The Copyright Industry May Be Wrong About Movie Piracy

Does mass piracy of popular movies cause fewer people to see movies in theaters? Perhaps not. It turns out that the copyright industry and major studios were wrong about the impact of torrenting on box office returns.

A recent study made by researchers at Wellesley College and the University of Minnesota helps disprove the common complaint that torrenting takes millions of dollars from studios. Here is a closer look at the study and its intriguing conclusions.

International Sales Hurt by Delayed Releases

The study was completed by researchers at two prominent institutions. They examined the connection between downloading movies through BitTorrent and lower ticket sales in both the U.S. and overseas.

For years, studios have hounded Internet providers, search engines, and governments to step up their efforts to curb piracy. They claimed that illegal movie downloads cost them millions of dollars in lost ticket sales.

Delayed movie release

When examining international box office returns, researchers noted a correlation between piracy and lower sales. However, they also point out that piracy is directly connected to delayed releases. After a Hollywood movie has its first run in U.S. theaters, it often gets distributed to international markets. The delayed release causes more international movie fans to torrent the pirated content.

Instead of piracy driving lower ticket sales, the studios’ own actions are the primary cause. Unfortunately, the irony is likely lost on the Hollywood executives responsible for planning movie releases. If the studios could work out a release schedule with a shorter window between domestic and international releases, they may solve their own piracy issue.

No Connection Between U.S. Ticket Sales and Piracy

While delayed international releases led to increased piracy and lower ticket sales, researchers did not find the same connection in the U.S. market.

In fact, the study indicates that there is no link between piracy and U.S. box office sales. Researchers examined the growth of movie piracy since the release of BitTorrent in 2003. They had about a decade of data to analyze and concluded that there was no sales displacement in the U.S. due to piracy.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have always assumed that every illegal download was a lost purchase. If 20,000 people torrent a pirated movie, they assume that they lost 20,000 ticket sales at the box office. A large portion of those BitTorrent users is likely in foreign countries.

People download pirated movies for a variety of reasons and access is one of the biggest factors. The international findings help verify that people are more likely to use BitTorrent to download copyrighted content if they do not have a legitimate way to access the content.

Some Governments Blame the Studios for Piracy

The movie studios continue to lobby for tighter restrictions on piracy sites. However, instead of blaming others for their problems, they should look at their own actions. Increasing access to legal content can help combat piracy. Forcing ISPs and search engines to block piracy sites, or lobbying governments to create new laws, cannot solve a problem that the studios created on their own.

Some governments have already noticed the double standard. For example, Switzerland and the Netherlands allow citizens to download unauthorized content for personal use. These governments understand that the movie and recording industries need to provide better access to legal content.

Can These Studies Change How People Think?

Researchers first released this study in 2012. The movie studios have had access to the findings of the study for over six years. They continue to blame lower box office returns on BitTorrent instead of their own distribution methods.

The 2012 study was not the only study that examined the impact of piracy. The University of Amsterdam’s Institute for Information Laws published a study that included survey responses from over 35,000 BitTorrent users.

The study found that downloading illegal content did not hurt the physical sales of DVDs or BluRays. They also found that the rate of piracy is decreasing in many European countries that now have greater access to legal content.

For example, Netflix and other streaming sites are more accessible in other parts of the world, making it easier for the public to legally access movies and television shows.

While research continues to show that piracy does not hurt the studios, do not expect the studios to stop lobbying for the tighter restrictions on piracy sites.

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