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REALLY? Can 10 per cent of Aussie jobs be threatened by pirates?

Village Roadshow boss' anti-Google rant relies on contentious data

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Nearly one-in-ten Australian jobs are at risk from Google, if the co-chairman and co-CEO of Village Roadshow Australia is to be believed.

That's the datum that appears in this opinion piece Graham Burke over at The Age, which continues the copyright industry's leave-no-data-unmolested attack on every threat, real or perceived.

“About 910,000 people depend upon copyright protection for their livelihood” (in Australia, of course), he writes.

That would be close to 10 per cent of Australia's working population, which made El Reg scramble for ABS source data to try and untangle it.

Can it be so many? It depends on how you slice the pie, of course – and whose hand wields the knife.

But it's telling that Burke didn't include all forms of IP protection in his number – merely copyright.

It would be much easier to reconcile Burke's data with the real world if he were talking about all forms of IP that are protected by law – copyright, patents, trademarks, and industrial designs. For example, the manufacturing sector depends heavily on patents and designs. As an employer in total of 902,000-plus Australians in the 2011 Census, the argument would be over already.

But those aren't “dependent on copyright”.

Of the industry sectors the ABS reports, as sliced and presented by Profile.id, only a small handful are strongly associated with copyright: the arts (2011 Census, 151,548 employed), and part of “Information, Media and Telecoms” (total 178,187 in 2011).

Some industries can be clearly considered to have a relatively low direct dependence on copyright – agriculture, public administration, and the healthcare/welfare sectors, for example.

But other industries create grey areas. Take mining, for example: Australia's great saviour, the business of creating holes in the ground. Not much copyright there – except that mines are designed by engineers, and the work of those engineers is copyright. What's not directly clear, however, is whether those engineers are already counted in the civil construction industry.

So to avoid double-counting, the mining industry (1.8 per cent of employment at 176,429 staff) is excluded, on the assumption that Australia's civil engineers are counted in construction, along with architects.

Engineers Australia tells us (PDF) that the total engineering professions employs 254,515 individuals. That's all kinds (including, for example, mining engineers and mechanical engineers and so on), but all of them have some interaction with copyright, so we'll include them in the total.

By a generous assessment – putting all arts jobs, all “information” jobs (even though some of those are telecommunications linesmen), and all possible design roles in the pot, The Register can come up with just 584,000 “copyright intensive” jobs in Australia – far short of Burke's claimed 910,000.

IP boosters in America have bee criticised (for example, by Knowledge Ecology International) for cramming the retail trade into the “IP protects these jobs” basket, but that would be because of the values associated with “brands” – and these are most dependent on trademarks.

Interestingly, the data the KEI critique refers to, from the US Department of Commerce, puts copyright at the centre of just four per cent of jobs in the supposedly IP-heavy American economy.

Which suggests that we've been generous to the copyright industry – we're hardly the content powerhouse that America is, for example – and that Burke has plucked a figure out of the air that has no backing in research.

It doesn't help the debate, but Vulture South will place a small, private and personal bet that having passed the notoriously-strict Fairfax peer-review process, it won't be long before we hear politicians telling us that 910,000 jobs are at stake in the piracy debate. ®

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