Weekly News Roundup (20 July 2014)

The World Cup has ended. For some reason, it seems like forever since the final was played out on an early and sleepy Monday morning (Australia time), and I had to actually double check to make sure it was actually the previous Monday, and not two weeks ago like it seems. I guess I just got used to being able to watch football almost every other day, and with a week without anything, it just felt like forever. Plus some really crappy news this week from all around the world, one of those weeks where you think back on the events and cannot do anything more than sigh and shake your head.

Well, there’s still the WNR, totally insignificant really compared to anything that has happened in the past week, but, as they say, the show must go on.


Perhaps the most comprehensive study yet on piracy’s effect on box office revenue has revealed that file-sharing has almost a negligible effect on revenue. In fact, pre-release piracy may actually boost box office receipts, due to the promotional effect of piracy.

Movie Cinema Tickets

The most extensive study yet shows piracy has little effect on box office revenue. Photo credit: EvelynGiggles, CC

The study, conducted by economist Koleman Strumpf of the University of Kansas School of Business, looked at the top 150 most popular movies, over a 7 years period – sometimes with thousands of daily observations – and only $200 million in reduced revenue could be attributed to the release of pirated torrents. That may sound a lot, but it’s actually only 0.3% of all revenue recorded during the same period. Revenue data comes via the Hollywood Stock Exchange, so there is some degree of estimation and error in the data, but it certainly isn’t the “billion dollar a year problem” that Hollywood likes to portray piracy as. In fact, in the same period, Hollywood spent more than $500 million on anti-piracy activities alone. Good money wasted, if you ask me.

More interesting were the “consistent” results the study found in relation to pre-release piracy (that is when the pirated version is released on BitTorrent networks before the movie even hits the cinemas). The study found that there was actually a “modest positive effect” on box office revenue whenever a pre-release torrent was released. Not what Hollywood wants to hear. Or want you to believe.

What they do want you to hear is that it’s everyone else’s fault that movie studios are “losing” billions of dollars every year. And ISPs and search engines, these days, are at the top of their “public enemies” list. News Corp boss and the inspiration behind at least on Bond villain Rupert Murdoch says that ISPs should be held responsible for piracy. In submissions made to an Australian senate inquiry into a proposed free trade agreement with South Korea, News Corp says that current laws “do not provide rights holders with means to protect rights online”, and want ISPs to be on the front-lines in the un-winnable war on piracy.

It seems now that rights holders are totally convinced this is the way to proceed, just like they were entirely convinced that suing downloaders was the best way to deter others from doing so. The same strategy that the American Bar Association this week says is totally ineffective and even counter-productive. Their white paper says suing individuals is too costly, don’t yield any financial returns and can cause “public relations problems”. And it only took them a decade to figure all of this out!

So maybe a decade from now, News Corp and others will realise that picking on ISPs and treating all Internet users like criminals may not have been the best course of action, and neither is blaming Google for all their piracy woes. We live in hope.

Speaking of Google, TorrentFreak has been testing Google’s anti-piracy demotions and found that while legal music listening alternatives are now easier to find than pirated MP3s, the differences aren’t that significant. It usually only takes a couple of extra clicks and keystrokes to access pirated stuff, compared to legal options like VEVO.

Google Auto-Suggest

Google demotions have made legal music options easier to find, but there are so few legal options that most of the results are still piracy related

An interesting discovery made by TorrentFreak was that while the legal options are there, they are almost always YouTube or VEVO music videos. Other legal options, like iTunes, rarely rank (perhaps due to the way the iTunes website is set up), and TorrentFreak says that this is squarely the fault of the music industry. It’s no good for Google to keep on demoting piracy results when there are only a couple of actual legal results they can promote (and everything after these links become all pirated results again). The music industry will argue that removing the pirated results completely would solve this dilemma, rather than actually providing more legal options, or making legal sites more crawlable as Google suggests.

And it’s the lack of these legal options that seem to determine how many people pirate, and don’t pirate, from region to region. A new global survey has revealed that countries that have access to lots of legal alternatives have a much lower piracy rate than countries, like Australia, that have limited options. In the US, for example, 70% say they are unlikely to pirate, compared to just 40% in Australia. And even those that do pirate in the US, 90% say they only do it a couple of times a year.

The survey also shows pricing becomes an issue in countries with worse economic conditions than developed nations like the US and Australia. In Indonesia, for example, only 9% said they were unlikely to pirate, and out of those that do, 36% said that the high cost of buying content was the main reason they chose to pirate. In comparison, the main reason for Aussies was the lack of legal options.

Overall, the survey seems to show the many different reasons why people don’t want to go down the piracy route, including security issues and poor quality of downloads, and things like better availability, more options, fairer pricing all go towards helping people make the choice that they want to make in the first place.

But nah, just call all of them thieves and try to ban every one of them from the Internet.


That’s it for the week, all copyright stuff I know. Hopefully next week will have a bit more variety. See you then.


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