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.

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

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63 Comments
lol says:

Re: 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!

Christopher Weigel (profile) says:

Re: 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…”

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: 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.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Casper says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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!!

Overcast (profile) says:

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…

lfroen (profile) says:

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.

crade (profile) says:

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.

lfroen (profile) says:

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.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

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.

lfroen (profile) says:

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.

PaulT (profile) says:

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.

PaulT (profile) says:

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.

Josef says:

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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