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.

Originally published on Lifehacker Australia

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    While this site is clearly rubbish and makes stupid statistical comments about a tiny sample size with lots of missing data, I think you're not helping here by making such inflammatory points as:

    plenty of people pirate because it provides them with free entertainment and they can get away with it.

    The "people pirate because they don't want to pay" is a stupidly moot point. People will always steal things, people will always pirate, people will always download a car (if they could).
    No amount of policing and legal action will stop that. Prohibition proved this. The war on drugs has proved this.
    This is not the main point. I'd argue that it's not anywhere near the main reason most people pirate. Of course if you build a culture around it, it's going to be hard to change, but that's why the industry needs to change.

    The music and games industry has already adapted (for the most part). People used to download music all the time. Now you have alternative business models like Spotify. Same goes for gaming with things like Humble Bundles, Steam, PSN, EA's new monthly plan thing etc..

    The movie and TV industry are still stuck in the past. That's the main point. Pricing and availability are orders of magnitude more important than stopping that one guy who's going to want to download it for free no matter what.

    Just because we have jail terms for theft doesn't mean there's no more theft. However you can reduce theft by making things less appealing to steal.

    Last edited 18/08/14 3:25 pm

      Great comment @inquisitorsz. A sanguine point to remind people that VPN's are legal to use in Australia! So lets screw these guys, get a VPN and stream it legally and affordably. Both the artists and the studio get paid in full!

        Exactly.... Just not the content providers here in Oz.
        Our International viewership robs local content providers of recouping and making money from with their paid advertisements and subscription services.
        Which is all that Foxtel care about.

        So the question really comes down to, does Foxtel think (and possibly fear) that it can't compete with the International scene. So in vein, they try and force a local content solution down our throats by lobbying our politicians to change the laws to suit them.

    Being available on one or the other subscription service isn't much use to people because no one wants to subscribe to multiple services in the hope of catching new releases. Everything should be made available, as its released, on one platform (sound familiar - its pirating)

    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.

    maybe if they could afford it? the movies are very expensive these days which is why a streaming site such as netflix is so popular.
    if you are comparing apples to apples, what is the comparison of downloads of movies currently showing in aus by australians, vs when they were showing in america and downloaded by americans?

      This is so very true. The other day, the wife and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, $35 and that's because she's a student... just to get in, let alone food on top of that. Now if we had a family, add on ticket prices for the kids. When it's out on DVD/Bluray, I'm sure it'll be below the $30 price point, and then I can watch it more than once with as many people as I like.

        that being said.... I recently discovered that telstra gives me $11 movie tickets... whenever I want.
        It was 2 dollars extra for Vmax but my total bill to see guardians of the galaxy last weekend (Pretty sure it was a saturday night) was $26.

        I'm definitely going to go see more movies (if there were any other good ones out at the moment) knowing that I can get almost half price tickets. Full Price at $22 for Vmax quick becomes $44 for a couple. I agree that's unreasonable.

        Obviously this requiers being a telstra customer but I'm sure there's lots of other ways to get $11 tickets. Entertainment book, Optus?

        Last edited 18/08/14 4:02 pm

          Optus offer $10 tickets for Hoyts, valid anytime except for Saturday after 5pm, with +$2-3 for 3D, plus combined with Hoyts points-based rewards mean if you become the guy organising tickets for groups of friends and claim all the points you start to accumulate a lot of free choc-tops :)
          ...of course with Chadstone gone this doesn't happen quite so often anymore >.

          just remembered one other thing - some eateries like Grill'd do combo deals with nearby cinemas as well so for only marginally more than a ticket you can cover dinner as well

          Optus customers can get $10 movie tickets for a range of cinemas from https://www.yestickets.com.au/

            Agreed. If you're paying full price for cinema tickets you aren't looking hard enough. Between Optus/Telstra offering cheap tickets. Various private health insurances and other things you're probably signed up for provide cheap tickets.
            Plus if you're a Hoyts or Event rewards member they have $10 movie of the week deals every week.
            Half the movies I watched last year were $10 movie of the week.

