Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Where be pirates?

The BBC got quite excited by the MusicMetric Digital Music Index. Very, very excited, although it somehow neglects to mention in the BBC News report that the MusicMetric work has been done apparently as part of a BBC project. The MusicMetric page does reveal the link:

As part of the BBC BitTorrent trend visualisation we have released the largest ever public data set showing trends in music on BitTorrent around the UK.
I say "reveal", although it doesn't really explain what that might mean.

On a different page, the BBC does start to suggest there could be a link:
The data, collected independently by Musicmetric and seen exclusively by the BBC, is believed to be the biggest analysis of its kind to be conducted.
If it's a BBC project, then you'd expect the data to be seen exclusively. Although MusicMetric have published the data under a Creative Commons licence so it's not that exclusive.

If the BBC is commissioning work like this, why would it pretend it's just some stuff that happens to be out there?

Anyway, that BBC excitement. There's excitement over the sheer volume of downloads in the UK:
Globally, the research suggested that the UK is a significant player on the world stage as a country of illegal music downloaders.

The country was placed second in the world in terms of pure volume of illegal activity, with Musicmetric logging 43,263,582 downloads in the first six months of this year.

The US topped the list, with 96,681,133 downloads tracked in the same period.

Italy (33,158,943), Canada (23,959,924) and Brazil (19,724,522) made up the remainder of the top five.
However, as the reports point out elsewhere, in many countries the most-torrented artist is Billy Van, who has made a choice to share his music via BitTorrent. So these figures, clearly, don't track "illegal music downloaders" at all; they mix up licenced and unlicenced downloads. And that's before you have to swallow hard at the conflation of all "illegal" downloads and activity solely on the torrents.

If the language is vague, the figures seem suspicious, too. Really? Britain is the second best at torrenting, although outstripped only two-to-one by the US?

It might be true, but I'd be more keen to accept that data if this had come from a different place - British survey finds British people (second) most active could be down to the methodology, or a cultural bias. Would a team sat in Lahore have found identical data?

When we get down to a town and artist level, things get cloudier still:
The data suggests that Ed Sheeran - with his album + - is, so far this year, the most illegally downloaded artist in 459 of the 694 cities, towns and villages covered by the research.
No. No, it really doesn't. The data tracks the most - let's use their terms - illegally downloaded albums and, certainly in the data released, that's all.

So you can say that if you take this data, +- is the most torrented album, but you can't say anything about artists. (For example, if just over half of people downloading +- download two Pink albums, too, Pink would outstrip Sheeran as most popular artist, but that wouldn't show up on this data.

And we're talking about tiny, tiny numbers here - Sheeran "won" Bath with just 57 copies snaffled; that was 0.01% of all the Bath torrents. That's pretty slim figures to build a claim on.

That's even if you accept this town-level data at all. The internet is tolerably good at knowing what country you're in, but anyone who has seen the attempts to localise adverts for dating sites and that one about the woman with the strange old trick to look younger will know, when it comes to guessing your town, the internet has all the pinpoint accuracy of a NATO strike.

So when the BBC claims:
Unlike the most recent boat race, Oxford (8,511 downloads on average per month) and Cambridge (7,217 downloads) find themselves pretty close in the piracy stakes.
It's possible all those downloads could actually have been located in Bedford.

So, pretty much dubious claim stacked on category error set upon rather thin data. Still, it's a news story, kinda, right?

The BBC Online reporting, though, is better than that spotted on South Today by icod:

Yes, that was Sheeran being called a "naughty boy" for, erm, having been the victim of downloaders.