No Surprise: MPAA Wouldn't Reveal Data On How It Came Up With Bogus 'Piracy' Numbers

from the of-course-not dept

Starting last year, I started receiving reports from folks at the GAO that they were getting massive resistance from the entertainment industry when it came to their attempt to look more deeply into the actual economic impact of unauthorized file sharing. Some even told me that industry pressure had resulted in the GAO never releasing a particular report. However, last week, as everyone knows, the GAO came out with its extremely damning report, showing that industry figures on the impact of unauthorized file trading were totally bunk. The numbers -- which were regularly used by politicians in pushing for entertainment industry-supported legislation -- had little basis in fact, greatly overstated the issue and totally ignored the benefits of file sharing.

As people dig deeper into the report, more and more details are coming out -- including the fact that the MPAA wouldn't provide the data on how it came up with some of its more questionable "piracy" claims. Of particular concern was a report from 2005, which the MPAA used to push for regulations requiring universities to set up filters. The MPAA used its own research to claim that 44% of unauthorized file sharing came from universities -- and the MPAA's main lawyer made the statement that the primary purpose of internet access on campus was for students to share unauthorized materials. Congress never bothered to question these stats -- though, after all the debate, the MPAA finally admitted that it had made a math error that showed the "real" number (according to itself) was 15%, rather than 44%.

The GAO was apparently interested in digging into this report to understand where these numbers came from, but the MPAA decided it would rather not share:
The GAO never got all of the information it requested from the Motion Picture Association of America, according to GAO administrators, including Loren Yager, the author of the summary report that ensued and director of the GAO's International Affairs and Trade efforts. The agency said as much in the report: "It is difficult based on the information provided in the study to determine how the authors handled key assumptions." Without the materials, government analysts couldn't properly evaluate the MPAA's 2005 survey...
At this point, I think it's fair to ask why the gov't should ever be allowed to rely on the stats put forth by the entertainment industry in passing legislation again.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:04am

    *sigh*

    Elect Reputable Scientists!

    The only thing a politician needs is an empty head, good charisma and money/popularity.

    Scientists study for years trying to better understand reality. I'd prefer laws being made by persons who have some understanding of reality.

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:14am

    Duh.

    "At this point, I think it's fair to ask why the gov't should ever be allowed to rely on the stats put forth by the entertainment industry in passing legislation again."

    They're not looking for actual arguments, they're looking for fig leafs that can cover the deals they were paid for.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:18am

    But piracy is costing Hollywood trillions of dollars and quadrillions of jobs!

     

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      lol, Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 9:31am

      Re:

      wow u no longer have permission to talk.
      hollywood loses no job thru file sharing, they dont produce or sell the shit, they just shoot it and edit.
      and
      it barely would effect how much money they get. besides if u think an actor with 10million dollars already needs another 5 million, then please tell me where u work so i can be as secure in my own finances!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:21am

    nor should they be allowed to use stats put forward by the pro-piracy anti-copyright people either. you have just as big an agenda and make some seriously flawed assumptions.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:22am

      Re:

      Yeah, those darn facts have a known anti-TAM bias.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:24am

      Re:

      If piracy is such a problem for Hollywood then why do they keep breaking box-office records?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:11am

        Re: Re:

        barely. ticket prices are way up over the last 10 years yet the records are not going up that much. look at all the numbers not just the pap the masnick feeds you.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:14am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The public's perception is that Hollywood is doing very well. The public hears about this every Monday thanks to the media. So my pap is, you know, the media.

          I blame video games.

           

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          Christopher Weigel (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:25am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Uhm... breaking records is still breaking records. Last I checked, most sprinters don't complain that they "barely" came in first.

          And maybe we could blame the fact they're "barely" breaking records on... hmm, higher ticket prices (driving consumers away), higher production costs (yay special effects!), etc.

          Or we can say "it must be pirates, because that's the big thing we don't control! Obviously, our business model can't possibly be improved upon..."

           

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          PaulT (profile), Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 1:48am

          Re: Re: Re:

          DVD sales are also way up compared to 10 years ago, as are video game sales. Your point?

          The fact is that during a time of recession, box office records are being broken on a regular basis while even movies that have been "disappointing" at the box office like Watchmen and Kick-Ass are still taking a healthy profit even if they have to wait for DVD to do so.

