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A Twist from the Feds: Can Piracy Do Some Good?

Among the Hollywood lobby, few other topics are more important than piracy. Congress has passed laws beefing up enforcement of copyright crimes, and the White House appointed a “czar” to oversee intellectual property, all with the assumption that such theft is a bad thing.

So it was a little surprising on Monday when the Government Accountability Office released a reporton piracy that, while explicitly identifying piracy as a threat to jobs and innovation, also raised the prospect that it can actually do some good. It’s probably the most surprising part of the report, given that it was commissioned as part of the Pro-IP act, passed in 2008 and widely supported by entertainment and media congloms.

In a passage from the 37-page report that identifies “positive economic effects,” “Consumers may purchase movies that have yet to be released in theaters and are unavailable in legitimate form. Lower-priced counterfeit goods may exert competitive pressure to lower prices for legitimate goods, which may benefit consumers.”

Consumers, the report states, also may use pirated goods to sample music, movies, software and games, before turning to legal goods, which “may lead to increased sales of legitimate goods.” Moreover, the report cites some who say that studios also stand to benefit from increased brand awareness.

“Companies may experience increased revenues due to the sales of merchandise that are based on movie characters whose popularity is enhanced by sales of pirated movies.”

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