            I haven't paid full price for a movie ticket in years.

              but why not just make tickets $14 dollars.. instead of having to buy them through somewhere like Telstra or optus.. or being a member..

              cant I just show up at the movies.. instead of pre planning everything I want to watch and then going across 3 sites to make it happen?

              why do we need to know about offers from optus/telstra/member cards instead of them just giving a reasonable price in the first place?

                Exactly. I don't have my internet through Optus or Telstra, and my insurance doesn't give me cheap tickets. Guardians of the Galaxy on the weekend cost me and my GF about $40, just for the tickets.

                It was a great movie, and I had a great time. But for the money I could have bought 2 Blu Rays I can watch whenever I like. No wonder I barely go to the movies anymore. It's not a value proposition at all.

                Anyway I'm busy discovering all the free programming on smart tv's - my little Sony LCD has this Manga app where you can stream both seasons of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex (and other shows) completely for free. It's amazing.

                Plan ahead? 3 weeks ago my wife and I went and saw a movie as a last minute thing as we were walking past the cinema. I bought the tickets on my phone as I was waiting in line.

                  if you bought the tickets on your phone then you would have paid the same price as at the end of the line + a $2 booking fee.
                  I can do the same thing.. but that wont give you cheap tickets.. especially if you aren't with RACQ Optus or Telstra

                  Then you are screwed..

                  On my phone I have internet access over the mobile network. I use this to access the Telstra website. From there I go to the "Thanks Movies tickets & rentals" link on the page. From there I tap on the "Get Tickets" button. I log in to my Telstra account and then chose which cinema and movie I want to see. select how many "Telstra" tickets I want, select what drinks and popcorn I want then I can even pay using the PayPal app on my phone.

                  All while in line waiting to be served.

      +1 Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video will give full access to most things you want to ever watch on TV. It's on demand, in high def and includes a massive back catalogue. All for about AU$35 per month.

      Now imagine if Apple would sell unlimited access to it's entire video and music library for $100 per month. Watch and listen as much as you want as long you pay the monthly fee. I'd pay no problem.

    I'm not sure how relevant the point about movies still being in cinemas.. I know this isn't new, and we're no worse off than the US etc, but the fact is, our consumption habits are changing.

    Digital distribution has made it *possible* to watch movies at home almost immediately upon release - and we're increasingly wanting to do that. Many of us are no longer patient to wait for studios to decide when we're eventually allowed to watch their movies the way we want to; in the global digital age, the practice of pushing people at cinemas, artificial restriction of international distribution, making us wait for arbitrary demographics etc is increasingly seen as consumer-hostile. That sort of market control & enforced scarcity over movies that easily *could* be released widely right away is something many consumers are no longer willing to put up with, so they're turning to illegal alternatives instead.

    Convenience and ease of distribution are digital media's greatest strengths. The studios know this, know that the market is changing, but are still entrenched in their old methods. Rather than risk change, they're hanging onto their old channels with increasing desperation - fighting a losing battle against the tide, rather than embracing wholeheartedly the new distribution possibilities that digital media offers. It's been said before: piracy is mostly the symptom of a service problem.


      I do not know why they want to try and make every person watch a movie for which they get $10. This means the only time they get money is when they finish a movie and that is a SHIT idea!

      This used to be the same deal for Movieworld/SeaWorld/Wet"n"wild etc. Then they discovered.. "What if we charge them 1 fair price and then can come in as many times as they want to? Then we
      a) get $80 even if they show up once and never come back
      b) if they do come back.. they have kids etc and will always have to buy super expensive drinks and food. this keeps us running.
      c) it allows us to think about a steady stream of income because we can predict when a pass will run out and how much people use the park. This helps towards being able to make a rough projection of income in the following years and what seems to be working.