          Whichever way you look at it, movie sales are way up over the last decade. If Hollywood's unable to make use of record-breaking grosses, that has bugger all to do with "piracy". End of story.

           

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      Brooks (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:30am

      Re:

      Can you point me to some of these questionable stats from "pro-piracy" people? If they are as egregiously false, and from places you will argue have as much clout as the MPAA, I will wholeheartedly agree with you.

       

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      Richard (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:31am

      Re:

      nor should they be allowed to use stats put forward by the pro-piracy anti-copyright people either. you have just as big an agenda and make some seriously flawed assumptions.

      Being anti-copyright is not the same thing as being pro-piracy and pointing out that piracy is unstoppable is not the same thing as supporting it.

      Having an agenda does not in itself make you dishonest.

      Most scientists who publish statistics would probably admit to having an agenda but that does not mean that their results should be ignored.

      The important point is to publish you methodology and assumptions so that anyone can decide for themselves what your results mean. That is proper scientific method. It is what people on this side of the argument generally do and what the MPAA et al - as evidenced by this post generally don't do.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:40am

      Re:

      I don't disagree with this. Numbers used to make laws should come from uninterested third parties.

       

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        Richard (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:45am

        Re: Re:

        Numbers used to make laws should come from uninterested third parties.

        If they are uninterested they won't provide any. I think you meant disinterested.

         

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        Greevar (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:14am

        Re: Re:

        What you mean is "impartial third parties". I don't think you can find one being that there are only consumers and creators. Perhaps, one could argue that those who both create and consume might have a more balanced view, but can you truly find a party that has no bias in such an environment?

         

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      John Fenderson (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:11am

      Re:

      They should be allowed to use stats from anybody, so long as those stats can be demonstrated to be arrived at in a valid way.

      However, when any given party has a long and consistent history of lying, it's reasonable to ignore them.

      I don't know of any pro-piracy or anti-copyright people who are presenting any statistics, but I assume you are trying to disparagingly refer to the people who would like reasonable copyright laws. Those people do not have a history of being intentionally deceptive. Many of the major copyright maximalists, however, do.

       

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      Casper, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:39am

      Re:

      nor should they be allowed to use stats put forward by the pro-piracy anti-copyright people either. you have just as big an agenda and make some seriously flawed assumptions.

      How did you arrive at that conclusion? One party disagrees on a philosophical level with a system. The other party has vested financial interest, consolidated power, and financial incentive to manipulate data and influence decisions. It's like saying the people against the dictator will be skewing the information as much as the dictator himself. Yes, both sides will almost certainly be bias, but generally the one with the least investment will be more accurate.

       

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      Mark Peskin (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 2:01pm

      Re:

      What agenda is that? The truth? Certainly you're not implying that TechDirt has a financial interest in making distorted claims (like the MPAA)?

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:27am

    I don't know how it works in the USA but in the UK, if you don't show your working beside your answers in Maths class then you automatically fail!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:31am

      Re:

      I don't know how it works in the USA but in the UK, if you don't show your working beside your answers in Maths class then you automatically fail!

      Nobody fails in the USA any more - it's too damaging to student's fragile self-esteem

       

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      AdamBv1 (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:33am

      Re:

      From what i remember it was you get half credit for a correct answer but not showing your work in most of my classes when i was in school but it could depend on the teacher.

       

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        greg.fenton (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:08am

        Re: Re:

        In my class, the right answer is worth 1 mark. For non-trivial questions, showing your work is worth 3 to 5 marks depending on the difficulty of the question.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:47am

      Re:

      we showed our workz you ingreats:

      +( 1 Professional Lobbyist
      8 Professional Strippers
      2 Limos will fully stocked ether bars
      25 Bottles of Cristal
      2 Canisters of NO2
      3 Pairs x-large panty hose
      1 Lifetime supply of Penicillin
      (x) Get out of child endangerment free cards )
      / Congressman


      = All college students are pirates! Filter the universiwebs!!

       

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      Christopher Weigel (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:53am

      Re:

      Tell that to the BPI and the Digital Economy bill.

       

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      Marshall Musyimi, Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 12:35am

      Re: Math

      Amen to that

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:34am

    "At this point, I think it's fair to ask why the gov't should ever be allowed to rely on the stats put forth by the entertainment industry in passing legislation again. "

    It's called campaign contributions.

