Study Suggests Studios Aren’t Offering Enough Online Legal Options to Counter Movie Piracy

Internet Piracy

Adding to a growing body of competing data on who bears the blame for rampant online infringement, two George Mason U scholars unveiled a website that claims that few of the most pirated movies are even available online legally.

Shorter windows would help counter piracy, the authors say, though theater owners are unlikely to agree with changing windows substantially in the near future.

The site — — shows that of the top 10 most pirated movies in the past week, none are available for streaming, three were available for digital rental and six were available for digital purchase. The authors of the study, Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado from GMU’s Mercatus Center and developer Matt Sherman, relied on data from TorrentFreak and Can I Stream It. The top pirated movie, “Pacific Rim,” was available only for digital purchase, their study showed.

The study showed that over the past three weeks, 53% of the most pirated movies have been available legally in some digital form. In the same period, only 25% have been available for rental or streaming, and 0% have been available on a legal streaming service.

Brito said that he decided to do the study after the MPAA unveiled a study several weeks ago showing that search engines like Google lead users to infringing movies and TV shows. At a congressional hearing, Cary Sherman, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, urged more voluntary agreements between search engines and the content industry to try to curb piracy.

Brito wrote in a blog post that “while there is no way to draw causality between the fact that these movies are not available legally and that they are the most pirated, it does highlight that while the MPAA is asking Google to take voluntary action to change search results, it may well be within the movie studio’s power to change those results by taking voluntary action themselves. That is, they could make more movies available online and sooner, perhaps by collapsing the theatrical release window.”

Yet the MPAA challenged some of the figures as well as the premise, pointing out the availability of movies like “This Is the End” on Vudu, Google Play, Sony Entertainment Network, iTunes and Amazon. The figure was corrected, but it also lists “Pacific Rim” for digital purchase but not rental or streaming. Yet it is available on YouTube movies which, depending on how you look at it, is a streaming service as well as a digital rental and purchase service.

“More than half of the films they cite are in fact available to stream or download, including films they claim are not,” said an MPAA spokeswoman. “And if a film is not available for stream or purchase at a given moment, it still does not justify stealing it from the creators and makers who worked hard to make it.”

The MPAA offers its own tool to find legal movie options online,, but it is not a search tool for titles, but simply a listing of online providers like iTunes, Vudu and Amazon.

The movie “Elysium” is not going to be made available on iTunes until late November, according to the site, and on Blu-ray and Ultraviolet in December. But it was available for illegal streaming shortly after its August release, yet studios risk the ire of theater owners if they offer legal downloads of movies during their runs at the multiplex.

Britto acknowledged first-day glitches on his site in a lengthy blog post, and noted that data is being updated as movies become available.

“One thing is for certain: the dataset that we are proposing to build is important,” he wrote. “We have provoked quite a reaction from people on both sides of this issue. We acknowledge that it has been a bumpy launch for our site, but we are committed to getting it right.”

The site, glitches or not, is another instance of the back-and-forth between the content and tech policy communities in Washington over who is responsible for online infringement. A few weeks ago, the MPAA unveiled a study showing that search engines like Google play a major role in introducing audiences to pirated content via their search results. Yet Google and the trade group the Internet Assn. have for some time said that the greater availability of legal online alternatives will alleviate problems with piracy. That seems to be the premise behind the site. Google provides support to the Mercatus Center.

The MPAA has promoted the availability of more movie and TV content online, but it also suggests that that alone won’t solve the problems with piracy. The org noted that “The Walking Dead” was pirated 500,000 times within 16 hours despite the fact that it was available to stream for free over the next 27 days on AMC’s website and distributed in 125 countries around the world after it aired.

“Our industry is working hard to bring content to audiences when they want it, where they want it, but content theft is a complex problem that requires comprehensive voluntary solutions from all stakeholders involved,” the MPAA spokeswoman said.

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  1. jeZ says:

    Risk the ire of theatres? How’s this then: cinema tickets could be printed with a code. If you use the code online you are entitled to stream the movie online for free until its DVD release date. At that point if you have the ticket code you can either rent or buy the movie digitally for a large discount. Actual DVD or blu ray boxes to then start to be released with freebies like t shirts, posters etc. Similarly they come with discounted rental or purchase of a digital copy.

    So cinema and DVD boxes stay high priced but are selling an “experience” and legitimate purchases of that experience provides legitimate, affordable access to online versions just to watch.

    Everybody wins.

    Available for marketing consultation at very reasonable rates.

  2. ac8ns says:

    Yesterday “Pacific Rim” was available for download purchase only (storage in the Cloud) from Amazon Prime in HD for $19.99. Today I rented a 24-hour download from Amazon Prime for $5.99. Glad I waited for the rental offer. Even more glad I didn’t spend $50+ to watch it on the “big screen” without Pause for potty breaks or Rewind to catch a scene or two or more again. WTF MPAA? It’s the 21st Century, embrace the technology!

  3. CNU says:

    Citing the fact that online options were lacking for Pacific Rim seems an odd choice since rental and purchase options for the DVD and Blu-Ray versions rental/purchase were more then then lacking they were non-existent until today as it was just released. It makes their case weak as it just makes illegal downloaders sound inpatient then anything else.

    • jedi77 says:

      That is not entirely wrong, but it isn’t necessarily a negative.
      The days when the producers determined when and how I saw something are over.
      I am a modern consumer, I make those decisions now.
      We are living in world where the technology is available, so why not use it?

      Take the Walking Dead example.
      I live in a North European country.
      There may or may not be some channel somewhere showing the premiere episode, they may even show it this very week. But I don’t care. It is too much trouble for me to go through every single one of my 25-30 channels to find out which one is showing it, and when it’s on. Not to mention then recording it, or actually being home at that set time.

      I don’t have the time, nor the patience for that.
      But, I do want to watch it.
      So I may or may not torrent it.
      I haven’t seen season 3 yet, so I am not in a hurry, but the example goes for other shows as well, like The Blacklist, Agents of Shield, etc.

      And quite frankly, as long as I pay the bill to my cable provider, who cares whether I see the show on tv, record on from tv, or download it from a torrent site?

      The production company have already been paid by the channel who bought the rights to show it in my country, and the channel already has my subscription fee.

      So who am I cheating?

  4. Georg Lusego says:

    Is this the first time that somebody from the MPAA has admitted that getting people to use legal options takes actual work, instead of just quick and dumb solutions (suing,cutting off internet access)?

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