Cover-Up Exposed: EU Keeps Inconvenient Piracy Study Hidden from Public

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 22, 2017
Updated • Mar 7, 2023

A piracy study that the EU commissioned in 2013 has been kept hidden for years, likely because it did not find statistical proven evidence that piracy impacts legitimate purchases.

Estimating displacement rates of copyrighted content in the EU resurfaced only recently, and has been published online so that it is accessible by anyone. You can read the study online on GitHub for instance by following this link.

The study was designed to answer the following two questions:

  1. How do online copyright infringements affect sales of copyrighted content?
  2. How much are online copyright infringers willing to pay for copyrighted

It covered the four creative content types music, audio-visual material, books and games, and interviewed EU citizens from Germany, the UK, Spain, France, Poland and Sweden for that based on social-cultural characteristics as they are as a group representative of the "EU as a whole". About 5000 people were interviewed in each of the selected countries.

legal illegal eu piracy

The researchers found that more than half of EU adults (51%) and almost three fourths of minors (72%) have either "illegally downloaded or streamed any form of creative content". Piracy rates are higher in Poland and Spain.

The result do not show "robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements" however. The only exception is the displacement of recent top films according to the researchers. They estimate that the estimated loss for recent top films is 5% of the current sales volume. For games, the researches found that piracy had a positive effect on game sales.

For games, the estimated effect of illegal online transactions on sales is positive – implying that illegal consumption leads to increased legal consumption. This positive effect of illegal downloads and streams on the sales of games may be explained by the industry being successful in converting illegal users to paying users. Tactics used by the industry include, for example, offering gameplay with extra bonuses or extra levels if consumers pay.

Price is a core reason for this. Participants were asked about their "willingness to pay" for creative content that they accessed illegally. For movies and TV shows, 80% found the current price levels too high whereas the level corresponded to "the willingness to pay" for books, music and games.

The researchers suggest that changes in price levels for films and TV shows could impact the displacement rates.

The EU commission did not publish the study, and referenced it only once in "Movie Piracy and Displaced Sales in Europe: Evidence from Six Countries" published in September 2016. The paper concentrates on the 5% drop in sales for top films only however, and makes no mention of the positive effect on games and that the researchers of the study concluded that there is no robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements.

Now You: What is your opinion on the price level of media currently?

Inconvenient EU piracy study kept hidden for years
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Inconvenient EU piracy study kept hidden for years
A piracy study that the EU commissioned in 2013 has been kept hidden for years, likely because it did not find statistical proven evidence that piracy impacts legitimate purchases.
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  1. Mike said on March 7, 2023 at 5:56 pm

    Funny how nobody equates the way they have made copyright last more than ten times as long as it’s original term with “piracy”.

    And then they went and created a world where I can’t even keep the things I buy.

    That’s why I have zero sympathy, compassion, or respect for any of them.

    It does really make me laugh though; their solution to stop people from downloading stuff for free, was to construct a world where you can’t keep the digital bits you actually paid for! Kind of counter-productive, no? I can tell a whole lot of thought went into that one.

  2. v1adimir said on October 23, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    For 1,000,000 years, TV stations (AND cable) would air one season of a show – and never another. Some (many), even today, don’t label what season & episode is going on…

    Streaming services will have a TV show – and then, suddenly, it would disappear from their library. Other simply say: not available in your region.

    What are we supposed to do, see a fortune-teller?.. Yeah, those days are done. Internet has the power to distribute to millions, but their bottom line is next-quarter growth.

    Sorry, not my concern. =)

  3. Wayfarer said on September 23, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    The definition of piracy may be rightly defined by legislation. But when that legislation is driven by big money and corporate lobbying, people are going to be cynical about it. Are entitled to be cynical about it.

    Whatever is involved in individual piracy, there’s little question in my mind that the overall scale of piracy in society is driven by corporate greed.

    In general, the cheaper the product the less likely it is to be counterfeited or pirated. In the 1980’s the price of VHS movies fell from £70+ to around £10. That didn’t stop piracy 100% – there are always people who begrudge paying for anything – but it decimated that particular sector of the piracy industry.

    Much of the entertainment and publishing industry was for years dominated by high-earning people and processes that simply aren’t needed any more – but they have never given up easily. The inevitable reductions in costs have taken far too long to be passed on to the the customer – and they’re still not enough.

    With too many published digital products, there is simply no basis any longer for many of the prices demanded. So to keep the gravy train running, the industries resort to restrictive practices and licence agreements that exceed the length of a novel. And and if all else fails, to suppressing research and suborning politicians to ‘fix’ the legislation.

