Hollywood Attacks Scholars Who Deny The Evils of Piracy

A common theme is developing. Every time a study attempts to recognize that piracy is not all doom and gloom, industry lobbyists jump in to discredit the research. This happened again this week when the MPAA "debunked" a London School of Economics paper that countered several industry conclusions regarding online piracy. Talking to TorrentFreak, one of the report's authors says that Hollywood's response is totally expected and exemplary of the ideological distortion of the file-sharing debate.

runningIn recent months the MPAA has made a habit of attacking every paper which suggests that piracy may not actually be that big of a problem after all.

While the movie industry group often raises valid points, the critique is also one-sided. Much like the critique often voiced by pro-sharing opponents, it’s merely reinforcing their existing beliefs.

Yesterday the MPAA “debunked” the findings of a policy brief the London School of Economics and Political Science published last week.

In their report the scholars noted that there is ample evidence that file-sharing is helping, rather than hurting the creative industries. The scholars therefore called on the Government to look at more objective data when deciding on future copyright enforcement policies.

The MPAA, however, is quick to point out that the researchers are wrong. For example, they refute the argument that piracy may do little harm because revenues are still booming. Describing the analysis as “unsophisticated and misleading,” the Hollywood group notes that they could have made even more money if piracy was properly dealt with.

The MPAA points out that there is plenty of academic research that affirms how piracy leads to a loss in revenue. To strengthen their argument they highlight a literature review study published last summer, which ironically displays the following footnote on the first page.

“We thank the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for providing generous funding to support this study.”

The MPAA’s debunking effort also refers to music industry analyst Matt Mulligan, whose critique of the LSE brief has also been retweeted by the RIAA and IFPI. Again, while some of Mulligan’s arguments make sense, many are rather one-sided.

For example, LSE noted that the music industry is holding ground as revenues from live performances compensate for the decline in revenues from the sale of CDs or records. Mulligan’s reply to this is that revenues from live gigs are over-reported because they include reseller revenue, which doesn’t go anywhere near the artists.

However, this appears to be a skewed logic, because the same can be said for recorded music where traditionally only a tiny fraction of the retail value goes to the musician, probably much less than for live performances. And the same can be said for streaming services and digital download platforms where a lot of money sticks in the distribution chain.

It’s not our intention to debunk all comments from the MPAA and Mulligan, but their responses are an illustration of the problem LSE tried to highlight. TorrentFreak spoke with Dr. Bart Cammaert, one of the authors of LSE’s policy brief, who believes that the industry critique completely misses the point.

“The main problem here is that the copyright and file sharing debate is waged in a highly ideological fashion. In other words, the industry is itself guilty of the allegations it fields at us. A closer reading of what we actually say in the reports shows furthermore that the industry has misread what we actually say.”

“In addition to this, we would argue that in this debate we only really hear the self-interested arguments and skewed figures of the lobby organizations calling for repression. We almost never hear the many counter-arguments to their positions,” Cammaert tells TorrentFreak.

LSE’s intention was not to write a definitive piece arguing that piracy doesn’t have any negative effects. Instead, they wanted to highlight certain points where the industry is misrepresenting what’s actually happening.

“Hence, one of the main aims of our policy briefs is to rebalance this and list, document, outline the counter-arguments to this repressive logic and to the same old tune that the internet is killing the video stars. From this perspective, the entertainment industry refuting and taking issue with our findings and conclusions is hardly surprising and as far as we’re concerned totally logical,” Cammaert adds.

The industry response to LSE’s brief is perhaps the best reinforcement of the main point the scholars tried to make. That is, review existing copyright law based on objective and independent analysis that strikes a healthy balance among the interests of a range of stakeholders, including copyright holders, Internet Providers and internet users.

The above clearly illustrates that this advice is perhaps more relevant than ever before.

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