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Missing the Point on Piracy Data

Our libertarian friends over at the Mercatus Center have set up a website that bashes the movie industry because it doesn’t release movies according to the schedule that the Mercatus Center thinks it should.

At least, that is the clear implication of the site.

What they do at the site is compare the most pirated movies for a particular week with the legal streaming availability of those same movies. Which isn’t even relevant, despite what Tim Lee thinks.

It IS interesting that TorrentFreak brazenly publishes a list of the most pirated movies. That’s pretty in-your-face behavior, considering that piracy is illegal. As you might guess, the most pirated movies are the most recent successful movies.

But it is utterly irrelevant whether or not a pirated movie is available for streaming. That’s because the release schedule and business plan for the movie is entirely the business of whoever owns the movie, and not anyone else. That’s an implication of property rights that libertarians ought to understand. You and your pirate friends do not get to decide what happens to my property.

Traditionally, of course, movie studios delay releasing films into other channels until they’ve reached some revenue maximizing point in theaters. Revenue maximization is also something libertarians ought to understand.

Now, it’s certainly true that markets might lead or even force movie companies to change their traditional movie release plans. Consumer data might indicate that people so far prefer consuming films on their portable devices that we see a long term change in movie release patterns.

But our friends at Mercatus are NOT describing a change brought on by markets. They are implying a change that should happen because of criminal behavior. And those of us who are champions of markets do NOT defend criminal behavior as a market force or creative disruption. Markets take place within the rule of law. We don’t insist that markets adapt to account for criminal behavior. Rule of law is also something libertarians should understand.

I’ve written before about how folks start to lose some moral clarity when they begin justifying violations of IP rights because they happen to not believe strongly in IP. When you start defending counterfeiters, or viewing criminal piracy as a legitimate market force, you are losing your moral clarity.

With this website, our Mercatus friends are implying that the movie industry gets the piracy it deserves because it doesn’t release movies for streaming according to the demands of the pirates. And that’s indefensible.

There have certainly been studies that indicate a decrease in piracy as a result of both increased availability of legal content in an environment anti-piracy education. And the industry knows this and is moving in that direction.

But there is no justification for piracy. None. And when you imply a justification for breaking property rights law, you are losing your moral clarity.

It’s also mildly amusing that a site set up to do data analysis apparently got their data wrong. But getting a chuckle out of that is to miss the larger point, that correlating piracy to streaming availability implies an argument that libertarians should not be comfortable making.

Addendum: With this tweet, Jerry Brito pretty much clinches it. He says Hollywood gets the piracy it deserves, which is ludicrous.

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