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A Tale of Two Numbers

October 8th, 2008 · 2 Comments

At the risk of turning the blog into an ersatz RSS feed for my Ars stuff, I think this one really merits a look if you’re remotely interested in either copyright/patent policy or the way that completely bollocks statistics can get accepted as facts.  And in this case, it really matters: Two big flashy figures have been driving the U.S. approach to intellectual property enforcement for at least 15 years. And they’re both completely bogus. Like, embarassingly, laughably bogus. So bogus you’ll be astonished at the weird path by which they were transformed into facts. Take a gander.

Update: I should probably emphasize a little more strongly why this matters. Here’s a press release from the sponsors of a draconian IP enorcement bill that recently sailed through Congress. It ramps up penalties for infringement, expands civil forfeiture powers, creates a White House “copyright czar,”  throws hundreds of millions of dollars at law enforcement to promote stricter IP enforcement, and dangles the threat of trade penalties against countries that don’t follow suit. And sure enough, the press release invokes these decades-old fabricated numbers to prove that new legislation is necessary. If you read the piece, you’ll see that there really isn’t a shred of support for these phantom figures—the tangled tale of how they came to be universally accepted is almost comical. But these numbers are driving policy.

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Self Promotion · Tech and Tech Policy



2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Philipp Schmidt // Oct 10, 2008 at 2:46 am


    Fantastic article! Thank you! This kind of rigorous fact-checking is incredibly useful for the conversations that the Open Education movement (for example the Open Courseware Consortium) is having about opening up education. The culture of fear and worry that is created by repeating these numbers over and over, hampers our efforts to promote the use of “open licenses” for educational materials – even though many of the open licenses we promote do not prevent commercial activity.

    I also found the one paragraph summary of the Economics (on the last page) very accessible, and will be pointing others to it.

    Best, P

  • 2 Brendan // Oct 19, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    At the risk of turning the blog into an ersatz RSS feed for my Ars stuff …

    Actually, I kind of like that. I don’t see a way to subscribe to your posts only on Ars, and, while I might like to read everything on Ars, it’s just not practical at this point. You used to put up a post (here) every week or so with links to your Ars posts for the week, and I liked that. Assuming it’s not too tedious for you, I’d appreciate if you’d start doing that again.

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