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Lessons from Sweden's Illegal File-Sharing Crackdown

Wow. Daily Internet traffic in Sweden immediately fell more than 40% after a new Swedish law went into force cracking down on illegal file-sharing. The new law obligates ISPs to to report the IP-addresses of suspected copyright violators to copyright owners.

  • Per an AP story: "Statistics from the Netnod Internet Exchange, an organization measuring Internet traffic, suggest that daily online activity dropped more than 40 percent after the law took effect on Wednesday. Henrik Ponten of the Swedish Anti-Piracy Bureau welcomed the plunge in Internet traffic as a sign that file-swappers are reducing their activity for fear of getting caught. "There's no other explanation for it," he said."


Seldom is there such glaring evidence of direct cause and effect between a policy-change and behavior-change on the Internet. To the extent that this initial effect is lasting and proves applicable to other nation's circumstances, what can we learn from this Swedish precursor/example?

Lesson 1: It proves people act more responsibly on the Internet when there is an increased liklihood of getting caught and prosecuted for illegal behavior. More accountability equals more deterrence.  

Lesson 2: It may turn out to be much cheaper and more effective for the U.S. to simply enforce copyright law than to continue overbuilding bandwidth capacity in order to keep pace with the near bottomless bandwidth appetites of the very small minority of users that are serious illegal file-sharers.

Lesson 3: To the extent that current demand for bandwidth speed and capacity is being largely driven by illegal file-sharing activity, simply enforcing the law could enable network investment that is currently being diverted to cope with rampant illegal traffic, to be re-allocated to accelerate broadband penetration, speed and capacity for legitimate use and productive economic activity.     

Lesson 4: If much of the tension over net neutrality comes from the necessity for reasonable network management of the congestion generated by illegal file-sharing, lessening the congestion caused by illegal file sharing through enforcing copyright law, would logically lessen tensions and potential problems between net neutrality and reasonable network management. Curing a cause of a problem is superior to putting band-aids on a symptom. 

Lesson 5: Sweden's success proves the "wild-west" bad side of the Internet can be brought more under more control, if there is simply a will to enforce the rule of law and respect for property.

Lesson 6: Subscription-online-video business models can be viable and compete with advertising-online-video business models to the extent that the rule of law and respect for property is enforced.   

Lesson 7: Any future efforts at net neutrality legislation or FCC regulation will likely have to deal with the thrust of the Swedish example, because it basically was embodied in the proposed Feinstein Senate Amendment to the economic stimulus package, which proposed that the Federal Government "shall allow for reasonable network management practices such as deterring unlawful activity, including child pornography and copyright infringement."    

Lesson 8: To the extent that the FCC's National Broadband Strategy examines and seeks all alternatives to maximize the penetration and affordability of broadband investment and deployment, Sweden provides an example of the many broadband maximization benefits of better enforcement of the rule of law.  

In sum, the most expensive and least effective broadband strategy may be not enforcing existing law.