The content lobby's narrative about the Internet's impact on the creative industry has grown all too familiar. According to this tiresome story, Hollywood is doing everything it can to prevent unauthorized downloading, but people—enabled by peer-to-peer technologies, “rogue” websites, search engines, or whatever the bogeyman of the moment is—keep doing it anyway. As a result, say groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), creators are deprived of their hard-earned and well-deserved profits and have little incentive to keep creating.
There's a lot that's wrong with this story (like the assumption that most copyright royalties actual end up in the pockets of the artists). But one of the most pernicious aspects is the idea that Hollywood is actually making a sincere effort to meet user demand.
That's why we're happy to see a new website called PiracyData.org, is helping to tell another crucial part of the story. As the site shows, the studios aren't keeping up with the markets that new technologies enable—which is why, in many cases, the most popular films are not even available through preferred legal channels.
The site lists the top 10 most pirated films on BitTorrent and checks whether those films are available to stream, rent, or purchase digitally. In a simple chart, it shows how few options users have for accessing these in-demand movies. Since the site began recording three weeks ago, only 20% have been available for digital rental and none have been available for streaming. This site goes to highlight the underlying problem of unauthorized file sharing: the high demand for legal access to films is not being met when we clearly already have the technology to enable this experience.
Of course, this data confirms the long-held suspicions of many who object to Hollywood's demand for ever more draconian copyright enforcement efforts. Instead of focusing on piracy and spending millions on lobbying for those policy changes, the content industry should be investing its resources into creating better and more accessible platforms for users. Unfortunately, Hollywood refuses to acknowledge that reality. We've seen the industry demonstrate that with its continuing efforts to push legislation that runs counter to the public interest, and its stubborn refusal to offer content in the formats people have been shown to prefer.
If the studios were to invest their considerable resources in meeting the market demand, it could lead to a very profitable digital marketplace. We said this before, and we'll keep saying it until it sinks in: the hard-working men and women in the entertainment industry should stand up and tell their leaders to either embrace the age of the Internet or get out of the way so that new, forward-thinking industry leaders can take their place.