Study Assesses Impact of Swedish Anti-Piracy Law After 5 Years

SWEDEN—Five years after the implementation in Sweden of an anti-piracy law that increased the risk of being caught and punished for illegal file sharing, a new study by economists at Uppsala University has assessed the law's long-term effect on consumer behavior. If the results are accurate, the government's IPR Enforcement Directive, or IPRED, has had minimal impact.

At first, however, the reaction to the passage of the law was dramatic. "A day after it went into effect," reports TorrentFreak, "Netnod Internet Exchange reported a significant drop in Swedish Internet traffic." Even more impressive, music sales soared 36 percent in Sweden following the law's passage.

It looked, admitted TorrentFreak, as if "the law stopped people from pirating."

But something happened over time. Within six months, internet usage returned to normal and music sales decreased, "The only effect that remained was the increase in digital sales," wrote Ernesto for TF. "Internet traffic and physical music sales returned to normal, in part because the chance of getting caught is quite low."

Researchers noted, "The deterrent effect decreased quickly, possibly because of the few and slow legal processes. Law enforcement through convictions therefore seems to be a necessary ingredient for the long-run success of a copyright protection law."

Of course, the scale of law enforcement needed to address such widespread and popular abuse may in the end be impossible to maintain. As Ernesto points out, "During the first few years [of the law] only a handful of file-sharers were brought to justice, while hundreds of thousands took steps to circumvent the law."

While the study authors suggest that "if more people are convicted, the effects may last longer," the size of the file-sharing population necessitates a level of enforcement commensurately large in order to instill a sufficient threat of being caught. That, of course, would translate into a tremendous outlay of law enforcement time and resources.

Ernesto wonders "whether bankrupting people or throwing them in jail is the ideal strategy in the long run…"