New industry research shows piracy harms film and TV content sales

A new academic study has found that illegal file sharing harms sales of recently released film and television content.

The Carnegie Mellon University paper, which was funded by the Motion Picture Association of America (representing the six major US studios) reviewed previously published academic literature on the impact of piracy on movie and music sales.

The study’s authors, Professor Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang, wrote that while the peer-reviewed academic literature did not uniformly find harm, it consistently showed that sales of recently released content was hurt by piracy.

“This result – that piracy harms motion picture sales – is consistent with all but two of the academic papers we are aware of that have looked at the impact of internet piracy on movie sales; a set of papers that span a variety of datasets, settings, and statistical methodologies,” they wrote.

The study found that illegal movie and TV file sharing exploded with the onset of BitTorrent, which made sharing larger files easier after 2003. Before that time, the growing popularity of broadband had helped boost DVD sales through greater promotion of content.

In a statement, Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation (IPAF) executive director Lori Flekser said: “This paper is an informative addition to the piracy debate, offering a new perspective on the nature of peer-reviewed academic assessments of illegal file sharing. It concludes unambiguously that the weight of research on this subject rejects the premise that illegal file sharing does not harm the sales of film and television content.”

IPAF’s members include the Motion Picture Association, the international counterpart of the Motion Picture Association of America, which funded the study.

The Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association (AHEDA) chief executive Simon Bush also said in a statement that the piracy debate is unduly influenced by misinformation and myths, which are often used to justify the practice of illegal file sharing.

"This paper makes an important contribution to the debate by illustrating that peer-reviewed academic literature makes a consistent argument: that there is overwhelming evidence of statistically significant harm to sales of recently released film and television content as a result of illegal file sharing. We hope that the release of this paper will ensure that a government and industry led response to digital content infringement pays close attention to the facts and is founded on evidence-based policy.”

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