Do Movie Fans Turn to Piracy Due to a Lack of Legal Options?

A new website is building a dataset to help determine whether consumers are increasingly turning to piracy when movies are not made available legally via streaming, digital rental or digital purchase. The site — PiracyData.org — lists the top 10 most pirated movies on BitTorrent as reported by TorrentFreak each week, and researches the Can I Stream It? service to determine whether each title is available legally. The authors suggest that shorter windows would help counter piracy.

The study comes from Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center and New York-based developer Matt Sherman.

“Over the past 3 weeks, 53 percent of the most-pirated movies have been available legally in some digital form,” according to PiracyData.org. “Over the same period, only 20 percent have been available for rental or streaming. In addition, 0 percent have been available on a legal streaming service.”

The PiracyData.org chart below shows the legal availability of the most-pirated movies during the same period.

“Brito said that he decided to do the study after the MPAA unveiled a study several weeks ago showing that search engines like Google lead users to infringing movies and TV shows,” reports Variety. “At a congressional hearing, Cary Sherman, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, urged more voluntary agreements between search engines and the content industry to try to curb piracy.”

“While there is no way to draw causality between the fact that these movies are not available legally and that they are the most pirated, it does highlight that while the MPAA is asking Google to take voluntary action to change search results, it may well be within the movie studio’s power to change those results by taking voluntary action themselves,” wrote Brito in The Technology Liberation Front, a tech policy blog.

“That is, they could make more movies available online and sooner, perhaps by collapsing the theatrical release window,” he added. “Now, their business model is their prerogative, and it’s none of my business to tell them how to operate, but by the same token I I don’t see how they can expect search engines and Congress to bend over backwards to protect the business model they choose.”

The MPAA has challenged the premise and some of the figures collected by PiracyData.org so far, noting that some films are available via online services such as YouTube movies.

“More than half of the films they cite are in fact available to stream or download, including films they claim are not,” said an MPAA spokeswoman. “And if a film is not available for stream or purchase at a given moment, it still does not justify stealing it from the creators and makers who worked hard to make it.”

Brito has acknowledged glitches and suggests that data will be updated moving forward. “One thing is for certain: the dataset that we are proposing to build is important,” he wrote. “We have provoked quite a reaction from people on both sides of this issue. We acknowledge that it has been a bumpy launch for our site, but we are committed to getting it right.”

“The MPAA offers its own tool to find legal movie options online, wheretowatch.org, but it is not a search tool for titles, but simply a listing of online providers like iTunes, Vudu and Amazon,” notes Variety.