Is movie piracy really hurting Hollywood?

By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer

How much can Hollywood be suffering if Harry Potter movies are making more than $700 million dollars in the box office worldwide?

Arr, mateys! In this kind of piracy you won’t find Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom. Well, actually, you might… if you’re downloading Pirates of the Caribbean on your laptop. So, every time you go to the movies, the previews tell you that piracy – the illegal downloading of movies – is bad for Hollywood and the industry.

You see those big FBI warnings at the beginning of a movie, and half expect a federal agent to come busting down your door when you click on a bit of ill-gotten loot. However, researchers in Copenhagen and Munich are saying that the pocketbooks of filmmakers might actually be helped by illegal downloads. Say what?! I’m sure directors are already calling, “Cut!”

The researchers based their studies on digital downloads and box office numbers after the closing of the popular free sharing site, Megaupload. Hollywood insisted that Megaupload was killing their sales by providing consumers with the option of watching their movies for free. Based on these numbers, the study is claiming that piracy is a heck of a lot more complicated than we think.

Piracy is good when it comes to giving some much needed internet viral exposure for small, indie flicks that won’t ever make it to the big screen… let alone have the funding to advertise. The study suggests that people will not watch lesser-known movies if they aren’t free or easily available for download. If a person enjoys the movie, they will recommend it to a friend who might actually end up buying it legitimately themselves. Obviously, this isn’t always the case.

However, the study is theorizing that without piracy, independent producers are losing exposure and potential buyers. We can see where they’re going with this argument, but what about Hollywood blockbusters like Harry Potter and The Avengers? Everyone is talking about them, so they don’t need the exposure…

Well, that’s exactly what the study says! The researchers used movies such as Harry Potter and The Avengers as proof that piracy is not affecting sales. Movies from the Harry Potter and Marvel franchise have accumulated so much money, it seems Hollywood’s doing just fine.

The Motion Picture Association of America fired back with a statement that said, “An independent review of the academic research available has shown that the vast majority of research available in fact does show that piracy does harm sales.” They also mentioned that the Munich and Copenhagen study failed to mention factors – such as timing and star power – can affect the box office performance.

The Copenhagen and Munich study makes a good point, but, personally, I’m not blaming piracy for the low box office numbers. $15 dollars for a ticket is enough to have anyone scurrying away from the theaters! Not to mention the $20 popcorn and drinks.

Image of stacked movies courtesy of bargain moose on Flickr.