Piracy apologists would have us believe that it’s actually the content creators who are to blame when their movies, music and books are pirated. The rhetoric is always the same old, same old–a stale mantra of “outdated business models” and blame the victim verbiage.
This predictable tripe reemerged today on a new website called PiracyData.org that published (splashy but false) new data that supposedly supports the idea that piracy is Hollywood’s fault. According to a story in today’s Washington Post, the site was created by members of a libertarian “think tank” called the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a software engineer:
Piracydata.org was created by two tech policy researchers at the Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank, and by Matt Sherman, a software engineer based in New York. The team’s leader, Jerry Brito, says he got the idea for the site after a hearing in which major content holders criticized Google for failing to do enough to combat piracy. That criticism came despite the fact that Google has taken a number of steps to prevent illegal sharing of copyrighted works.
It should be noted that Brito’s Twitter account links to page on the Mercatus Center’s website featuring a book he co-authored, “Copyright Unbalanced, From Incentive to Excess.” Hmmm, not exactly a neutral party. On piracydata.org he and his co-authors posed this question:
Do people turn to piracy when the movies they want to watch are not available legally? We’re building a dataset to help answer that question.
The single web page includes a large graphic listing the week’s top ten torrented downloads and highlights the fact the finding the movies via legit sources online is difficult, if not impossible. Their takeaway? Piracy is the fault of the distributors, not online thieves. Too bad their original graphic (and data) contained errors–a fact belatedly pointed out by the Washington Post’s Timothy B. Lee in his story which featured the provocative headline, “Here’s why Hollywood should blame itself for its piracy problems.” Lee updated his piece (and changed his headline):
Correction: The original data supplied to us by PiracyData.org was inaccurate. It showed 1 movie available for rental and 4 available for purchase. In fact, 3 are available for rental and 6 are available for purchase. We regret the error…
In a statement, the MPPA added , “More than half of the films they cite are in fact available to stream or download, including films they claim are not,” Their spokesman also pointed out that the popular series “The Walking Dead” was pirated 500,000 times within 16 hours even though it was available for free steaming via AMC’s website.
One would think researchers working at an institution like George Mason University would be a tad more careful to verify their findings before posting them on the web…or maybe not. Perhaps accuracy was left on the cutting room floor in favor of a more pernicious agenda. To understand what I mean it’s worth taking a harder look at the Mercatus Center and its mission.
…Our mission is to generate knowledge and understanding of the institutions that affect the freedom to prosper and to find sustainable solutions that overcome the barriers preventing individuals from living free, prosperous, and peaceful lives.
Ironic that their mission includes the phrase “freedom to prosper.” I guess that applies to prosperous thieves like Kim Dotcom, and not those who make their livings creating content (films, music, books, and more). Piracydata.org’s founders seem to take umbrage at the the ongoing criticism directed toward Google for it’s lack of accountability and transparency regarding its role in profiting from and enabling online theft. Apparently the site’s founders aren’t offended by the fact that Google has made millions off stolen and counterfeit products over the years.
It’s too bad that piracydata.org isn’t more transparent about its sugar daddy. Like many of the astro-turf anti-copyright entities this one’s tentacles can be traced back to Google, the supposedly aggrieved party whose persecution by anti-piracy advocates that inspired the site’s creation in the first place. Brito makes no bones of his allegiance to Google’s position and was quoted in Politico story saying:
“When movies are unavailable, illegal sources may be the most relevant search results…Despite what the content industry might like to see, search engines are just telling it like it is.”
The Mercatus Center was founded in 1978 by the Richard Fink, who currently serves as an executive vice president and a member of the board of directors for Koch Industries, Inc. He also happens to lead the firm’s lobbying operations in Washington. The center receives 54% of its funding from foundations and according to sourcewatch.org donors include the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council, aka ALEC. What Silicon Valley tech giant is active in promoting ALEC’s agenda? Google is, at least according to this story published on the Daily Beast this past August:
The American Legislative Exchange Council once faced a backlash for its support of Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws, losing Coca-Cola and Kraft as members. Now the advocacy group is working with companies such as Google, Facebook, and Yelp, and taking more civil libertarian stances on technology issues than it has in the past…
…ALEC’s communications and technology task force, which includes representatives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo. (The first two companies have not previously been reported to be involved with ALEC and have not responded to requests for comment.)
Google does mention its cozy relationship with the libertarian mission on its public policy page:
Our U.S. Public Policy and Government Affairs team provides support to a number of independent third-party organizations whose federally-focused work intersects in some way with technology and Internet policy. While this list is continually evolving, some examples of these organizations are: … Mercatus Center…
Given Google’s link to the Mercatus Center’s funding (and its libertarian philosophy) is it any wonder their new astro-turf site blames big, bad Hollywood for piracy instead of the thieves who steal and monetize its movies. Piracy is flourishing not because of Hollywood’s failure, but because criminals can make money monetizing stolen content.
Piracydata.org’s data dump is clearly yet another attempt by Google, and its stealth lobbyists (dressed as academics) to muddy the debate and undermine the rights of content creators. Dueling “studies” created using lobbyist’s cash is nothing new—but please, at least be honest about who’s funding the research OK? That would really be “telling it like it is.”