A very silly report on “fair use”

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, a lobbying group for tech companies, has just issued a report called “Fair Use in the U.S. Economy.” It purports to show that “the fair use economy” is larger than the “copyright economy.” In 2006, the report declares, the fair use economy “accounted for $4.5 trillion in revenues and $2.2 billion 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.”

Those are big numbers, to be sure. And – no surprise – the study has earned immediate huzzahs from the Internet’s copyright skeptics, with Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow, among others, welcoming its appearance. Google, one of the underwriters of the research, promotes the study on its public policy blog, writing that “the results of the study demonstrate that fair use is an important economic driver in the digital age.”

There’s a little problem, though. Even by the woeful standards of the bespoke research industry, this study is a crock. It’s not just bad; it’s absurd. What the authors have done is to define the “fair-use economy” so broadly that it encompasses any business with even the most tangential relationship to the free use of copyrighted materials. Here’s an example of the tortured logic by which they force-fit vast, multifaceted industries into the “fair use” category: Because “recent advances in processing speed and software functionality are being used to take advantage of the richer multi-media experience now available from the web,” then the entire “computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing industry” qualifies as a “fair-use industry.” As does the entire “audio & video equipment manufacturing” business. And the entire software publishing industry. And the entire telecommunications industry. And – hey, why not? – the entire insurance industry. Stock markets and commodity exchanges? Sure, throw them in, too.

Here, to illustrate the extent of the absurdity, is the full list of industries and industry sectors that the researchers include in the fair use economy:

-Internet publishing and broadcasting

-Internet service providers and web search portals

-Other information services (such as news syndicates)

-Data processing, hosting, and related services

-Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing

-Software publishers

-Audio and video equipment manufacturing

-Video tape and disk rental

-Business to business electronic markets

-Electronic shopping

-Electronic auctions

-Computer and office machine repair and maintenance

-Computer system design and related services

-Wired telecommunications carriers

-Wireless telecommunications services

-Telecommunications resellers

-Satellite telecommunications

-Cable and other program distribution

-Other telecommunications (including radar station operations)

-Radio and television broadcasting

-Cable networks

-Printing and related support activities

-Photographic and photocopying equipment manufacturing

-Semiconductors and related device manufacturing

-Communications equipment manufacturing

-Magnetic and optical media

-Communication and energy wire and cable manufacturing

-Computer and peripheral equipment merchant wholesalers

-Computer software (packaged) merchant wholesalers

-Electric appliance, TV and radio merchant wholesalers

-Communications equipment and supply merchant wholesalers

-Electrical and electronic goods agents and brokers

-Radio, television and other electronics stores

-Computer and software stores

-Newspaper publishers

-Directory, mailing list and other publishers

-Other publishers

-Securities, commodity contracts, and investments

-Motion picture and video industries

-Sound recording industries

-Book, periodical and music stores

-Architectural, engineering and related services

-Graphic design services

-Performing arts companies

-Promoters of performing arts, sports, and similar events

-Agents and managers for artists, athletes, entertainers, and other public figures

-Independent artists, writers, and performers

-Securities and commodities exchanges

-Other financial investment activities

-Insurance carriers

-Agencies, brokerages and other insurance-related activities

-Insurance and employee-benefit funds

-Other investment pools and funds

-Legal services

-Management, scientific, and technical consulting services

-Scientific research and development services

-Education services


I have to admit that it would never have crossed my mind to think of wire manufacturers as being part of the fair use economy. But that’s just a failure of imagination on my part, I guess.

What’s most amusing is that, if you took a similarly expansive view of the role of copyright, you could easily categorize all of these industries as part of the “copyright economy.” (Copyrighted content goes over wires, too, doesn’t it?) And it would be an equally meaningless exercise.

You can be, as I am, a strong advocate of liberal fair-use rules and a strong opponent of onerous copyright restrictions and still be appalled by this kind of fake research. Can’t industry groups make their points without stretching the truth beyond recognition and, in the process, insulting everyone’s intelligence? Fair use deserves better.

11 thoughts on “A very silly report on “fair use”

  1. Seth Finkelstein

    [Disclaimer, Cory very occasionally gives me an attention-hit, but I make sure not to become addicted to it]

    I don’t think it’s quite fair to say “from the Internet’s pirate crew, with Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow,”. He certainly advocates very strongly for non-copyright business models, but I think “pirate crew” is harsher than deserved. What bothers me about that, is you’re delegitimizing an intellectual position disfavoring copyright, by conflating it with a person who profits illegally from violating copyright.

