Why The Latest EFA Claims About Piracy In Australia Are Nonsense

The topic of movie piracy often lends itself to dubious claims and dubious statistics. Advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia has launched a site which tries to track whether movies that Australians download illegally are legally available. Unfortunately, the interpretation of the data is questionable at best and ludicrous at worst.

The Can I Watch It site poses the question "With a desire to keep up with the rest of the world and a willingness to pay for it, are there legal digital alternatives to movie piracy in Australia?" To work that out, it takes the 10 most pirated movies in Australia each week, and then examines whether or not they are available on iTunes, Google Play, Netflix, Quickflix, Big Pond Movies, Crackle, Presto and EzFlixTV. (Netflix isn't technically available in Australia, but many people are happy to use a VPN to access it.)

To identify the most-pirated titles, the site uses data from TorrentFreak. As we've pointed out on more than one occasion, statistics about how much a given country pirates are often erroneous and may well underestimate the problem. With that said, there's no obvious better alternative source to use. And in a sense it doesn't matter, because there's a much bigger problem.

The press release announcing the site proclaims "As the caniwatchit.com.au site shows, this week 70% of the 10 most pirated films are not legally available in Australia." This is complete bollocks, frankly. These are the 10 movies and their availability status:

Movie Digital purchase Digital rental Streaming
Captain America: The Winter Soldier Yes Yes No
Divergent No No No
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Yes No No
22 Jump Street No No No
The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes No No No
The Expendables 3 No No No
Hercules No No No
Guardians of the Galaxy No No No
The Other Woman No No No
Need For Speed Yes Yes No

As Peter Wells at Reckoner points out in an excellent detailed analysis, there are several issues with this week's list:

  • Five of the films on the list are CURRENTLY SCREENING IN CINEMAS. That's the reason they're not available digitally yet, and makes it absolute nonsense to claim they're not "legally available".
  • The obvious counter-argument there might be "Ah, but we have to wait for much longer before they reach cinemas". However, of this week's top 10, seven were released in Australia before the US. The longest gap? 20 days.
  • Just two of the movies in the list are neither on sale or in cinemas: Divergent and The Other Woman. But guess what? They're not available on Netflix, so we're not falling behind the US in that case yet either.

What do these figures prove, if anything? Certainly not that we're pirating movies because we don't have decent legal access to them, or that we're treated poorly compared to the US or Europe. Instead, they demonstrate something more basic: plenty of people pirate because it provides them with free entertainment and they can get away with it.

Assuming this project continues, there will doubtless be weeks in which the release gaps are longer. For instance, when the next school holidays roll around, there will be films which have been held back to maximise their school-age audience and which might be available stateside digitally already. That sucks if you're someone who wants to see, say, The LEGO Movie at the same time as the rest of the world. On the other hand, if you're a parent, it can be very useful to have those entertainment options available.

I'm not saying there isn't a broader argument to be had about availability windows and the pricing of content in Australia. However, these figures don't do anything to advance it. Instead, they suggest that we download because we're greedy. I don't think that's the message people fighting for more equitable access to content should be conveying.

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Comments

    I'm really raising an eyebrow at the apologism for the industry, especially by complaining that these movies are 'still screening in cinemas.' You don't cite the problem as the excuse! What madness is that?

    Statistics aside, it's all well and good to cite 'waiting for school holidays', but it's not an excuse. It's a reason. They are not excused.
    If the pure and simple facts are that something is available digitally in the US while it's not here in Australia, the reason doesn't matter. It is a problem and it will be corrected by the market.
    (Also, the reason matters even less when the reason is, "We thought we could make more money if we inconvenienced people." That's the worst reason.)

      I rather think you're missing the point that movies currently in cinemas on this list AREN'T available digitally in the US, because they are screening in cinemas there as well as here, and that on this list the majority came out in Australia BEFORE the US. So they're not "available digitally". When people are downloading a movie that is still in cinemas, the problem they're correcting isn't an availability issue: it's a willingness to pay issue.

