A new study reveals that the pirating of certain movie files will have little to no effect on that film’s box office receipts, a finding that flies in the face of movie industry claims.
According to a paper titled “Testing the lost sale concept in the context of unauthorized BitTorrent downloads of CAM copies of theatrical releases,” the independent APAS Laboratory compared download statistics from the torrent site Demonoid to movie ratings and pre-release buzz to estimate the effect of CAM piracy on box office sales. Using a sample size of 32 widely released movies, the study showed that while a film’s box office revenue could be predicted from such factors as pre-release buzz and to a lesser extent by the rating of the movies, the amount of times that a CAM file of movie is downloaded has no affect on ticket sales.
This, of course, contradicts the Motion Picture Association of America’s claim that piracy has a negative impact on box office receipts in the millions of dollars each year.
CAM releases are copies of the movie recorded in a theater on a video camera and despite the fact that often have poor video and audio quality are downloaded in big numbers. As these are the type of files that generally appear right at the time of a new film’s theatrical release, they are the ones that the MPAA claim cause the most damage to the film’s potential ticket sales.
The study also goes on to show that the main driver for downloading CAM files is their high visibility on torrent sites rather than downloaders deliberately seeking out specific titles.
Speaking with Torrent Freak, APAS Laboratory researcher Marc Milot, explained how the findings support the arguments that downloaders have put forth against the MPAA’s allegations that downloading has contributed significant losses to the motion picture industry.
The research findings are the first to support with concrete behavioral evidence what BitTorrent file-sharers have been saying all along: that they don’t always download movies – in this case CAM versions of theatrical releases – they would have paid to view if they were not available on sites like Demonoid… BitTorrent site users appear to be exploring and downloading the most visible movies, without caring how good or bad they are. It is in this way that BitTorrent sites and the box office are completely different systems in which people behave uniquely and with different motivations… These findings should caution against the use of download statistics alone in calculations of losses – in this case lost ticket sales – to avoid overestimation.
But avoiding overestimation really isn’t in the MPAA’s best interests, is it? If anything, the trade organization has been making lots of hay from their own assertions that their member studios are losing money from people who download films. And if they can inflate those numbers to make things look worse than they really are, it helps to scare lawmakers into passing things like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other legislation that slowly but surely seems to encroach on Fair Use provisions of copyright law. Also, if the MPAA can blame periods of sluggish box office receipts like last month’s on piracy, it absolves the member studios from having to face the fact that maybe they have been churning out product that the public doesn’t have an interest in spending money on.