How 136 file sharers became 7 million

Can we trust official governmental figures on file sharing? According to an enquiry by the BBC, the answer to this question is no. A recent governmental report puts the number of UK file sharers at the hefty figure of 7 million, however, a closer examination into this figure by the BBC Radio 4 Show 'More or Less' has uncovered the reality behind this figure. The show, aired on Friday, reveals that the figure comes from questionable research commissioned by the music industry.

The Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property, who published this recent report for the government, obtained the figures from a team of academics at the University College London, who, in turn, pulled this figure from a paper released by Forrester Research. The BBC team tracked down the relevant paper, but could find no mention of the 7 million figure, and so went on to contact the author of the report, Mark Mulligan.

Mr. Mulligan claimed the number quoted in the report was taken from research he published regarding music industry losses, which was commissioned by the British Phonographic Industry, the trade association for the British record industry.

Further investigation revealed that this figure was based on some questionable assumptions and wild approximations. Firstly, this number was rounded up from a figure of 6.7 million, taken from a 2008 survey into UK internet usage. This questionnaire was responded to by 1176 UK households with an internet connection, of which just 11.6% admitted to having used file-sharing software. This equates to only 136 people.

From this figure of 11.6%, an adjustment was made upwards to 16.3% "to reflect the assumption that fewer people admit to file sharing than actually do it." The author of the report told the BBC that this change was made based on evidence, but declined to inform the team of the source of his information used here.

From this figure, a final calculation was made, to scale up to the total number of people in the UK with web access. However, yet another incorrect figure was used, with the assumption that there were 40 million internet subscribers in the UK, the figure of 7 million file sharers was generated. The true figure, according to the UK Office of National Statistics is closer to 33.9 million.

Once all the assumptions and adjustments are removed from the calculations, a more believable statistic of 3.9 million users of illegal file sharing networks is found. This is just over half of the figure published by the government. With this in mind, can we really trust the figures we find online regarding the size of the file sharing problem?

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All these statistic stories are pointless, it's like number of drug users, drug dealers, fake dvd sellers, filesharers... It's illegal so there is no way of tracking any reliable form of statistics!

What? are you implying, there's no honesty among theives, traffickers and illicit drug users? No matter the person every stastic is slurred in a direction more beneficial to whomever commences it.

thats probably quite a close number if you look at the entire population of the UK and not just some pulled from the butt statistic

Unfortunately, this is probably as far as the BBC will go into investigating both sides of the illegal downloading question.

Strangely people have so muck trouble with statistics...
Report shows that 136 from 1176 people were sharing files and we need to find the ratio (k) of file sharers.
Probability of k=11.6% is ZERO!!! Wake up people.
How come no one mentioned even something as simple as confidence intervals?

Statistically, there's reason to believe that a survey of 1000 people at random within a given area, in this case being a country, is an accurate representation of a given population. Obviously, the more you survey, the less margin of error there is in the final result.

You're not going to survey 100% of the population for a report, that'd be absurd. The only time you'd ever try to "survey" 100% of the population is for an election, even then good luck getting more than 70% of the population to participate. Even if you did survey 100% of the population, there are no guarantees they'd tell the truth anyways so when dealing with people, there is always a larger margin of error regardless of whether or not you survey few or many people. The real question isn't whether results are accurate, but why they even try at all.

Maybe, but the sample should be much bigger than a 1000. Imagine only asking that many people in China? A country of over 1.3 BILLION people.

Opinion polls are not really reliable to begin with because of what you said.

That is why I don't trust these type of statistics, they can be so easily manipulated. Before taking any of them seriously you first have to see who did them and why.....

great article. it's something i think most people are aware of to some level - to be skeptical of the media and the government. but it's good to occasionally see the issue clearly illustrated using an example people can relate to, if only to boost our cognisance of the fact, because sometimes it is quite easy to forget

This is one of the best articles I have read here in a long time... Detailed, interestingly written, and indepth. Thanks for posting this!!

daddy_spank said,
This is one of the best articles I have read here in a long time... Detailed, interestingly written, and indepth. Thanks for posting this!!

+1

Can we trust official governmental figures on file sharing?