    Even police – constantly complaining of low resources – seem able to summon impressive manpower and materiel to mount anti-piracy raids, revealing priorities that the average man in the street certainly doesn’t share.

  4. Stefan said on September 23, 2017 at 4:10 am

    This was reported a few years ago in EU-rope by alternative news sources.

  5. Cameron K. said on September 22, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    The large media corporations, Sony, et al, are spending more money fighting piracy than they’re losing from it. Idiots.

  6. Valrobex said on September 22, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Why am I not surprised that the study was left “unpublished.” Unfortunately, the study did not support the “conventional” wisdom that piracy was a huge problem and costing the entertainment industries a great deal of money as they claimed. Therefore, the study must be wrong, or poorly designed, or “something” because it does not confirm what the entertainment industries say is going on.

    Back in the day I taught statistics & research design at the college level. It is amusing to me to read some of the stupid research articles and publications that get released. It’s equally amusing to stumble upon significant research studies that get “forgotten” because of politics or lack of support for the prevailing conventional wisdom as pointed out by Martin: “likely because it did not find statistical proven evidence that piracy impacts legitimate purchases.”

    Somethings never change… :# )

    It boils down to the old tried and true economic law of Supply & Demand. Should a provider satisfy a significant need in the market place the market will demand it and be willing to pay for it. (And well said by Davy K above.) And there’s no greater example of this than Martin’s Ghacks website. Martin successfully satisfies a crying need in the technology marketplace ( for both Geeks and non-geeks) and we followers, either make a contribution or suspend our ad blockers (or both) in order to support it. Thanks for what you do, Martin.

  7. Jason said on September 22, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    These results are *exactly* what I would have expected. Most people pirate things they would never have bought, whether due to lack of money or inability to justify the price. Companies generally will not lose money in this context. And you can’t say that it’s “theft” because you are not depriving the company of the product that it seeks to sell. (It’s not like selling a finite number of chairs where the loss of one will reduce the number available for sale.)

    Plus: have any of you guys ever pirated something, liked it a lot, and then gone and bought it officially? I’m sure lots of people have done this.

  8. Jason said on September 22, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    These results are *exactly* what I would have expected. Most people pirate things they would never buy anyway, whether due to lack of money or inability to justify the price. Companies generally will not lose money in this context. And you can’t say that it’s “theft” because you are not depriving the company from the product that it seeks to sell. (It’s not like selling a finite number of chairs where the loss of one will reduce the number available for sale.)

    Plus: have any of you guys ever pirated something, liked it a lot, and then gone and bought it officially? I’m sure lots of people have done this.

    1. Clairvaux said on September 22, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      Of course it’s theft. Arguing that the product is virtual is perfectly disingenuous. You’re taking advantage for free of something which is sold for a price. This is the definition of theft.

      Besides, not only you steal it for your own benefit, but the very act of stealing, and the whole piracy chain, make it much easier for the next million people to steal the product, too.

      So you’re not only a thief, but also an accomplice to large-scale robbery. Once the product exists as a pirated copy in the wild, its real value is reduced to zero. So not only your chair argument does not apply, but pirating a virtual product is a much worse offence than stealing a chair : you’re stealing the whole existing stock of chairs, plus all the similar chairs that could be made down the road out of the same design and mold.

      Please note that the poll results don’t apply here. The fact that despite programs being offered on warez sites, some people are still willing to pay for them, does not lessen the crime. If you steal a diamond and nobody wants to buy it on the street, that won’t earn you any leniency from the judge.

      Or let’s make another comparison, for the sake of rhetoric and ruffling some politically correct feathers. Suppose you setup a prostitute, and refuse to pay for sex after the act. I’m not a legal expert on prostitution, but justice would have it that not only you could be indicted for theft, but you could be indicted for rape.

      Good luck trying to use the chair argument in court, and claim that you having intercourse with the lady does not reduce the number of sexual acts she could sell afterwards, or that she did not really work that much to provide satisfaction to you, since all she had to do was lay back and think of England.

      It takes a seriously rotten moral framework to enable the argument that since it’s so easy to steal, and nobody will notice anyway, it’s not really theft. Worse, people usually go one step further, and turn the tables completely : not only they argue that they should be free to steal, but they have the gall to claim that it’s the victim who is morally defective for not giving out the product for free.

