Copyright policy in the UK: an evidence-free zone

The UK Open Rights Group has released a report on the way that the UK government approaches copyright policy, in the wake of the government's recent plaudits for the UK film industry's online offering. This matters because the UK government's position is that the film industry constitutes a major part of the British economy, and it has done everything it can to present legitimate avenues for watching film online, so the ongoing illegal download problems mean that government must intervene with extraordinary measures like a national censorship regime that blocks websites that the film industry dislikes.

But ORG's research, along with Freedom of Information requests, show that, on the one hand, the film industry's online offerings are overpriced and underserviced; and on the other hand, there is no evidence to support the claim that the industry is suffering as a result of "piracy." The "evidence" in the government's web-blocking plans is purely anaecdotal, self-serving, and belied by actual facts.

* Excluding iTunes, only 27% of the BAFTA Best Film award winning films from 1960 to 2011 are available to rent or buy online, with only 29% of the50 best British films.
* Only 6% of the best 50 best British films are on Film4 OD or Virgin Media. 14% are available through a LoveFilm subscription and 4% through pay per view on LoveFilm.
* Including iTunes, still only 43% of the top 50 British films can be bought or rented online, with the figure at 58% for the BAFTA Best Film award winners.

As well as problems with availability, prices online do not compare favourably with DVDs:

* For the best selling DVDs from August 2011, the average price on was £6.80. For iTunes purchases, of the films available through its service, the average price was £8.88. For blinkbox purchases the price stood at £9.49.
* DVD prices at for the BAFTA winning films average at £5.84, whilst on iTunes the average price stands at £6.72

We have had a response to a Freedom of Information Act request that we made to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In the request we asked for evidence they hold on the scale and nature of infringement of copyright by websites and on the efficacy of different strategies for dealing with it. They told us in their reply that they don't hold any.

(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group, and sit on its unpaid advisory board. I receive no compensation, direct or indirect, from my work with ORG)