MPAA Fires Back at Piracy Study

Lobbying org calls authors conclusions "total speculation," say most research shows piracy hurts pic sales

The MPAA rejected Wednesday the findings of a European study showing that the shutdown of piracy site Megaupload hurt revenues for pictures other than blockbusters.

An MPAA spokesperson dismissed the authors’ conclusions: “Unfortunately, the findings in the study aren’t entirely clear and the authors’ speculation about the results and why they arrived at those results is just that – total speculation.” The spokesperson also noted the authors didn’t clearly define “big” pictures or “blockbusters,” the one class of picture their study showed to be helped by the shutdown of the piracy site in Jan. 2012.

The industry lobbying org also released a statement: “An independent review of the academic research available has shown that the vast majority of research available in fact does show that piracy does harm sales,” it said. “And a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University found that digital sales in countries where Megaupload was popular increased after Megaupload shut down. And in fact, the Munich and Copenhagen paper also finds that box office increased after Megaupload shutdown for an important segment of titles that they don’t clearly define, although it’s hard from the study’s descriptions to determine exactly what the control and treatment sample groups are, among other key factors. Unfortunately, in order to reach its conclusion, the Munich and Copenhagen study also all but ignores a critical piece of the box office picture – how timing or other factors that are completely unrelated to Megaupload impact the box office performance of small, medium or large films.”

The Carnegie Mellon study the MPAA refers to does not exactly contradict the European study, as the former looked at homevideo sales and the latter focused on theatrical gross. However neither study alone amounts to proof of its conclusions.

Academic studies are published so researchers can make their data available for peer review. If the conclusions are surprising, those studies make news. But the conclusions aren’t proven; other researchers then review the data, methodologies and conclusions of the study, and where are there are experiments, try to repeat the experiments and the results. In most cases, surprising and unexpected results either aren’t replicated by other researchers, or are otherwise debunked through the peer-review process.

As a result, most academic studies that generate news coverage turn out to be wrong.

Whether the European study on the closing of Megaupload and its impact on theatrical grosses will be debunked or its conclusions proven through additional research remains to be seen.

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  1. Joe Smart says:

    The researchers wouldn’t seem to have a vested interest in coming to the conclusion that they did regarding their work. The same obviously can’t be said for the MPAA, which wants to blame piracy for all of their ills the same as the music industry did. I don’t know if the results of the study are accurate or not. What I do know is that the RIAA was convinced beyond any doubt whatsoever that if they shut down Napster and sued people who downloaded music illegally then consumers would start buying compact discs again. How did that work out? Every time rights holders come up with a way to combat piracy (Shut down Napster! Sue downloaders! Shut down Limeware! Shut down Megaupload!) people end up finding a way around it. Piracy exists for reasons other than people are naturally dishonest and want to stick it to billion dollar corporations that produce content. People in China turn to piracy because government quotas and censors make piracy the only way to see most movies and television shows in their intended versions. People in many countries (including America) download movies or buy pirated copies because they can’t afford to go to the movies–at this point it costs about the same to see a first run movie and buy a Coke as it does to purchase that same movie on Blu-ray when it comes to home video. Since video stores are gone legal options for people to watch movies at home are significantly smaller now than they were 10 years ago–unless they have an expensive high speed internet connection. People download cable programs because they can no longer afford to pay over a hundred dollars a month for television service that mostly consists of channels they never ever watch. Peoples’ incomes are getting smaller and smaller and entertainment companies keep raising the prices for movies and cable TV and then they wonder why ordinary people turn to piracy? Piracy isn’t what’s hurting the entertainment business–greed is.

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