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Piracy isn't stopping record sales

27 Oct 2009 | 21.11 Europe/London
The industry body representing the UK's record companies has just announced this is already the "biggest ever year" for sales of singles in Britain. Meanwhile, figures from the Motion Picture Association of America show that movie takings are, on the whole, rising. With Lord Peter Mandelson expected to outline the Government's plans for dealing with illegal downloading tomorrow, what price piracy?

Despite it only being October, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) says sales of music singles have now managed to surpass the previous all time high - which was actually only last year. According to data from the Official Charts Company, while 115.1 million singles were sold in 2008 - and with ten weeks of trading that include the lucrative Christmas period still to go this year - 117 million have already been sold in 2009. The BPI admits some of that success if down to the Internet, with digital downloads driving sales - but perhaps we can't expect record exec's to be satisfied with merely smashing records.

“That singles have hit these heights while there are still more than a billion illegal downloads every year in the UK is testimony to the quality of releases this year and the vibrancy of the UK download market," says BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor. "Consumers are responding to the value and innovation offered by the legal services and these new figures show how the market could explode if Government acts to tackle illegal peer-to-peer filesharing.”

Of course, record executives aren't the only ones complaining; the CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment has been writing in the The Times on the movie industry's web peril. Michael Lynton says the number of pictures Hollywood is making is falling because of online piracy - and that the UK film industry isn't immune:
Online theft siphons billions of dollars out of the marketplace. That means less money to make movies. Projects get scaled back and others dropped. Some potential blockbusters won’t get made. Some new writers, actors and film-makers won’t get discovered. Last year the leading Hollywood studios made 162 films — more than 40 fewer than in 2006, and the lowest number in a decade.

Lynton cites a report from Oxford Economics that apparently states £600 million pounds could be added to the British economy by "combating audio-visual piracy," with 8,000 jobs created in the process. In case anyone from the Government was reading, he added £155 million pounds would consequently flow into the country's coffers through taxation; Lynton is urging Mandelson and co. to bring three-strikes legislation, newly cleared by the EU, to our shores.

But while Hollywood studios might be making less movies, if you include those being produced elsewhere in America, the overall trend shows the total number of pictures being released is actually on the up. And, again, that's true even though 2009 isn't over and we haven't even reached Christmas.
2004: Total Movies Released: 567; Total Combined Gross; $9,327,315,935
2005: Total Movies Released: 594; Total Combined Gross; $8,825,324,278
2006: Total Movies Released: 808; Total Combined Gross; $9,225,689,414
2007: Total Movies Released: 1022; Total Combined Gross; $9,665,661,126
2008: Total Movies Released: 1037; Total Combined Gross; $9,705,677,862
2009: Total Movies Released: 1177; Total Combined Gross; $7,596,626,766
(Source: TorrentFreak)

While we wait for dark Lord Mandelson to let us know whether pirates in the UK will be expected to walk the plank, a French firm's urging the Government to follow the example of its parent country. With France just having passed three-strikes legislation for the second time, perhaps it's no surprise the chief executive at Vivendi (both a content and internet service provider, comparable to Sky in Britain), has been speaking at the C&binet forum - a conference set up by the .gov to debate issues that are facing the UK's creative industries. "At Vivendi, we are in the content business, we are in the telecom business and there is no internal debate," Jean-Bernard Levy said. "The priority is not to grow traffic on the ISPs. The priority is that creators, people who develop content, should find [their rewards]."

Intellectual property minister David Lammy was on hand with the latest on the Government's own position on piracy. He told the C&binet delegates that "infringement on a massive scale was a wake-up call to the creative industries." "It is time to decide on the balance between anarchy and authority in the digital world. Freedom of access is not the same thing as access for free."

While it's worth pointing out that bumper singles sales and box office takings don't necessarily lead to record profits, you have to question how bad things really are for the music and film companies. What's beyond doubt is that they certainly have the cash to lobby a government toward a tough stance against piracy, regardless of how desperate they claim things are becoming. As for just how tough the UK Government's stance is going to be, we should finally know on  Wednesday.