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MPAA cooks the books

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"About one in four Internet users have downloaded a movie," begins a recent, much-publicized report on online file-trading. Thing is, the statement is not even almost true.

Last week, the Online Testing Exchange (OTX) and MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) shocked the world with their "one in four" claim. The two organizations surveyed more than 3,600 users in 8 countries and discovered an astonishingly high rate of movie downloads. Their report released last week captured headlines such as "Movie piracy on Internet called an epidemic" and "Alarm at Internet movie piracy" and "Movie downloading costs MPAA billions."

However, it's not actually one in four Internet users that have downloaded a movie, rather one in four broadband Internet users. That last broadband tidbit is in the report's fine print. And there are even more interesting findings that didn't make their way into the fine print at all.

Humble reflection

We couldn't help but think that the "one in four" number seemed a bit high. We know lots of Internet-savvy types and the issue of movie downloading does not come up a lot. It's there, but it's not "one in four" there, even with broadband users. So what gives?

OTX found that Koreans are movie downloading fiends with 58 percent of those surveyed admitting to pulling down a flick. The French came in second at 27 percent, the US followed at 24 percent and the UK hit 20 percent, apparently.

Yep, that's high.

But there are problems with these numbers. For one, the sample "was augmented in several countries in order to provide a minimum sample of 100 movie downloaders per country." Given their total of 3,600 respondents for 8 countries, that breaks down to about 450 respondents per country. And, if you demand that 100 of these be movie downloaders, your numbers start approaching "one in four" pretty quick.

Secondly, OTX did not even ask what types of movies had been downloaded, and could not say if these were whole movies. Spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg told The Register that the phrase "feature film" was used in some questions but would not give us the exact questions or list questions that did not use this phrase. Did OTX ask if the movies were porn or if users downloaded clips as opposed to the whole move? We'll never know.

Truly shocking

OTX also found that 17 percent of movie downloaders said they attend real movies less often these days. Did OTX ask how many downloaders attend more movies?

"No, we didn't ask that," Goldberg said.

Goldberg did, however, say that another study showed people were less likely to download a movie after seeing a MPAA sponsored commercial showing how evil the practice is. Did this commercial picture people being electrocuted if they downloaded a movie?

"No, it didn't," she said.

Did the MPAA sponsor this study?

"No. OTX is an independent organization."

Phew.

"We didn't do is specifically for the MPAA, but more as a service to the industry. We know they consider (downloading) a problem."

Ah, thought so.

Let's be straight here. If the MPAA and OTX had found that most people - instead of just 17 percent - attended movies less as a result of online piracy, we would have heard about it. And, if OTX had set a bar of 200 movie downloaders per sample, we would have heard that 50 percent of Internet users have downloaded a movie.

Our own "living life" study indicates that it's likely movie buffs who are doing the most downloading - the very same people packing theaters. But for some reason that is a theory the MPAA does not even want to explore. ®

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