Crawl Across the Ocean

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Lying Globe and Mail and the Lying Liars it Lies on Behalf Of

Update: I changed the link on the legality of downloading in Canada to one more up to date with the July Supreme Court decision on the topic, and changed the sentence around that link to be more clear.

The Globe and Mail took the interesting (and positive) step a while back of allowing comments on their news stories, much like a blog.

Unlike a blog, however, they don't actually seem to read any of the comments.

Here's a quote from a Globe 'story' (sub. only) from September 29, by Terry Pedwell. I put 'story' in quotes because the article, (headlined 'What's with them young whippersnappers?' which I suppose should have been fair warning that it wasn't worth reading) is not so much a story as a free public service announcement for the recording industry disguised as a newspaper story.

Here's how it starts:
"Canadians illegally download 14 music CDs or other files from the Internet for every file they take from the web legally, a new recording-industry poll suggests.

The illegal downloading has cost retail music stores more than half a billion dollars in lost sales since 1999, a study by Pollara for the recording industry estimates."

And it goes on from there, basically just reciting industry talking points. But the interesting part is the comments. It doesn't take long before someone points out that downloading music from the internet has not been declared illegal in Canada. An early comment on the Globe article:
"Michael Mac Neil from Ottawa, Canada writes: I am amazed that the newspaper so blithely reports on the issue of downloading as an illegal activity. That has not been established by any court decision in this country, and there are considerable doubts about its illegality, given that Canada has a system of levies to compensate copyright owners for personal copying."

and more...

"chris topher from Toronto, Canada writes: Illegal downloads? Downloading copyrighted music from peer-to-peer networks is legal in Canada, although uploading files is not. s. 80.(1) of the Copyright Act allows anyone to copy music for the private use of the person making the copy. The Copyright Board has found that the Copyright Act does not require that the source or target medium be lawfully owned, e.g. using a stolen prerecorded CD to make a private copy on a stolen CD-R involves two instances of theft but no copyright infringement. Okay!"

Other commenters also take the article to task for its (typical for the media) inane misuse of statistics to either mislead or point out the obvious as if it is significant (young people download more music than old people!!), and commenters also make the important, if subtle distinction, between copyright infringement and theft which the article/industry press release fails to do.

So the article is terrible, but at least with the open comments section thorough readers can get a clearer view of the situation.

OK, so fast forward to October 26, "Recording Industry sings the blues: Statscan" by Terry Webber. "Canada's recording industry reported its worst financial showing in six years in 2003 with illegal downloading - never exactly music to the sector's ears - the likely culprit for plunging sales and dropping profits, Statistics Canada said Wednesday."

Let's leave aside for now the question of why the media feels that every story needs a tired cliche/pun in the headline and let's also leave aside that the online Globe and Mail still hasn't figured out that if you have a whole story about some report which is posted online, you might as well link to it.

Instead, consider. The last time the Globe wrote about this topic, their readers pointed out a clear factual error in that they inaccurately stated that downloading music was illegal, when this has not been established. Here we are a month later and have they learned anything? No. Once again they are misleading the public and once again the online comments to their story are filled with people pointing out that downloading is not illegal and the Globe is misleading the public. Do they not read the comments? Do they not care that they are routinely printing the same uncorrected industry lie over and over again?

Ok, enough about the Globe, what about Statcan? Apparently my tax dollars which support Statcan are not enough for them to be able to let me read most of their studies and reports without paying extra for them, but it *is* enough for me to pay for someone to add editorial comment to their statistical reports,
"This overall decline in sales raises questions about factors such as illegal file downloads and swapping song files. Other possible factors in the decline include competition for the consumer's entertainment dollar from an array of media, ranging from computer games to movies to cell phones."

Yes, and other *possible* factors are the decline in the number of recordings actually released, the aging of the CD medium, the performance of the economy, the quality of the music released, and on and on, raising the question of why and on what basis Statscan picked the possible factors causing the decline to mention in it's report. How about Statscan sticks to reporting the stats and leaves the groundless speculation on why the stats are how they are to the media?

Back to the Globe and Mail, one last thought. How did "This overall decline in sales raises questions about factors such as illegal file downloads and swapping song files." in the Statcan report become, "illegal downloading - never exactly music to the sector's ears - [is] the likely culprit1 for plunging sales and dropping profits, Statistics Canada said."

Would it be too much to ask that we get a balanced informed article on the Statcan findings? OK, perhaps, but the Canadian Press at least manages to quote Statcan accurately and provide a little bit of balance, showing that it is not impossible.

Surely it at least isn't too much to ask that the Globe could stop printing factual errors that their own readers have already corrected them on time and time again?

Where's Atrios to convene a panel on blogger ethics when you need him?

Correction: Over the course of a series of articles presenting only one side of the music downloading debate, the Globe and Mail has repeatedly stated and implied that such downloads are illegal when in fact this has not been established. The Globe apologizes for the repeated errors.

See that's not so hard, is it?

Update 2: Via I Solipsist, this Michael Geist article on the same report is more enlightening.

1 Culprit: Noun, 1 : one accused of or charged with a crime
2 : one guilty of a crime or a fault
3 : the source or cause of a problem

Nice choice of words to imply that not buying a company's products (and thus causing them lower sales) is some kind of crime. True, I'm nitpicking, but don't try to tell me that changing something from a 'factor' to a 'culprit' is neutral writing.


  • Apparently my tax dollars which support Statcan are not enough for them to be able to let me read most of their studies and reports without paying extra for them, but it *is* enough for me to pay for someone to add editorial comment to their statistical reports

    You know, I never saw it that way, but now that I do, StatsCan is going to get a letter from me. But it's not just the public sector here: hell, once my (private) employer sponsored a poll, and we employees got to see (part of) the results in the form of a "numbers? we don't need no stinkin' numbers" G&M article at a staff meeting. I asked my then-supervisor if we here at the actual COMPANY had access to the raw data. Oh, he said, we probably did somewhere, but we'd contracted out the processing of said data to some other company, why did I ask?

    Anyway, what amazes me is that every single one of these "OMG! Illegal downloading!!!1!1!" articles ignores something that is true of every single music downloader I know: yes, we download a lot of music without paying for it. But we download mostly music that we would never have otherwise bought - at least not without listening to samples first - and the internet is often our only way to listen to a track or two before purchasing a whole album. If I download fourteen tracks "illegally" for every one I paid for, then perhaps that one purchase is one that I would never have otherwise made.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:53 AM  

  • Yeah, I know what you mean about hiding the numbers. I was impressed that my workplace released the results of the employee satisfaction survey, sending us a list of tables documenting in detail the actual results for every question and no commentary (Interpretation was saved for a staff meeting discussion). Alas, that is the exception, not the norm.

    The illegal downloading!!! articles generally ignore a lot of things. To pick just one example, in a typical CD purchase the artist gets (roughly) 10% of the price. But with purchases of concert tickets or band merchandise, an artist usually gets 30-40% (acually they get about 75%, but you have to subtract off expenses).

    So even if we posit that sales of an artist's recordings drop by, say $100 because of illegal downloading - if the consumer, having saved $100 on CDs, then spends even $25-35 of that savings on concert tickets or merchandise then the artists are actually coming out ahead.

    Which is the only question that really matters, since the only purpose of copyright is to encourage the creation/production of more music, and if artists are making more money, then presumably that will lead to more music being created (it shouldn't lead to less, anyway).

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:24 AM  

  • Ahh, Michael Geist knows where it's at. Every time I've read his column in the Star, I've been pleasantly surprised with the insight, informativeness, and balance of his writing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:48 PM  

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