      Imagine if.. .. .. *dream cloud appears*
      - There was a movie service, where all the companys of all the world placed all their movies in a database.
      - The charge would be $10 a month
      - With that $10 a month you could watch any movie/TV show you want.. in HD
      - Instead of releasing movies to a cinema you release them directly into this service. Or you release them simultaneously on both.. they are digital so why not!
      - All the movies and tv shows of the world are accessible when you want.. how you want and as soon as they are ready

      Instead of getting
      $10 of some users for the other woman
      $10 for campaign America
      $10 for southpark series 1

      You just get $10 a month from each user who wants to access your service. You allow them to stream anything they want to their device.

      7 billion people
      $10 a subscription - per month = $120 a year (peanuts)

      7,000,000,000 * 10 = $70, 000, 000, 000 (seventy billion dollars a month * 12

      lets say only 10% of the users of the world take up the offer.. that's still 7 billion dollars a month * 12
      now lets say you throw in some advertising with an audience base of 7 billion people. that's another 23 billion in potential advertising profits (without interrupting my movies) and you have targeted adds based on country, movie preferences,

      The system can be distributed by the popularity of your movie. how many watches or up votes.
      This will allow small movie companies to launch and users to browse movies that would otherwise be inaccessible. possibly making them able to produce great movies.


      Last edited 18/08/14 5:55 pm

        Erm.... The top 10 movies in 2014 so far is already grossing 7 billion before including upcoming and current such as Guardians of the Galaxy... That's even before Netflix, your tv broadcaster, ads, etc.... Not to mention those outside top 10... And not everyone wants to be a hobbit watching at home.

          if you can do math mine is 70 billion * 12
          840 billion

          and it would allow a company that only had 300k to make a movie would still be able to display their movie and maybe make 300 million

          That's 70 billion a month

          Last edited 25/08/14 1:51 pm

    I think the dvd copy should be released at the same time the movie hits the cinemas. The people who like going to picture theaters will always go to them and people that don't, rarely do. So why not release it at the same time.

      The cinema heads would never allow such a thing ! They want to force people into their expensive seats any way they can and making them wait a few months for a movie is probably the biggest motivator to get bums in seats

        But the movie studios might like it. They get to sell copies early and could even charge a couple dollars extra for the duration of the movie playing in theaters. But to get less pirating, the overall prices of DVDs should come down. Lower the price and sell more. That's what capitalism is all about.

          Movies have a long life for revenue. Selling cheap upfront doesn't get them the returns. It costs a lot to make movies, not like recording an album or singles in a studio. People want quality, it needs money for that. Without the revenues you will only get streetfighter the movie.... Allllll freakin yearrr...

    I don't know why people are so surprised by pirating. It is simple to understand if you live in the real world and not the corporate one. In Australia the cost of living has gone up and wages have either stayed the same and some even gone down. Previously the family payment went to the house, the car, other general living expenses (groceries, etc) and there was enough left over for entertainment, etc. Now wages go to the house, the car, general living expenses and not much else. This is the case with everyone I know that does't earn over $150,000 a year after tax. It's an economical problem. Personally, if I want to buy a DVD it means I have to miss out on several meals (the price of a DVD gets me rice, vegetables and meat to feed my family for 2-3 meals). 10 years ago I didn't even have to budget as for the same wage I had money left spending ad hoc.

    The assumption both the EFA and the author of this article are making is that each film is a unique good.. someone decides they want to watch a specific film tonight and they download it . I think there is an argument to be made that different films and even TV series are substitutes (though not perfect ones). That is people go "I want some passive entertainment" and given the dearth of legally available on-demand film and tv options, they turn to illegally downloading a film. Maybe if they had simple access to Netflix or an equivalent service(s) they wouldn't consider downloading an illegal cam of guardians of the galaxy, because they could legally stream an (older) movie they hadn't seen in HD.

    Last edited 18/08/14 5:40 pm

      Chances are these people already have netflix or are so cheap they won't pay for netflix. Remember, people who use Torrents should have some brains to be able to setup netflix.

    I (and most people I know) hate going to the cinemas, and indeed never go. People have home theatres that have replaced the formal dining room that provide a much better (and cheaper) experience than the cinemas.

    Time to release films digitally early on, archaic industry.

    Be honest, people pirate cause 'they can!", no mystery here!!

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