Study: Online Piracy Linked to Studios

Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has attributed the threat of film piracy to screeners sent out to voters, a recent study suggests that insider leaks, not screeners, are the major source of Internet piracy.

The study, conducted by AT&T Labs, found that 77 percent of all popular movies being illegally traded over the Web came from people who worked inside the industry. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the report found lax security throughout the production-distribution pipeline as well as in audio/visual editing rooms, outside effects houses and outsourced postproduction.

But Patrick McDaniels, a researcher at AT&T Labs, told the Reporter that doesn’t mean screeners haven’t contributed to piracy in some way. “The data does show that the screener copies are contributing to Internet piracy, But it’s important to know that the [proposed] ban is not going to solve the whole problem, and we have no way of knowing how much it will help,” he said.

Commercial DVDs, on the other hand, represented an insignificant amount of pirated films. The study found that only 5 percent of films appeared online after they were released on home video. Generally, films appeared on the Web about 100 days after their theatrical release.

The studio hardest hit was Universal Pictures, which had 15 of its 18 release pirated during AT&T’s research period. Warner Bros. came in second, with 78 percent of its 37 releases turning up for download on the Internet.

The survey concluded that the entertainment industry could do more to improve the current situation, including the use of specialized players and broad digital rights managements system, but admits these methods are costly and unpractical.

The research was based on 419 movies that had reached the top 50 with the highest box office take from Jan. 1, 2002-Jun 30, 2003. The study did not include films that were released or screened outside the United States prior to their U.S. release. The AT&T study found that of the remaining 312 movies, 183 of them were being illegally traded online.

McDaniels said that the research was limited to one file-swapping network and one content verification site, meaning that the problem could be even more widespread.