Well this is the British government with a Labour majority, seeing as some believe they can build a Duck Island on

their expense account, then they cannot be trusted on anything.

leesmithg said,
Well this is the British government with a Labour majority, seeing as some believe they can build a Duck Island on

their expense account, then they cannot be trusted on anything.

The Duck Island was a tory MP not a labour, if your gonig to slander parliment at least get your facts right.

thealexweb said,


The Duck Island was a tory MP not a labour, if your gonig to slander parliment at least get your facts right.



I know it was a conservative fool.

Thats why I put government with a ''Labour majority''.

All elected MP's govern.

Therefore my facts are correct, I mentioned Duck Island as it was so bizare.

On top of these wildly stated figures, real losses and common sense should come in to play, first of all you have to make allowances to those genuine people who obtain legal distribution items over p2p applications, some people honestly only share what they are allowed to.

Then you have to include the amount of people that just don't do it all and then this is where the loss factor comes in, how many of those individuals who download either one song or severla gigs of things a day would have gone out and bought said item in the first place?

Those are the figures they should be looking at!

The larger the stated number the better. With such a high figure of 7 million out of 40 million internet subscribers using file sharing, it's justifiable to make file sharing legal.

If someone could find a way to make illegal file-sharing legal, without unduly affecting the people responsible for creating it, then yes it should definitely be made legal.

To be honest, knowing how many people use p2p isn't what the government needs to know. They need to know how many files are downloaded in total so they can work out how much the entertainment industry is being affected.

Some people only download the occasional song whereas some people are continually downloading several movies every day. There's a huge difference. Is there no way of working out how many of what sort of file is being downloaded?

That statistic alone still doesn't prove anything, though. There's so many more variables that go into it. For a start, you have to prove that the person downloading that song/film/whatever would have went out and bought it if they didn't download it. They're downloading it for a reason and it isn't always because they don't want to buy stuff, a lot of the time its because they can't afford to. I'm not saying that justifies it in any way, but what I'm trying to say is that those people aren't really affecting the industry, the "lost sale" wasn't going to happen anyway.

Further investigation revealed that this figure was based on some questionable assumptions and wild approximations. Firstly, this number was rounded up from a figure of 6.7 million, taken from a 2008 survey into UK internet usage. This questionnaire was responded to by 1176 UK households with an internet connection, of which just 11.6% admitted to having used file-sharing software. This equates to only 136 people.
No it doesn't, learn some statistics, please.

"can we really trust the figures we find online regarding the size of the file sharing problem?"
If its connected in 'any way' to the music and movie co's and their rep's
NO WE CANT TRUST ANY FIGURE'S.

to be honest, the number is probably a lot higher :p. Come on guys, who here has never downloaded an mp3 or movie ... The real problem is, we grew up with napster and consorts, we are so used to it and we know it's wrong, yet do it all the time.

yea the likelihood of more people downloading a mp3 or movie or having someone do it for them is higher. But how many of these people actually continue to share them after they have downloaded said file?

I love statistics like these because they are always much further off than the + or - 2% figure they claim. The reality is most file sharers have an incredibly slow upload speed and at least 50% (on large files) of all initial connections drop off within an hour when they see progress is very slow. Even after the file has many peers, many cancell in the middle because of various reasons. These people who do statistics tend to measure how many people connected to the file and completely ignore how many people actually finished it and even after that how many people stayed to share it.

Actually, when you're talking about persons sharing the files, file completion is irrelevant. As you're downloading a file using a torrent client, you're sharing that same file (the bits you've downloaded anyway). So technically, all persons using torrents to leech files are also sharing, completed or not.

This just goes to prove the BBC is more trustworthy than all the BS the UK Gov puts out.
No wonder the BBC repeatedly gets a gag order from the British government to hide the truth about anything & everything from the public, from war to politics, to gay royals to internet trends.

You should watch some of Charlie Brooker's Newswipe. It's hilarious for two reasons.

1. Charlie Brooker is a very funny man.
2. In a large majority of the episodes, there are 20 seconds or so filled with a gag order and System of a Down playing in the background.

It would seem that the team of academics at the University College London who trusted the report from by Forrester Research are the most to blame. It would be interesting to see if Forrester Research had any financial conflicts of interest.