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Turns Out Piracy Helps Small Films (But Definitely Not Harry Potter)

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Continue downloading with moral impunity, everyone: According to a new study, it turns out you're mostly just hurting the big guys when you pirate a movie, while the little guys reap the rewards of your being cheap and lazy.

As reported by the Washington Post, a newly-updated study from economists at the Munich School of Management and Copenhagen Business School shows that the shutting down of popular pirating site Megaupload may have actually hurt independent filmmakers' profits.

Analyzing five years worth of data and box office revenue, comparing before and after Megaupload's shutdown and multiplying by math, the researchers determined that, as the studios have long complained, big franchise tentpoles like Harry Potter and Ice Age have indeeded suffer sales losses due to illegal downloading. But, interestingly, a mid-level or small film often finds increased revenue through heightened exposure by the same means.

The logic goes like this: with Harry Potter, everyone knows what it is. He's Glasses Wizard! He's your favorite, so you see that movie, and if you're the type who doesn't pay for things, you'll probably just download it. Meanwhile, for a little film that doesn't have that kind of ad budget or brand recognition, the types who don't pay for things still don't pay for it, but if they like it and tell an honest friend, that person might end up paying for it when they wouldn't have even known about it before, which equals $$$.

Of course, these findings are not exactly agreed upon by some. For one: The Motion Picture Association of America, those precious saints, as diligent in protecting films from piracy as they are in protecting 16-year-olds from frontal nudity. They're already disputing the study, saying:

An independent review of the academic research ... has shown that the vast majority of research available in fact does show that piracy does harm sales. And a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University found that digital sales in countries where Megaupload was popular increased after Megaupload shut down. And in fact, the Munich and Copenhagen paper also finds that box office increased after Megaupload shutdown for an important segment of titles that they don't clearly define, although it's hard from the study's descriptions to determine exactly what the control and treatment sample groups are, among other key factors.

Unfortunately, in order to reach its conclusion, the Munich and Copenhagen study also all but ignores a critical piece of the box office picture - how timing or other factors that are completely unrelated to Megaupload impact the box office performance of small, medium or large films.

And so the debate rages on, while your download of R.I.P.D. hits 62%, because come on, you weren't going to the theater for that.

(Thanks, M.F.)

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