Study: High prices to blame for global media piracy

A recently completed study has concluded that price, not moral corruption, is the driving force behind piracy, and that hard line criminal penalties and censorship tactics that many nations have adopted to help reduce the problem will not be effective.

Pirating music, films, games, and software is “better described as a global pricing problem,” according to the Media Piracy Project, a three-year study conducted by 35 different researchers and published last week by the Social Science Research Council.

Much of the report focuses on “emerging economies” like Russia, Mexico, and India where prices of digital entertainment media are much higher in relation to consumers’ incomes than the US and many European nations. In fact, in some of these nations prices are 5 to 10 times higher when compared to local incomes, a situation that has possibly driven piracy rates above 90%.

An example provided by ArsTechnica shows that in Russia, purchasing a $15 copy of The Dark Knight would be the equivalent of an American consumer paying approximately $75 for the film because of the income ratio. Hearing that, it’s easy to understand why the country’s piracy rates are so high.

But anti-piracy enforcement tactics like France’s “Three-Strikes” law or mass P2P lawsuits would do little to combat the problem in these emerging economies, says the report’s authors. They state that there is “little evidence—and indeed few claims—that enforcement efforts to date have had any effect whatsoever on the overall supply of pirated goods. Our work suggests, rather, that piracy has grown dramatically by most measures in the past decade.”

“Hardline enforcement positions may be futile at stemming the tide of piracy, but the United States bears few of the costs of such efforts, and US companies reap most of the modest benefits,” writes Joe Karaganis in the first section of the report. “This is a recipe for continued US pressure on developing countries, very possibly long after media business models in the United States and other high-income countries have changed.”

Of course the MPAA and RIAA will no doubt have something to say about the report in the coming days or weeks, and will likely repeat their spiel of how piracy costs “our economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.” That is unfortunate, however, because I think the authors of this report actually make some excellent points that these organizations, as well as American and European government officials, should listen to.

The people I’ve known who have pirated software and entertainment media have had financial challenges that provoked their decision to obtain the products illegally. That’s not to say that there are no well-off people who are downloading bootlegged copies, but I have a hard time believing that the number would be very high.

That would, of course, make the copyright trolls and their settlement programs even more despicable for trying to profit off excessive penalties for such actions. Unfortunately, it will likely take a lot more than just this study to make these things stop.