Friday, 20 February 2015

Rage against the hyprocrisy machine

Something that most people don't realise/don't think about when they engage in illegal file-sharing is that in doing so, someone, somewhere, is profiting from copyrighted media that they are not legally or morally entitled to.

Yes, when you download a song or album from a band you yourself are not making money off of it: you are saving money from not buying it. But, someone else is often making money from this transaction. Like the guys from The Pirate Bay, for example. And it's not just a few pennies here and there.

Notably, research highlights that your common garden digital pirate who downloads copyrighted media finds that piracy-for-profit is 'wrong'. But, in downloading music or movies, you are enabling this very action. You are, as they say, part of the problem.

With this in mind, I was struck by a video I found on YouTube where someone compiled songs from Rage Against The Machine into a 'greatest hits compilation'. Rage Against The Machine don't have a greatest hits compilation.

Now, there are countless such videos on YouTube, but in this one, the YouTube user inserted (lots of) advertisements in the video. He or she is actively trying to make money from copyrighted works they had absolutely no involvement in, and out in the open. Many users have, quite rightly, expressed fierce criticism over this bold move.

It's indicative of a general lack of respect for copyright laws, and this extends to Google themselves (who own YouTube).

It also illustrates that: a) so-called 'pirates' are not one unanimous group with a collective identity; and b) when piracy-for-profit is made explicit, this becomes clearer.

Crimes which are perceived as victimless tend to encourage the perpetrators to not consider themselves as criminals. And until concrete evidence is brought forward that digital piracy poses a real economic threat to the creative industries, digital piracy will continue to be thought of as a victimless crime. And digital pirates themselves will not think of themselves as criminals.

For now, remember that digital piracy makes criminals out of someone. Every time. You might not care about it, but it is important to acknowledge that this is true.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Movie Piracy, and the myth of 'try before you buy'

Strumpf (in press), drawing from file-sharing data between 2003 and 2009 finds that movie piracy had a modest impact on box office revenues. And yet, other research has come to wildly different conclusions.

Zentner (2010), for instance, finds that DVD sales dropped by some 27% from 2004 to 2008 and this substitution effect has been found elsewhere (see Bai and Waldfogel, 2009 and Rob and Waldfogel, 2006).

However, other research, such as that of Martikainen (2011) and Smith and Telang (2010) does not arrive at the same conclusions and does not find a substitution trend.

So what is going on here?

Well, it's down to our old friend again: research methods.

Digital piracy is incredibly difficult to measure, and the different approaches used makes it difficult to draw comparisons across studies (as I tried to do above).

So when someone asks you if watching movies illegally acts as a 'try before you buy' sort of sampler, you can tell them 'I don't know, because neither does the research'.

Certainly the trend is that digital piracy harms sales, and this is intuitive. It does not however make it correct.

Sparing a thought for the poor box office performance of films which were leaked ahead of release (think: The Expendables 3) and you can't help but feel like it is the case.

If I watched a pirated movie, regardless of whether or not I actually enjoyed it, I can't see what motivation I would then have to then go and spend money going to see it again at the cinema.

But that doesn't make it so.

Check out the research.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Bai, J. and Waldfogel, J. (2009). Movie Piracy and Sales Displacement in a Sample of Chinese College Students (Working Paper).

Martikainen, E. (2011). Does File-Sharing Reduce DVD Sales? (Working Paper).

Rob, R. and Waldfogel, J. (2006). Piracy On The High C's: Music Downloading, Sales Displacement, And Social Welfare In A Sample Of College Students. Journal of Law and Economics, 49(1), 29-62.

Smith, M.D. and Telang, R. (2010). Piracy or promotion? The impact of broadband internet penetration on DVD sales. Information Economics and Policy, 22(4), 289-298.

Strumpf, K. (in press). Using Markets to Measure the Impact of File Sharing on Movie Revenues (Working Paper).

Zentner, A. (2010). Measuring the impact of File Sharing on the movie industry: An empirical Analysis using a Panel of countries (Working Paper).