Pew Internet Study on File Sharing and the Press

By Richard Menta 3/27/05

A few days ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek title where MP3 Newswire declared file sharing sells CDs because CD deliveries are rising. I actually believe firmly that file sharing has a significant promotional power. In this case, though, I was intentionally making this announcement utilizing the same flimsy method that the record industry used previous drops in CD sales for. That is to blame everything on file sharing. Make a statement based on a single element of event, spin it to your viewpoint, and then act incredulous.

Back in 2002 I took the full research results on file trading from Edison Research who gave such a suspicious spin on their data. I found their interpretations, not the data, were flawed.

Richard Menta

Unfortunately, most in the press printed Edison's interpretations without challenging their flawed reasoning as to why. It's the same thing as taking research that says minority neighborhoods have higher crime rates and then announcing it proves minorities are inherent criminals.

The recent Pew Internet & American Life study came up with some interesting results recently. But, there was a problem that Pew themselves pointed out that they felt may skew results. The issue is that some of those who participated in the study may be apprehensive to admit they actively file trade for fear it may expose them to lawsuits from the record industry.

But as Thomas Mennecke very clearly points out in his article Pew Internet's File-Sharing and P2P Study, many in the press are again printing clips of the information at face value without challenging potential flaws and limitations of the research.

As Tom wrote:

...the report left media outlets free to pick and choose which facts to work with, leaving one's imagination to run wild with headline ideas. From one perspective, one can conclude that file-sharing is on the decline and perhaps run with a headline such as "File-sharing Networks Dying Out."

He then goes on to list several headlines that make definitive declarations as I did with my article on CD sales.

The problem is all of these pure declarations are misleading, even those that may in the end bear some accuracy to what is really happening. We all need to do our homework (including me) even when the pressure of a deadline is upon us.


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