Study: French Copyright Law Is Great For Major Artists and Labels, Bad For New Artists, Culture

Hadopi, a French law intended to punish copyright infringers in graduated tiers, has received mixed reviews since its inception, both in terms of its impact and efficacy. Now, a new study has revealed that it may have helped bigger, more established artists and labels, but has had a negative effect on smaller, less well known artists.


Guest post by Timothy Geigner of Techdirt

Hadopi, the French law built to punish copyright infringers in graduated steps, was always controversial. In addition to many in the public scoffing at the punishment ramp the law put on the public, the actual effects of the law have been murky at best. While Hadopi basically ceased to be in 2016, it is true that the French public has been trending towards less piracy and more legal practices in its wake. Always at question is exactly how direct a relationship that kind of trend has with laws like Hadopi. Studies have straddled both answers to that question, even as we all realize the truth, which is that the impact of laws like Hadopi is nuanced.

Fortunately, the latest study looking back at when Hadopi was first introduced has a nicely nuanced output. The academic study by Ruben Savelkoul compared digital music sales across several European countries looking to answer two questions. First, did Hadopi actually correlate to increased digital music sales through its threat of enforcement? Second, how were those effects spread across the music industry landscape and how long-lasting were they?

The answers are quite fascinating. As to the first question:

One of the main findings is that Hadopi had a positive effect on the sales of digital music tracks in France compared to the two control countries. This effect was the strongest for popular artists. In addition, the findings suggest that the effect of Hadopi on sales decreased over time, except for bigger artists.

“The introduction of the Hadopi anti-piracy law in France had a positive effect on sales for all artists, superstars as well as artists lower in the sales distribution,” Savelkoul writes. “The effect is stronger for superstars, suggesting that smaller or niche artists gain exposure from illegal downloading, partly offsetting the negative substitution effect on sales,” he adds.

So, did Hadopi result in increased digital music sales? This study says “yes.” However, the bulk beneficiaries of those increased sales were already massively popular artists. For the lesser known, or as of yet mostly undiscovered artists, the effect was low enough to have us question whether allowing for more piracy and discovery would have been even better. This gets to the heart of the modern copyright era. The entire point of copyright writ large is to promote more artistic creation and culture through limited monopolies on creations. The point of copyright is absolutely not to create a music industry monoculture where only a few artists get noticed and survive. Yet this study seems to show that’s what Hadopi did.

And how the culture creation cross-genre shook out after Hadopi tells an even worse story.

This leads to the second hypothesis tested by Savelkoul. Did the anti-piracy measures lead to a reduction in variation when it comes to music consumption? This indeed turned out to be the case.

“We found that in the absence of piracy, consumers tend to concentrate more on genre and style,” Savelkoul writes.

The researcher suggests that piracy makes it easier to discover newer music. As a result, people consume more different types of music. Stricter anti-piracy measures limit this effect and as a result music fans buy more ‘popular’ music.

“In absence of the possibility to sample ‘adventurous’ music, consumers might not be willing to pay and purchase these music items to discover its quality and instead opt for ‘safer’ purchases, thus consuming less variety,” Savelkoul notes.

So, again, we find that the anti-piracy measures story is far more nuanced than some would like you to believe. The question is not: do you want artists to make money from their creations or not? Instead, the question appears to be: which do you care about more, famous artists being able to strictly control access to their content, or the larger spread of culture? Because if you answer the latter, it seems clear that anti-piracy measures like Hadopi work counter to that goal.

Anyone that cares about art should understand that new, inventive, and foreign art adoption by consumers is absolutely preferred, full stop. The spread of art and culture is, in many respects, art’s entire point. None of this is to say that we cannot have some form of copyright protection and enforcement that doesn’t limit cultural spread, of course, but it is certainly to say that any anti-piracy measure that has the sort of effects that Hadopi had should be a complete nonstarter in the future.

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