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Pirate Party helped cut P2P in Sweden?

Are copyright scares helping the enforcement agenda?

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Figures from Sweden suggest six out of ten P2P users have stopped or significantly reduced their unlicensed file sharing, AFP reports.

The study was conducted by recording industry trade group IFPI in June, and claims to be more accurate than earlier studies since it contacted internet users by mobile and email, rather than fixed lines - thereby capturing younger users.

Ironically, publicity from the Pirate Party may have helped the behaviour change. To understand why, we need to distinguish between real and perceived risk.

A new copyright law came into effect in Sweden on April 1, obliging ISPs to disclose details of suspected infringers to copyright holders. But rights holders must still fund private legal actions as before - which remains an expensive business. Yet the issue gained enormous publicity, helped by fringe group The Pirate Party, which reaped huge political capital (and a European Parliamentary seat) from the legislation. So while the risk of prosecution increased just a little, the perceived risk of being collared rose dramatically. The real risk of being prosecuted remained lower than the chances of being struck by lightning.

As copyright fear gripped the nation in the days following April 1, internet traffic halved. The Pirate Party had done the record companies' work for them, for free.

In July, IFPI said licensed digital music sales had risen 57 per cent in Sweden, and physical (mostly CD) sales were up by 14 per cent in the first half of 2009.

What we don't know is how many determined infringers are using other tools. And there's no shortage, with 2.8 million Swedes over 15 years old infringing online (out of a population of 8.8 million). As we report today here, they may be going elsewhere. Traffic to locker services such as Rapidshare and Megaupload has increased, and using them requires no additional software other than a web browser.

It's a dent, but the change in behaviour is sure to strengthen the BPI's case for tougher sanctions against online infringers. Temporary suspensions are expected in the Queen's Speech next month. The Pirate Party UK can then play its part in scaring people away from the net, too. ®

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