EU Commission: Piracy doesn't hurt music sales, may even help

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Although music labels remain adamant about piracy's harm to sales, illegal filesharing sites may actually boost industry revenue according to a report from the European Commission's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies.

After studying the browsing habits of more than 16,000 European webgoers and approaching the data from various angles, the organization concluded that if outfits such as The Pirate Bay didn't exist, clicks on sites selling music legally would have actually been 2% lower overall and as high as 4% in France and the UK specifically.

The researchers also backed a common defense among those who support filesharing by noting that most of the subjects who downloaded illegal music wouldn't have opened their wallets in the absence of filesharing sites anyway.

In addition to finding a positive link between users visiting piracy sites and music stores, the researchers similarly discovered that free legal streaming services boost visits to music stores by 7% instead of purportedly cannibalizing sales.

Despite those findings, the authors of the 40-page paper (embedded below) recognized that private property rights are being violated, it's just that there is unlikely to be much harm to digital music revenue. Damage to physical music sales could be a different story, however.

"[The results] must be interpreted in the context of a still evolving music industry. It is in particular important to note that music consumption in physical format has until recently accounted for the lion’s share of total music revenues. If piracy leads to substantial sales displacement of music in physical format, then its effect on the overall music industry revenues may well still be negative," the researchers said.

It's worth noting that this isn't the first study to claim piracy aids sales. In 2011, former Google GIO and EMI executive Douglas Merrill said he profiled LimeWire users while working for the music label and found that they were some of the biggest spenders on iTunes. Meanwhile, a study by The American Assembly last year concluded that filesharers spend 30% more on music than non-P2P users.

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