      To answer your question, I’ve never pirated anything. Either I’ve bought my books, software, music and movies, or I’ve taken advantage of legally free software, or I’ve listened to the radio. When I can’t afford something, I just defer to the fact that I won’t be able to enjoy it. Especially if it’s something as superfluous as a few minutes of bad music. I cannot swear I would not steal food if my life depended on it, but a game, for heaven’s sake…

      That might come as a surprise to some, but that’s the way men have behaved in civilised societies for thousands of years. I don’t really see why it should be different with the advent of Internet.

      1. Anonymous said on September 25, 2017 at 5:48 pm

        Technically, piracy is not theft.

        Theft is an act of stealing something. This means that the object of theft is taken away from the original owner.

        Piracy is an act of illegally copying/selling/distributing/intercepting (copyrighted) content. This means that the original owner of such content is not taken away anything. He is however (at least partially) deprived of income derived from the pirated content.

        There is also the third term in this context: counterfeiting. This represents the exact imitation of goods for the purpose of cheating (i.e. deliberate misleading of consumers).

        There are many problems which cause piracy and counterfeiting. Some of them are briefly described here:
        1. Limited (legal) availability of content in many (less developed) countries. If someone wants to watch a particular movie or listen to a particular song, he will find it. If there are no legal options, one will obtain illegal ones.
        2. Relatively high prices of legal content in less developed countries due to low purchasing power. Example: software may be 5 times cheaper in poor countries, but if purchasing power is 20 times lower, people still won’t obtain much of it in a lawful manner.
        3. Culture. Eastern nations – especially (former) communist countries – do not perceive the concept of intellectual property the same way as Western nations. They view it de facto more as a public good, even though officially this may not be the case.
        4. Small sales volumes. This is related to low purchasing power and cultural differences. If there are only few legal customers, legal prices of the remaining ones may be even higher. This makes things even worse in the long run in terms of the prevalence of piracy.

        Therefore: theft, piracy, and counterfeiting are all wrong. But companies should set reasonable prices adjusted for purchasing power parity all over the world, without geographical “inequalities”. Also, they should make content available globally, and not set meaningless (virtual) geographical and time restrictions.
        In other words: companies (e.g. cinemas, distributors, corporations, shops) make as much money as there is purchasing power in the economy. If companies set smaller prices, more people will buy / legally obtain their content. If prices remain relatively high, less people will obtain it lawfully. In the end, corporate earnings should be similar in both cases.

        It is true however, that even if companies would manage to lower prices and make their stuff available globally, the problem of culture is still going to persist. I guess there is not much it can be done in this area, as long as poverty among people and communist regimes do not disappear.

        To conclude, things are not black and white.
        More information about this issues can be found in the study “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies”:

  9. someone said on September 22, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    When will the corporations learn to see beyond their blinding greed…

    I would have bought a fraction of the music and merchandise and games and movies that I have bought if it was not for file sharing.
    Same thing with all the travels I did to see my favorite bands in live shows.

  10. DaveyK said on September 22, 2017 at 11:21 am

    For me, one of the things that can make or break a sale is how much the developer/publisher seems to care about the end user when it comes to delivering the experience.

    For example, DVDs and Blu-Rays with half a dozen unskippable logos, anti-piracy warnings, trailers and other such bumpf are far more likely to result in a downloaded copy of the film sitting on my NAS, as I simply get a better experience from the pirated version (click play, up pops the movie).

    When it comes to games, unskippable intro logos, draconian DRM (mainly always-online DRM), broken FOV and the likes are also likely to put me off buying them. Contrast that with games such as the Witcher 3 (available DRM free, skippable logos, FOV slider, the lot), and I’ll gladly whip out my credit card for a legitimate copy.

    In short, publishers could do a lot to reduce piracy by simply avoiding pissing off willing and paying customers unnecessarily.

    1. Clairvaux said on September 22, 2017 at 6:27 pm

      Anti-piracy clips on DVDs : hi, thief, no thanks at all for buying our product, thief, how come you bought it this time, instead of stealing it ? This sure encourages you to buy the next time, instead of torrenting…

    2. TimH said on September 22, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      It surely defeats the purpose of the FBI piracy warning that it’s only seen by users of the bona fide disc…

  11. Emil said on September 22, 2017 at 10:51 am

    What must not be true cannot be true… nothing new here. Personally I wouldn’t have bought half of my Steam library without the easily available ‘pirate’ versions.

  12. Clairvaux said on September 22, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Veeeery interesting. And reliable, too : a large panel of countries, plus 5 000 people interviewed in each country, which is a lot as far as polls go.

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