The U.S. Government Accountability Office published its recent findings from a year-long study which analyzed the scope and impact of intellectual property infringement. Interestingly, the results claim estimates of economic losses "cannot be substantiated," and that "economy-wide impact of counterfeiting and piracy is unknown." Certainly not without a sense of irony either, the GAO goes as far to suggest that there could be some potential positive effects of counterfeiting and piracy on the economy which should be considered as well.

While the inability to assess economic harm seems to be the sweeping conclusion, the 32-page report does explore the negative aspects of both piracy and counterfeiting by discussing the obvious and non-obvious costs associated with IP crime. The GAO details that recent estimates show 20% of all business software is pirated and adds that the movie industry lost $6.1 billion in 2005, but also goes on to question those figures citing that data was merely collected through surveys and often times done so with a narrow scope.

It would seem obvious that piracy has a negative impact, and the document leaves little doubt the problem is rampant. But exactly how bad is it? If the GAO's study is any indication, we have a long way to go before meaningful numbers can be produced.