     

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    Michael (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:37am

    Why can't someone just accuse them of lying outright? They forged the data to influence legislation.
    They're liars.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:43am

      Re:

      Because nobody has the spine to do that.

       

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      Christopher Weigel (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:58am

      Re:

      Because somewhere buried in the arse-end of hell is a survey of about 7 people.

      In all seriousness, assumptions can (and are) manipulated to produce whatever numbers they're looking for. But technically they're not lying, just (intentionally) wretched failures at the scientific method.

       

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        John Fenderson (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:06am

        Re: Re:

        "But technically they're not lying, just (intentionally) wretched failures at the scientific method."

        AKA lying.

        Lying is when you are intentionally presenting a falsehood as truth. The keyword is "intentionally."

         

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    John Doe, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:40am

    More bogus stats...

    Sounds like the MPAA have the same kind of statisticians that are perpetrating the global warming farce on us. ;)

     

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    Mayor Milobar (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:44am

    In Canada (at least when I was in school) as long as you showed your work, and your logic was correct, you would get close to full marks even if your answer was wrong. If you showed no work, you got zero, even if your answer was right. Too bad that lesson was lost on the MPAA and the US gov't.

     

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    mjb5406 (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:55am

    The real answer isn't very glamorous

    The MPAA tries to get all of the glitzy press it can get... so they realize that the real answer isn't glamorous at all, and certainly won't make front-page news:

    "We made it up"

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:56am

    It really doesn't matter if they do have the facts to backup their claims, they have checkbooks. Oh! And politicians love Foundations.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:01am

    It really doesn't matter if they do have the facts to backup their claims, they have checkbooks. Oh! And politicians love Foundations.

    Indeed, facts are meaningless to politicians and lobbyists. Cold hard cash - now that has real meaning.

    But who would believe any of them? These politicians are on both side of the issue anyway, ask them - they'll tell the RIAA they are going to 'crack down' on piracy and they'll tell the people there are there to save them from big greedy corporations.

    You know what the main issue is? The people with incomes over a million a year are the ones making all the laws. It should be a law that at least one of the two senators from each state must have a net worth of less than 500,000.

    Really should elect one senator and draw the other from a lottery of all the registered voters...

     

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    lfroen (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:17am

    Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

    Usually I'm agree with Mike on copyright issues, but let's be honest - actual numbers of piracy are very high. You can argue about effects of piracy (promotion vs lost sales), but you can't change the raw fact - "Pirate Bay" and similar sites built and operate because of piracy.

    Stories about legitimate use - are insignificant. Bandwidth is pretty cheap today, and everyone who want to spread his works can setup server for downloading with little to no effort. Nobody "discover" anything on Pirate Bay, simply because site is not allow to discover things - only search for specific items.

    I'm all for copyright reform, but putting clear bullshit as arguments doesn't help match.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:19am

      Re: Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

      What does that have to do with the article?

       

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      crade (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:40am

      Re: Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

      "stories about legitimate use - are insignificant"
      - You obviously don't know what you are talking about. These "stories" are not about Pirate bay.

      "actual numbers of piracy are very high"
      Sure, it's very high here, it's very high everywhere. If you think it is signifantly higher here than in the U.S., I think you are completely wrong.

       

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        lfroen (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 12:34pm

        Re: Re: Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

        >> If you think it is signifantly higher here than in the U.S., I think you are completely wrong.
        In some places, unlike US, nobody pay for downloading movies. Educate yourself: world != US.

        >> - You obviously don't know what you are talking about. These "stories" are not about Pirate bay.
        I'm talking about stories appearing here. They are about Pirate Bay.

         

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 1:15pm

      Re: Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

      Usually I'm agree with Mike on copyright issues, but let's be honest - actual numbers of piracy are very high.

      No one said otherwise. The question was how much was it costing the industry.

      You can argue about effects of piracy (promotion vs lost sales), but you can't change the raw fact - "Pirate Bay" and similar sites built and operate because of piracy.

      Did anyone argue otherwise?

      You seem to be arguing against a strawman.

       

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        lfroen (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:41pm

        Re: Re: Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

        There's no scientific method to determine whether particular download is lost sale or not. Not even statistically. Sorry Mike, but your claims about "but sales are up, so it's clearly promotion" is completely bogus. Here's alternative explanation - movies (music/software) is better, so sales are up. Sounds not less scientific to me.

