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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