    “Can’t industry groups make their points without stretching the truth beyond recognition …”

    No. Per Jack Valenti’s classic “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”

  2. GRiddick

    Bravo, Nick!

    I have been in this technology industry for over thirty years now (started when I was 7!).

    I have never seen anything quite like this before. Never!

    This CCIA Report was complete NONSENSE … an embarrassment to everyone in the technology industries … and anyone who pays dues to that association and expects at least a small degree of professionalism, honesty, and fair play.

    It did not surprise me one bit the see Google had underwritten this effort. In fact, as I am sure you know, Google has pulled the wool over practically the entire civilized (and many of us who don’t feel aal that “civilized” these days, as well) world.

    They try to re-write our laws, they try to organize things we haven’t asked them to organize, they routinely laugh in the face of legitimate copyright owners, they abuse the public domain on a systematic and regular basis, they stretch the true meaning (and purpose) of the DMCA, and they do not tell the truth when they’re brought to court.

    In short, they are trying to create their own unique, lawless society among us all. I, for one, am not interested.

    Microsoft is also a member of the CCIA. I wonder if they signed the Google petition authorizing this new “Fair Use” Report.

    As a matter of fact, as you so appropriately pointed out, the report was such an exaggeration of the truth (or ANYTHING even closely resembling the truth) that I noticed any specific CCIA member names were conspicuously absent. That’s when I first realized it was probably yet another “Googleism”.

    Here’s the problem, Nick. By you and I discussing this topic over the Internet, and making our comments available for review over the airwaves, we, too, are now included in the summary numbers. That’s right. What the CCIA meant to say is that the Fair Use industries actually generate 87.69% of our national GPD.

    I own a small graphics arts content development company that produces and publishes copyrighted works. And I believe in Fair Use. Particularly when the use is, indeed, honest and fair. I don’t believe in lying, cheating, and stealing, however. Can’t this huge organization find someone with at least a little integrity to support their cause … whatever the heck that is these days?

    Thank you so much for pointing out this ludicrous hypocrisy to your readers.

    George P. Riddick, III


    Imageline, Inc.


  3. yish

    thanks Nick.

    When I saw the fuss being brewed up about this, I thought I must have missed something. You’re restored my self confidence.

    What I still don’t get it, so what? Again, correct me if I missed something, but what this report seems to say is: “all these companies are using low-copyright stuff, and look how happy they are” (happy in general, not about the type of copyright they use). And? I’m sure all these companies have employees who chew gum. Where’s the report on the Wrigley economy? I just don’t get what this is supposed to prove.

  4. Michael Moncur

    Thanks for this. We need more rational voices in this Boing Boing world. I’m sick of trumped-up “research” like this making headlines.

    It reminds me of urban legends, like the “Craig Shergold is a dying child who needs postcards” thing. People WANT to believe it and it’s much easier to just pass it on than to find out the truth…

  5. Nick Carr

    Again, correct me if I missed something

    There’s nothing to miss because there’s nothing there. I mean, really: the “free use economy”? The whole concept is ludicrous. Why not do a study of the “visual economy,” adding up all the industries in which people have to be able to see in order to get their work done? Or maybe the “inhalation economy,” spanning sectors that are characterized by regular breathing? Or the “sunshine economy,” where daylight assists in the creation of value?

  6. Ian Betteridge

    As someone else pointed out to me, this research could easily backfire. It’s easy to see how it could be spun as “those guys are making $4.5 trillion from the work of others, and paying them nothing – isn’t it time we kicked back against the ‘fair use freeloaders’!” Probably not the result that Google would be after :)

  7. Linuxguru1968

    The authors of the study also forget to include the human alimentary canal, toilets and the sewer systems as part of the “fair use” economy. Obviously, humans consume food stuffs that are copyrighted so the stomach and rectum that temporarily hold them are all involved in fair use. And, of course, the sewer systems that transport the processed copyrighted material would be too – by their logic.

  8. Linuxguru1968

    And, don’t forget the words of Benjamin Disraeli via Mark Twain: “Figures often beguile me,particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”

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