        Definitely missed the point due to not reading the linked article.
        The press release announcing the site proclaims “As the caniwatchit.com.au site shows, this week 70% of the 10 most pirated films are not legally available in Australia.” This is complete bollocks, frankly. These are the 10 movies and their availability status:
        I assumed from the proximity to the quote, this 'availability status' meant in Australia, with it being a given that because they were being downloaded digitally, this meant they were available to be ripped, digitally.

        Unless the people collecting the statistics were including cam screeners and review copies. If we're looking at films which are also not available outside of cinemas in the US, then there isn't really an argument as much as a pile of not-that-interesting statistics. I think we might see a very different story told if we look at BD/DVD rips. It would certainly help the argument, not to include the baseline of piracy that occurs without any real reason other than being tightasses. Because it's absolutely there.

        That said? We're not talking about a closed system of action-response. We're talking about systemic disadvantages, frequent and consistent. (Edited out unhelpful comparison.) The industry has definitely cultivated an environment which is hostile to Australia, often enough and severely enough.

        It's also probably useful to identify that released before/after the US shouldn't be considered in binary terms. A half-dozen films released the day before doesn't make up for all the films they delay here by a month.

        Last edited 18/08/14 8:21 am

          I wish all these statistics didn't count cam releases as they aren't ever worth watching. I don't understand why people even bother to spend the time to download, let alone watch it. It's like getting half eaten food out of the back of Maccas.

        An aside from what Transientmind said:

        Steam, Netflix, Crunchroll, Hulu, and several other services show that people ARE willing to pay for content. Foxtel and paying $27 to go to the cinema show that people aren't willing to pay ludicrously high prices for the content. Especially given the aggressive way that Foxtel buys up rights and then packages channels in blocks that are strategically designed to force consumers to buy multiple blocks to get what they are interested in.

        The issue is reasonable supply. If you make it less convenient to buy legitimately and go to serious effort to minimise consumer value, they will go somewhere else. Once again, Steam is the big example here. GOG, and iTunes are good examples, as well. When you give people reasonably priced content, conveniently acquired and with a mind to add consumer value rather than subtract it, people will buy.

        I agree with your analysis, but I think there is a valid question here (not about availability in US vs AU but rather about availability more generally, and not a question I expect you to be able to answer).
        Why are media companies so adverse to simultaneous release across both cinema and other media, or even simply having a 1-week delay between cinema release and streamed/digital release? There are a few possible reasons I can think of:
        1. Media companies believe (rightly or wrongly) that people will choose to watch the film at home instead of watching it at a cinema and the profit from cinema viewing is greater than the profit from home viewing, or
        2. Media companies believe that people will capture a high-quality rip of the streamed media and distribute it, which will reduce cinema viewing and paid home viewing
        *and*
        3. People who will not go to see a movie at the cinema but will choose to see it at home (streaming, DVD, BR, whatever) will do so at the same rate irrespective of whether the home availability is months after cinema release, or simultaneous with cinema release.

        There are no doubt other reasons, too.

        With the existence of CAM/TS/SCR copies, I think that if substitution would take place (as per #1 above) then a proportion of that substitution will already be taking place with CAM/TS/SCR copies. They are inferior copies, sure, but I don't think (without evidence to back my view) that many people would choose not to go to the cinema because a high-quality video stream is available who wouldn't already choose to go because they can grab a CAM/TS/SCR copy.
        #2 may be a more valid concern in that if high-quality video is available illegitimately, then people may not buy the high-quality video for home use legitimately. That problem already exists as much as it will, though. However, the 'will not go to cinema' part again comes back to whether the consumers of the pirated high-quality media would be different people to those who simply consume the current pirate low-quality media from cinemas (CAM, etc).

