No Proven Statistic on Canadian Piracy Exists

Who really knows what the camcording piracy rate is in Canada?

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

After weeks of following all the available data on this sensitive subject, only one conclusion can be found – a proven factual number really doesn’t exist in the first place. Slyck explores why this is the case.

On January 15th, 2007, the Globe and Mail printed that 50% of all Camcorded piracy originated in Canada – a shocking statistic that gained some level of publicity. Though it did get attention, the matter died out shortly afterwards.

On February 5th, 2007, Michael Geist cited the MPAA’s (Motion Picture Association of America) claim that 23% of all camcorded pirated movies are sourced from Canada. While a modest claim by now, the claim seemed to be just like any other number. Many criticize the MPAA and other organizations that make up the copyright industry for either cherry-picking statistics, not releasing data in full, or simply not disclosing the sources for their statistics at all.

For the purpose of this article, set aside the Pollara controversy and take all the numbers claimed at face value. Shortly after Geist’s report, a different number emerged in the New York Times (NYTimes members only) that suggested that there’s a 30 – 40% piracy rate in Canada. This claim was made on February 19, 2007. A curious development on the issue, but noteworthy nevertheless.

On March 1st, 2007 (posted the next day) US Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Cornyn wrote a letter pressuring Canada on the issue. While the demand on reforming Canadian copyright laws to mirror the US’s controversial DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) isn’t exactly new, the claim that 50% of all camcorded piracy was. To recap, the claims now are 23%, 30-40% and 50% which causes a 27% margin of error thus far. It also marked the first time the statistics were repeated, as the Globe and Mail’s January report matched the Senator’s letters. While the numbers are getting bigger, the credibility of these statistics dwindled.

On May 1st, 2007, the MPAA issued a press release, not on Canada, but on New York. In the press release, it states that in the United States, 43% of all camcorded piracy came from New York. This equaled 20% of the entire world’s total. While this doesn’t technically disprove any of the numbers so far, it is an important note on the subject given this is a world-wide statistic, not a domestic statistic. Arguably, this statistic suggests that over 40% of the world-wide piracy does come from the United States. So in conclusion at this point, over 90% of piracy comes from Canada and the United States – a number that would have some scratching their heads.

The confusing number adventure continues, with yet another statistic posted by Variety. On May 7, 2007, Variety reported that 70% of piracy is sourced in Canada. It was coupled with news that pre-screenings of movies owned by the WB would be cancelled due to such a high piracy rate in Canada. This new statistic shows the first mathematical impossibility. If 70% was originating from Canada and over 40% originating in the United States, then 110% is from both Canada and the United States. For those less familiar with the statistics offered, some may wonder if Canada’s shores are being lined with pirate ships from all over the world suddenly over the course of a few months.

The numbers don’t stop there. On May 9, 2007, the Globe and Mail reported (Members only) that 75% the piracy in the world could be blamed on Canada. A new number, a new mathematical impossibility.

Slyck decided to see if this whole media mess could be sorted out by contacting the MPAA. Sadly, Slyck’s enquiries went unanswered. Unfortunate, given that many were baffled by the numbers in the first place. While Slyck talked about the New York numbers, Michael Geist commented, “The numbers still don’t completely add up.”

Whether or not the numbers were even legitimate, it caused a Canadian Member of Parliament (MP) to demand tougher copyright laws on May 14, 2007. It was comments made by the MP that resulted in at least two letters that expressed disapproval over such comments.

One thing was mentioned occasionally during the debacle: China. Some may be wondering, throughout this whole fiasco, how China is doing in terms of piracy numbers. One number was in fact issued regarding this. It came in a press release issued by the MPA on May 1st, 2007, just days before the 70% statistic was published. The press release, while unveiling operation Tripod, contains the following:

“Worldwide, camcorded copies comprise around 90 percent of early release pirate discs,”
said Mike Ellis, Senior Vice President and Regional Director, Asia-Pacific for the Motion
Picture Association.

Does this number invalidate the other numbers? Consider that this number is of a statistic taken in 2005. Rewind back to what the US senators said: “In fact, Canadian-sourced camcordings rose by 24 percent in 2006 from 2005.”

Subtract any statistic thus far and the only possible number coming from Canada is the 30 – 40% claim. Unfortunately, this does not explain the New York statistic either as that would put all three of the statistics in conflict with each other. So thus far, every statistic noted has at least one number in conflict.

Even more interesting is the fact that on May 14, 2007, The Gazette published a brand new statistic. This time the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association president Doug Frith suggested that the piracy rate in Canada is really 20-25%. Even this number seems to conflict with other data gathered up to this point, though it makes more sense that the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association would have a better grasp on the situation given that they are, indeed, situated in Canada.

One argument that comes to mind at this point is that this could be entirely different studies being conducted. While this may be entirely true, if different studies turn up numbers for Canada from anywhere between 23% to 75% – a 52% margin of error – doesn’t this show that the studies have been rendered inconclusive in the first place? Furthermore, what numbers can be believed in this case?

An additional question that comes to mind is why aren’t there the same solutions to the piracy in Canada and in China? As mentioned, the solution for Canada’s “piracy issues” seems to be banning pre-screenings altogether. Meanwhile, the solution for Hong Kong’s piracy woes was reportedly to launch a movie download store.

With so many questions, so many different numbers, and a lack of clarity, no numbers on Canada’s piracy report can really be believed, with many other world-wide statistics cast into doubt, even if some numbers are more believable than others. For those wanting to know the real rates, a good suggestion is to wait until a study like the recent BSA report can be released that offers more realistic numbers.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

2 Trackbacks and Pingbacks

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: