Whether you choose to pay attention to the scaremongers, piracy is the scourge of the internet and is stifling creativity and investment. It’s an easy statement to believe since downloading digital content has become as easy as sending an email to your mother, a few clicks and you have a whole album or movie on your computer.
The movie industry would lead you to believe that movie piracy is causing a decline in theater attendances and Box Office revenues but, according to the LA Times, this simply isn’t the case. In 2009, attendances rose by 4.5% (not just in the US but including the UK, Japan, Germany, Australia, Mexico and Brazil) from the previous year, even when a recession was taking its toll on every other consumer industry.
Changes haven’t just been noticed in theatres, it’s starting to take effect on the very sites that proliferate digital content. In a yearly study undertaken by Andy Biao, where Oscar nominations are referenced with the availability of its associated pirate download, it has been found that there are less pirated movie “Screeners” available for download as the Oscar Cermony approaches than in previous years.
For those not in the know, a Screener is a high-quality compressed backup of a DVD sent to Academy members for their consideration. In previous years these copies have made their way onto the internet and uploaded to Bittorrent websites for users to download.
Of the 34 nominated films, only 14 Screeners have found their way online and “on average” are taking 21 days to leak from the date of the films theatrical release. Whilst 41% of films are available to download via a leaked Screener, 82% are available as a Camcorder (CAM) or TeleSync download but even these lower quality releases have noticably dropped since last year.
Different people will have different theories as to why there has been a decline in Screener leaks this year. A credible theory is that Academy members are now under such scrutiny in regards to possible punishment for a leak (the copy they receive is watermarked to individually identify the person behind the leak) or that the film they receive has a more complex form of copy protection.
One theory that sits well with me is that movie downloaders are waiting for the Retail DVD to be released so they can be assured the audio and video quality of the release is up to their standard. Screeners tend to have embedded watermarks and R5 releases tend to be released in Russian therefore requiring a dubbed English audio track from a Camcorder copy.
By nature, we are impatient. I would sooner jump in the car and travel to the movie theater to watch a film that interested me than wait (at least) a couple of months for a retail DVD to be available for download. Could this be the same for some of the other casual downloaders? If so, the MPAA will sleep well if this trend continues.