Monday, July 12, 2004


High-tech hysteria is upon us, enabled by ignorance. From news reports this past weekend:

“Nearly a quarter of Internet users worldwide have illegally downloaded a movie,” according to a report trumpeted by the Motion Picture Association of America.

And information-technology analysis firm Gartner Inc. suggests that iPod music players be banned from the workplace because it is a storage device that can carry out secrets or bring in viruses and other destructive software.

Now, Jupiter’s NUA estimated two years ago that there were 606 million Internet users worldwide, a number that can only have grown, suggesting that more than 152 million people have illegally downloaded a movie. Who are these 152 million? Well, the research firm that provided the study, OTX, says the biggest problem (“much bigger than in the other [seven] countries” surveyed, according to the Hollywood Reporter) is in South Korea, where 58 percent of Internet users have robbed Hollywood, Bollywood and what have you of hard-earned popcorn money.

These numbers seem, to put it delicately, weird. My workplace has a pretty fast connection, but even downloading and watching a movie preview, all two minutes or so, is a little clunky. Using the slightly slower DSL at home can make downloading the same trailers downright problematic, and that’s about as good as connections get for most of the world’s Internet users. What, do 58 percent of South Korea’s Internet users have T3 connections as well as the will to use them to watch movies for which they haven’t paid? And they’d rather spend the time on what are likely to be tinny, jerky images, rather than spend a few dollars to rent or buy a DVD?

Even if the numbers are trustworthy, the MPAA conclusions -- that illegal downloads are eating into movie profits -- are suspect. Here’s what other analysts say:

[Yankee Group] research reported a similar number (16 percent) of downloaders, but had indicated that 43 percent of downloaders attended movies as frequently as they had prior to downloading and 41 percent reported increased movie attendance.

The other high-tech alert is even more obviously ridiculous. The Associated Press notes that the Gartner report “did not compare the risk from portable storage with those from floppy disks, compact disc burners, e-mail and printers” -- meaning Gartner is targeting the iPod for banishment rather than, say, any of the hundreds of flash drives out there, including the $17.21 device that can hold 32 megabytes of data.

Hell, why not ban compact discs from the workplace? That innocent-looking copy of The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” could be sneaking in the next killer worm, or carrying out valuable, proprietary information.

None of this is going anywhere good, I suspect.

Just like the money spent on these studies.


Brian Wanamaker said...

Just so you know, Korea has a ridiculously high adoption rate of broadband adoption. I understand it's not specifically in every home, but the bhang (internet parlors) are ubiquitous and well used. They're also ahead of just about everyone except Japan in cellphone use; they could have even outstripped Japan by now, I'm just typing off-the-proverbial-cuff.

I'm not sure what kind of jerky, small video you're referring to, but high-resolution, visually perfect rips pop up on P2P networks soon after the first country begins retail sales of the DVD. In high-profile cases, this occurs before the DVD goes on sale, as some of these ripped movies are taken from "screener" discs.

For the record, I'm not of the frame of mind that online downloads cut into sales, or even prevent people from buying stuff. People who have money for media use them to find stuff they want, then buy it. People without money are stocking up on media, but that's not money coming /out/ of the Copyright Industry's pocket -- that's money that doesn't exist no matter what.

If the RIAA would get over their desire to get US$16 or more for a CD with only a flimsy jewel-case and cheaply printed insert to separate it from the easily obtainable content, they'd see more sales. Unfortunately they've taken to adding copy protection to the discs instead, making them less pallatable than the P2P option.

Scape7 said...

As you can see from the "other analysts" link, I acknowledge South Korea has remarkable broadband capacity, and may even have a corresponding, China-like lack of respect -- if that's the way you want to think of it -- for copyright law. But the numbers remain fishy. If you compare the reporting of the OTX and Yankee studies (which is all I have to go on, since those reports are quite expensive, and I have no media credentials to follow up on my own), they *seem* to agree. Or do they? When it reads "Yankee's own research reported a similar number (16%) of downloaders," the context suggests that's not a similar number at all. A similar number would have been closer to 25 percent, which was the point of the MPAA's alarm.

I'm just skeptical of these studies in general. I mean, come on: Should 3,600 Internet users in eight countries really serve as a stand-in for 606 million people in 193 countries?