Does Cracking Down on Piracy Kill the Internet?

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There is, it seems, only one problem with enforcing stricter copyright laws when it comes to online piracy: People stop using the Internet altogether.

It sounds dramatic, but evidence in both New Zealand and Sweden suggests that—rather than risk being caught downloading illegal material and facing fines (or, in New Zealand’s case, getting banned from the Internet after your third offense)—people have just decided they should stay offline and find other ways of entertaining themselves. We know this because web traffic fell dramatically in both countries after new laws were put in place.

(MORE: Judge Derails Lawsuit Against 23,322 People Who Pirated ‘The Expendables’)

Various New Zealand ISPs are reporting drops in traffic as high as 10% following the new “three strikes” legislation taking effect at the start of the month, but that’s nothing compared with the 30% drop Sweden witnessed in 2009 following its own then-new legislation taking effect.

The New Zealand drop may be put into better perspective when you learn that P2P filesharing was estimated to be the second largest source of web traffic in the country after streaming video, suggesting that the new laws are having the desired effect in terms of cutting down on online piracy. Of course that raises the question: Will the U.S. go from its lenient “six strikes” policy before taking action against pirates to something closer to the New Zealand model? And if so, will the information superhighway here also go from rush hour traffic to something more manageable?

MORE: Big Media Goes Easy with ‘Six Strikes’ Anti-Piracy Measures

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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