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.