Policy Research Chief Blasts TorrentFreak Piracy Research, But Why?

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The Institute for Policy Innovation has criticized a new website that compares piracy rates with movie availability. After implying that the researchers are "friends" with pirates, IPI president Tom Giovanetti attacked TorrentFreak for "brazenly" providing stats on unauthorized downloading. Those who believe that piracy is a market force are "losing their moral clarity," he said. But as we shall see, clarity - or transparency at least - isn't exactly IPI's strong point.

GiovanettiUsing TorrentFreak figures as a basis for their analysis, public policy researchers at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center launched a website yesterday which considers whether Hollywood’s business model of not making content widely available on day one might be a driving force for piracy.

Some hours later Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), a public policy research organization based in Dallas, Texas, expressed his displeasure over just about everything connected to the site, from pirates and those who report on them, to the researchers and their findings.

Giovanetti’s problems seem to be two-fold. First, he thinks that reporting on “criminal behavior’ is somehow unacceptable and second, the effects of piracy on the legitimate market should be discounted due to the phenomenon being unlawful. After dismissing any connection between piracy and a lack of legal options as “utterly irrelevant”, Giovanetti proceeded to shoot the messenger.

“It IS interesting that TorrentFreak brazenly publishes a list of the most pirated movies. That’s pretty in-your-face behavior, considering that piracy is illegal,” the IPI president wrote.

Not surprisingly that statement raised our collective eyebrows. Just last month an NBC Universal-commissioned study from NetNames titled ‘Sizing the Piracy Universe’ generated dozens of news articles. By Giovanetti’s standards that report must go way beyond brazen, since the amount of illegal activity documented in the study was on a staggering scale.

Of course, all the major movie studios hire companies to prepare reports on pirates too, it’s just that unlike us “brazen” folk they don’t make that data publicly available every week. But despite Giovanetti’s disapproval, it’s encouraging to know that even the MPAA finds TorrentFreak data useful when it wants to make a point.

walkingdeadA blog post published yesterday by the MPAA’s Kate Bedingfield happily cited our recent (in-your-face) Walking Dead piracy stats, although we had to summon a wry smile when we saw that the MPAA chose to credit Variety as the source and not us. Perhaps there really is no respect for creators these days.

At this point and since we have a convenient MPAA segue, it’s probably appropriate to question why Giovanetti is so interested in movie piracy.

The IPI identifies itself as a “non-profit, non-partisan public policy think tank…founded in 1987 to research, develop and promote innovative and non-partisan solutions to today’s public policy problems.”

While that’s all very nice, according to the MPAA’s latest tax filing the IPI are actually being paid by Hollywood to “promote the film industry.”


With that established, let’s have a look at what Giovanetti has to say about the apparently reprehensible notion that piracy might be a market signal.

“[It] is utterly irrelevant whether or not a pirated movie is available for streaming. That’s because the release schedule and business plan for the movie is entirely the business of whoever owns the movie, and not anyone else. That’s an implication of property rights that libertarians ought to understand. You and your pirate friends do not get to decide what happens to my property,” he said.

It’s worth pointing out that earlier in Giovanetti’s rant he referred to the researchers at George Mason University as the libertarians, so here he deliberately aligns them with those carrying out the illegal downloading, a quite ridiculous notion.

The problem with the latter half of Giovanetti’s assertion, that ‘pirates’ don’t get to decide what happens to ‘his’ property, is plain to see. Of course, sharing content without permission is against copyright law in many countries, so those who feel harmed by the act have a legal right to reply. But that misses the point.

Policy Innovation

Whether Giovanetti likes it or not, piracy exists and whether people have the right to or not they engage in unauthorized downloading. Stamp your feet and shout about rights all day long, it makes no difference to the reality on the ground. If it did we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

And finally, just when it couldn’t get much worse, Giovanetti again turns on the researchers for suggesting that a modification of Hollywood’s business model might ease the piracy situation.

“They are implying a change that should happen because of criminal behavior. And those of us who are champions of markets do NOT defend criminal behavior as a market force or creative disruption. Markets take place within the rule of law. We don’t insist that markets adapt to account for criminal behavior. Rule of law is also something libertarians should understand,” Giovanetti notes.

Sadly, these statements help no one. If “rule of law” was a suitable deterrent then already unauthorized downloading wouldn’t be an issue – aren’t $150K in statutory damages for a single infringement already enough to send a message? Apparently not.

What this problem needs is creative thinking and a desire to deal with a real-life situation already underway, not people boo-hooing about how wrong it all is while shooting both the messengers and those looking for solutions.

Especially when they aren’t up-front about who they’re doing it for.


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