aimed at stopping copyright infringement on the internet. For years, members of Congress from across the political spectrum with financial backing from copyright industries have been pushing for new powers for the government and copyright owners to restrict channels for sharing content online. Just last week a bipartisan bill was introduced in the House, the Stop Online Piracy Act, that would criminalize a lot of really standard YouTube behavior and allow copyright holders to block access to websites without a court order. By all accounts, the bill is going to be fast-tracked through Congress in the coming weeks.

But is copyright infringement on the internet even a real problem? Nate Anderson at ArsTechnica looks at a report from the International Intellectual Property Alliace, in which they argue that "piracy inhibits …growth in the U.S. and around the world, and finds that the data shows an industry that is thriving.

Since 2007, businesses based on copyright have been growing faster than the economy as a whole by a full percentage point. What’s more, the “core” copyright industries (sound recording, movies, TV, software, publishing) are thriving, shedding fewer jobs than the economy as a whole and earning record profits overseas, where piracy is even more rampant.

“Inhibits growth” doesn’t quite equal “causes staggering job losses,” the traditional anti-piracy rallying cry. Indeed, copyright industries are being “hard hit” by piracy in the way that plenty of other US industries are desperate to get “hit.” (In this sense, the report is bit like the MPAA’s routine announcements of record-setting box office revenues even as the movie studios conjure visions of apocalypse.)

During the recession of the last few years, the report shows that copyright-based businesses have far exceeded the US economy as a whole.

In addition, pay in these industries is between 15 and 27 percent higher than the US average, depending on just how broadly you define “copyright industries.”

As for foreign countries, those havens of piratical behavior, revenue is increasing rather than decreasing as the Internet takes hold. “Core copyright” companies made $128 billion in foreign markets in 2007; emerging from a recession in 2010, those same companies made $134 billion.

What about the specter of massive job losses? They aren’t happening. The copyright industries have shed a few jobs, but employment has held largely stable through the recession as other industries cut positions and US unemployment surged to 9+ percent.

Of course, members of Congress don’t have time to actually look at the numbers. They’re too busy fundraising, so they’ve outsourced that job lobbyists, who

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