Economics researchers at Wellesley College and U Minnesota have managed to infirm the suggested link between feature films’ US box office returns and BitTorrent sharing. Their published study also points out that reducing the timeframe between the US exhibition and overseas releases could result in less file-sharing, thereby reinforcing the premise that most people outside the US download movies because they can’t buy tickets to them.
The findings draw up a picture where file-sharing, or at least part of it, occurs as a result of imbalances in supply and demand. Failing to fulfill demand in other countries is what drives casual moviegoers towards illegitimate routes in the first place. The longer people have to wait for their favorite movie, the higher the chances they will resort to illegal download instead.
This theory, however, doesn’t cover all illegal downloading, as some people almost never walk into a movie theater to see their favorite releases, irrespective of movie availability. For this category of people, the delayed release actually renders downloading easier and more attractive, so they constantly resort to file-sharing to snatch a copy of the movies they like onto their computers.
“Anti-piracy” campaigns are often depicted as life-or-death struggles for the studios to stay afloat in the business.
In truth though, this is more a matter of profit maximization, not survival. Regardless, increased awareness on the problem of optimizing international releases could secure good profits at the box-office, while also helping to bring down exaggeratedly high and often unnecessary investments in copyright enforcement.
Here’s the study: Reel Piracy: The Effect of Online Film Piracy on International Box Office Sales, by Brett Danaher (Wellesley College – Department of Economics) and Joel Waldfogel (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities – Carlson School of Management ; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); University of Minnesota – Twin Cities – Department of Economics).
According to the findings, “consumers in the US who would choose between the box office and piracy choose the box office (and the remaining US pirates had valuations lower than the ticket price) but that international consumers who would consider both options choose piracy due to a lack of legal availability.” The researchers also pointed out that “if piracy displaced box office sales in the US, we would have expected the slope of the returns profile to shift more significantly as BitTorrent became more widely adopted.”
Simply stated, researchers were unable to pinpoint an irregular drop in returns of domestic box office sales, which could implicate BitTorrent.
Although countless studies have provided evidence to the needlessness of the movie studios’ assault against file sharing services, the latter are subject to ongoing harassment. In the end, these findings suggest that, while some amount of pressure directed at file-sharing services may be useful in inducing the fear of prosecution among other file-sharing competitors, it is in fact the studios that have the power to contain piracy, and a shift in perspective would be constructive.