Who Should Be Blamed for Facilitating Online Piracy?

New website tries to shift blame to content distributors

Are search engines really to blame for facilitating pirated movies and other media?

The debate began anew this morning with data generated by piracydata.org, a new website from the Mercatus Center, which points a finger at content distributors for not giving fans legal online options.

Launched to counter claims made by the Motion Picture Association of America and other media that search engines facilitate piracy, the website ranks the 10 most pirated movies on BitTorrent as compiled by Torrent Freak and then details if those films are available for legal online viewing.

Data gathered over the past three weeks found that 53 percent of the most pirated movies were available legally in some digital form. Only 20 percent were available for rental or streaming, and none were available on a legal streaming service.

Search engines have been at the center of the debate over online piracy. A recent MPAA study concluded that search engines influence 20 percent of sessions where consumers accessed pirated content. Recent White House reports have also called out search engines for not doing enough to help stop piracy.

Mercatus hopes the website can turn the debate. "Despite what the content industry might like to see, search engines are just telling it like it is," said Jerry Brito, a Mercatus senior research fellow and director of the center's technology policy program. "If the movie industry wants to combat piracy, one thing they might want to try is offering consumers the online viewing options that they want."

Not so fast, said the MPAA, which took aim at the accuracy of the data. For example, This Is The End, No. 10 on piracydata.org's list, is legally available via several other online sources including Vudu, Google Play, Sony Entertainment Network, iTunes and Amazon. Mercatus, which originally reported that 46 percent of movies were legally available,  issued a correction and fixed the results after called out for the inaccuracy. 

"Today there are more ways than ever to watch movies and TV shows legally online, and more are constantly being added. If a particular film isn't available for stream or purchase at a given moment, however, it does not justify stealing it from the creators and makers who worked hard to make it," said Kate Bedingfield, an MPAA spokesperson.

Even when content is available legally, piracy is still rampant. For example, The Walking Dead was pirated 500,000 times within 16 hours despite the fact it was available to stream for free for the next 27 days on AMC's website.

"Our industry is working hard to bring content to audiences when they want it, where they want it, but content theft is a complex problem that requires comprehensive, voluntary solutions from all stakeholders involved," Bedingfield said.

To help online users find legal platforms, the MPAA launched in May wheretowatch.org, a one-stop shop where users can legally find movies and TV shows.


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