CCIA 'Study' on the Benefits of Fair Use

SEPTEMBER 14, 2007

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a lobbying group for technology companies, has put out a report entitled Fair Use in the U.S. Economy. The report generates larges numbers:

The research indicates that the industries benefiting from fair use and other limitations and exceptions make a large and growing contribution to the U.S. economy. The fair use economy in 2006 accounted for $4.5 trillion in revenues and $2.2 billion [sic: should be trillion] in value added, roughly 16.2 percent of U.S. GDP. It employed more than 17 million people and supported a payroll of $1.2 trillion. It generated $194 billion in exports and rapid productivity growth.

As a result, and thanks no doubt to the PR efforts to the sponsors, the report has been getting plenty of attention, with its conclusion interpreted as showing that the ‘fair-use economy’ is more important than the ‘copyright economy’. For example, information week quotes CCIA CEO Ed Black claiming that while “the value added to the U.S. economy by copyright industries amounts to $1.3 trillion […] the value added to the U.S. economy by the fair use amounts to $2.2 trillion.” (source plus repetition e.g. on slashdot. See also the Google policy blog).

Unfortunately, while perhaps interesting as propaganda these figures have zero ‘intellectual’ credibility – and , in fact, little basis in the study itself. For all the study actually does is label a whole bunch of industries as ‘fair-use’ related and then sum up their contribution to GDP and Value-Added. Leaving aside their extremely questionable classification of companies as ‘fair-use related’ the basic problem is that the study makes no effort to actually work out whether fair-use was essential to these businesses, or, more specifically, what difference the absence of fair-use would have meant to their profitability or success. Just because a company makes some use of the fair-use exceptions doesn’t mean you can suddenly ascribe its full value to the existence of those exceptions!

Thus there is absolutely no way this study tells us what the ‘contribution of fair-use’ to the economy actually is and certainly no way to make specific statements such as the “value added to the U.S. economy by fair use amounts to $2.2 trillion”. The study’s authors no doubt were aware of this, hence that clever elision in the above quote between industries “benefiting from fair-use” and the “fair-use economy”, with the latter phrase implying much a much more direct dependence on the benefits of fair-use than the former.

Of course it is also true that just as much propagandizing (based on equally poor “research”) is done by those on the other side of the debate (see for example my analysis of the BSA’s piracy claims) but I am deeply sceptical that two wrongs make a right. What we need in debates over IP is not more propaganda but more evidence.