Internet pirates are always portrayed as parasitic freeloaders responsible for countless instances of DRM, the "death" of PC gaming, ISP bandwidth caps and more, but according to one industry veteran, that's entirely unfair. During a keynote speech at CA Expo in Sydney, former Google CIO and EMI executive Douglas C. Merrill said that he believes filesharers shouldn't be punished for downloading copyrighted material because it often drives them to make legitimate purchases.

While employed by EMI (one of the world's largest music labels and an RIAA member), Merrill supposedly profiled LimeWire users and discovered that they were actually some of the biggest spenders on iTunes. "That's not theft, that's try-before-you-buy marketing and we weren't even paying for it... so it makes sense to sue them," Merrill said sarcastically. In an amusing analogy, he said that suing people for filesharing "is like trying to sell soap by throwing dirt on your customers."

Merrill has made similar comments in the past. In a 2008 CNET interview he said there's data to show that filesharing is actually good. "Obviously, there is piracy that is quite destructive but again I think the data shows that in some cases, filesharing might be okay. What we need to do is understand when it is good...suing fans doesn't feel like a winning strategy." We haven't seen that data, but Merrill isn't the first person to suggest filesharing isn't as harmful as it seems.

In fact, a week ago TorrentFreak reported on a study conducted by the Society for Consumer Research (GfK) which also concluded that most pirates use the service as a "try before you buy" medium. The research claimed that piracy leads users to buy more DVDs and spend more than non-pirates at movie theaters. Unfortunately, this data is also unavailable because the (anonymous) company who commissioned the study reportedly asked GfK to yank the results offline.