Welcome to the incredibly complicated debates that surround digital music and media, a discussion further complicated by a quickly-moving technological landscape, that renders almost any legislation outdated upon arrival, though content owners complain that heavyweights like Google and broadband ISPs have benefited enormously from tech-friendly legislation.
Exactly what effect is piracy having on traditional media companies and the broader economy? Ask the recording industry or Hollywood, and the figures are simply catastrophic. But a recent review by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) questioned the basis for many of those claims. "Three widely cited US government estimates of economic losses resulting from counterfeiting cannot be substantiated due to the absence of underlying studies", the GAO noted.
But the report, like the data itself, was mostly inconclusive. The study was requested by Congress, and its results will have an impact on future efforts to protect intellectual property. But the GAO admitted that accurately identifying damages is incredibly difficult, and, for that matter, so are the benefits. "Because of the significant differences in types of counterfeited and pirated goods and industries involved, no single method can be used to develop estimates", the report noted. "Each method has limitations, and most experts observed that it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the economy-wide impacts."