MPAA backtracks on college movie theft

In a 2005 study, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) claimed that 44 percent of the industry’s domestic losses came from illegal downloading of movies by college students. Now, the group says it was wrong.

The correct figure, said the MPAA, is that college students are responsible for about 15 percent of revenue loss. The MPAA has used the study to pressure colleges to take tougher steps to prevent illegal file-sharing and to back legislation currently before the House of Representatives that would force them to do so. However, the group now claims a human error in that survey caused it to get the number wrong.

However, Mark Luker, vice president of campus IT group, Educause, said the MPAA study doesn’t account for the fact that more than 80 percent of college students live off campus and aren’t necessarily using college networks. He says 3 percent is a more reasonable estimate for the percentage of revenue that might be at stake on campus networks.

“The 44 percent figure was used to show that if college campuses could somehow solve this problem on this campus, then it would make a tremendous difference in the business of the motion picture industry,” Luker told the Associated Press. The new figures prove “any solution on campus will have only a small impact on the industry itself.”

Terry Hartle, vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents higher education in Washington, told the AP that the mistakes showed the entertainment industry has unfairly targeted college campuses.

The original report, by research firm LEK, claims the U.S. motion picture industry lost $6.1 billion to piracy worldwide, with most of the losses overseas. It identified the typical movie pirate as a male aged 16-24.

MPAA said in a statement that no errors had been found in the study besides the percentage of revenue losses that could be attributed to college students, but that it would hire a third party to validate the numbers.