        I disagree, I believe its more the fact that people would rather watch a movie by themselves in the comfort of their own home. Instead of traveling all the way to the cinemas, sit next to a bunch of annoying people, watch a bunch of adds before the movie, get distracted by the scummy people using their phone or talking throughout the movie, sitting in some sticky seat where the popcorn is still scattered everywhere and I will admit in terms of the payment issue, paying $25 or more for that amazing experience.
        (And thats for the people who actually live in some sort of moderate town, that actually has a cinema).

        I don't really believe the article shows that people are more greedy in Australia, but instead that people are asking for a different type of service then the one we are currently being given. Whether thats true or not will depend on whether we are actually ever given a good service to test.

    Except... Quickflix rental, and others like it, are a big expense if you only hire one or two movies a month or even less as I do. Streaming is very poor quality compared to rental, and for a lot of people their download speed is abysmal. Most of our current streamers only stream in low resolution..! Before we start beating up pirates, let's fix up the basics first, Hmmm..?

    Last edited 18/08/14 8:27 am

    This isn't a comparison between availability in the USA and Australia, it's comparing digital availability of titles. The fact of the matter is, as a product that is made available to consumers, these films are available digitally. The problem is the distributors that have the rights to these films haven't released them digitally, so the only way to obtain them on the internet, right now, is through pirate sources. If the distributors choose to hold back these releases from consumers, they have no right to complain when they go to other sources to obtain them.

    Theatrical/Cinema release is not comparable here, that's a completely different medium. Theatrical release windows worked as a way to gouge consumers when there was no competition, now there is competition, and to make matters worse, the competition doesn't even pay royalties. It's pretty clear that people want digital releases for these films, there is a demand, if they chose to ignore that demand and leave a void there to be filled by less than legal means, that's their own fault.

      I agree, but I'm wondering if digital release would eat into cinema release profits enough to kill it but not enough to compensate for the lack of a cinema release. Digital releases plus a particularly misurable winter could put a cinema out of business. It's a tricky situation because right now they depend on cinema only releases for both profits and to keep the quality of pirated copies down during a movies initial release. As much as I want to be able to get these movies legally myself without going to the cinema I can't really fault them too much for being cautious here. Digital releases could easily kill cinema over night and there will be no going back from there.

    I think the 'it's still in cinemas' excuse doesn't factor in that a lot of people who like movies don't like going to the cinema (for more reasons than just the price of snacks). I missed Thor 2 and Captain America 2 in cinemas because I'm not a huge fan of seeing movies that way and I was busy during most sane hours when it was playing. I didn't pirate them because I'm not a huge fan of seeing movies via a cam rip (especially movies like those two). However I can understand why some people would prefer a cam rip in their lounge room over the cinema experience.
    I understand why they don't release straight to DVD/Blu-Ray/on-demand but it really complicates things when analysing whether people actually follow through on their claims that they'd pay for something if it were legally available. Although personally I think most of those people forget to factor in how awesome piracy is from a strictly consumer point of view. No worrying about connections dropping out, being stuck with an app/service, being stuck on a platform, etc. DRM free full 'ownership' without being linked to physical media is way more appealing than people want to admit.

    all that site needs is a price / value column.

    That way, you don't need to have a "in cinemas" qualifier, it just has a $25/viewing price for an AU cinema, and $9/Viewing for a US Cinema.

    then you can sort by price, or by a repeated viewing price column of data. (subscriptions, rentals, VoD streams).

    it doesn't need a metacritic or rotten tomatoes rating score, or anything to divest the quality indicator, since it's not often about quality or box office returns, it's about availability and price. then you can create an index value, i.e. USD-> AUD value, and AUD-> USD value.

    i.e. if a film costs $25 for a ticket in AUD (currently USD$23.29, and it costs $9 USD for a ticket to a regular screening, there's a 258% markup for the AU side, and the US value is 38% of the AU market.

    Easy. Simple.

    Inconvenient.

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