        Moreover, industry claim about "if movie can be downloaded for free, who will buy?" is logically correct and consistent with my personal experience.

        Yes, piracy is promotion. But for one and only reason only - it is illegal. Make it legal - and "tragedy of commons" will collapse movie industry overnight.

         

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          PaulT (profile), Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 2:29am

          Re: Re: Re: Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

          "Moreover, industry claim about "if movie can be downloaded for free, who will buy?" is logically correct and consistent with my personal experience."

          Clearly, it isn't. If this were true, then sales and revenue would be significantly down. Yet, Hollywood is regularly reporting record-breaking revenue.

          So, we have claim X (if people download, nobody buys) and claim Y (we are taking record grosses). X+Y *cannot* both be true at the same time if piracy is as high as claimed. So, we have to assume that only claim Y is true, since claim X is NOT supported by verifiable evidence while claim Y is.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 4:01pm

      Re: Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

      But the whole point of the GAO study was that whatever the level of copyright infringement was, it didn't produce the huge economic effects that the studios claimed. the actual overall economic losses may be pretty negligible.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 2:03am

      Re: Go to torrent site of your choice and find your "data"

      "actual numbers of piracy are very high"

      I'll ask you what we've asked the MPAA - show your work. So far you've provided anecdotal evidence of a single site.

      Besides, the crux of the argument is not the level of "piracy". The issues are the following assumptions:

      - That every copy downloaded represents a lost sale.
      - That every copy "lost" would have been purchased *at full retail price* if said download was not available.
      - That nobody who downloads a copy of a movie ever purchases a copy further down the line.
      - That those people who download a movie currently at cinemas would have watched the movie at a cinema if the download was unavailable.
      - That those people downloading a theatrical movie have not already paid to see the movie, and have just downloaded a copy while waiting for the DVD (that they will later purchased) to be released.
      - That nobody else who watches said "pirated" copy (usually these are seen by more than one person) will decide to buy a movie they would not have bought before seeing a friend's "pirate" copy.
      - ...and so on...

      The level of "piracy" does not affect the above points, yet they all have to be true for the MPAA's figures to be even close to accurate.

      We would like to see where this comes from, else it's so clearly far-fetched that we can rightly call bullshit.

       

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    Wayfinder, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:24am

    No surprise about Politicians

    Quite often politicians aren't interested in the truth. They're interested in a "respectable source" they can shove the blame on later if things go south. ; )

     

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    Dan (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:45am

    "At this point, I think it's fair to ask why the gov't should ever be allowed to rely on the stats put forth by the entertainment industry in passing legislation again."

    Assuming they relied on them at all the first time. NOT!

     

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    Johnny Canada, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:58am

    Leson in Stats (MPAA Style

    100 students in a room

    1 student illegaly downloaded 100 files

    Therefore 100 students ---- 100 files = 100 % of students download illegal files.

     

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      lfroen (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 12:37pm

      Re: Leson in Stats (MPAA Style

      Quality of assumption affects quality of conclusion: "100 students in a room" - uh, OK. As we say here - garbage in, garbage out.

       

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    NAMELESS.ONE, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 12:53pm

    HEY you guys forgot

    the trip to Belize and the free money laundering bank account they will set up for you Jaffer style

     

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    Josef, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 12:56pm

    They don't get it.

    I love this quote, "...the primary purpose of internet access on campus was for students to share unauthorized materials."

    Earth to morons: The primary purpose of libraries, which are on university campuses, is to share copyrighted content. FOR FREE. The whole concept of libraries is to give people access to copyrighted material.

     

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      Richard (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 2:56pm

      Re: They don't get it.

      the primary purpose of internet access on campus was for students to share unauthorized materials.
      What is more by their reasoning the primary purpose of making movies is for them to be distributed on file sharing networks.

       

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        gorehound (profile), Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 5:10am

        Re: Re: They don't get it.

        MPAA & RIAA Should be boycotted.I would not be buying any of their products.If you need their krap then find it used.
        They lie !!!! And They steal from us.

         

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    Joel (profile), Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 9:01am

    I said this just the other day...

    "At this point, I think it's fair to ask why the gov't should ever be allowed to rely on the stats put forth by the entertainment industry in passing legislation again."

    As long as there is no third party doing the research with nothing to gain from either side of the discussion, there will be one sided results!

     

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