One of the most common arguments against torrenting piracy is that it harms the people who make content, whether it’s movies, TV, or music.
But is that really true? Does illegal torrenting actually hurt the entertainment industry? Let’s take a look.
What the Industry Claims
While the entertainment industry – and rights agencies that “protect” them, like the MPAA and RIAA – have employed different tactics to combat illegal torrenting over the years, their main arguments remain pretty much the same.
That is, they claim that illegal torrenting and other form of piracy cause billions of dollars of lost revenue per year, which leads to a huge loss of jobs and even less artists practicing their craft. They directly correlate each piece of pirated content as a lost sale, while comparing illegal torrenting to stealing physical goods, like cars.
What Torrenting Pirates Claim
The torrenting piracy community isn’t buying it, pun intended. They argue that piracy is a victimless crime since no one is actually losing anything, contrary to the false equivalencies made by rights agencies.
They’ve also pointed out the lack of hard data produced by the entertainment industry, which instead relies on faulty assumptions about how torrenting piracy directly affects sales. Most torrenters simply wouldn’t consume as much media if they had to pay for all of it individually.
When illegal torrenting does actually hurt profits, the P2P piracy community argues, it’s only large corporations that lose money – and it’s because of their own anti-consumer practices and greed. Typically, content creators actually benefit from torrenting piracy since it brings exposure to their work.
What’s the Reality?
As you can see, we have two vastly different positions, with the industry claiming that piracy is destroying entertainment, whereas pirate torrenters say it’s mostly harmless, if not beneficial.
Which one is closer to the truth? Spoiler: It’s the torrenters.
Torrenting actually improves movie revenue
Independent researchers have found some pretty interesting things by analyzing how two large sites known for hosting copyright content, Megaupload and The Pirate Bay, actually affect movie revenues.
For starters, when Megaupload was shut down by law enforcement in 2012, it was a net negative for movie revenues. Some big-budget films benefited slightly, but this was outweighed by the large loss of sales caused to lesser-known titles.
Meanwhile, it’s been shown movies uploaded to The Pirate Bay and other large torrent sites actually caused a 3% increase in box office revenue. The exception was when movies were released or “leaked” to P2P sites before they actually came out, which is pretty rare.
Both examples support the argument made by torrenters, that these communities actually help the entertainment industry through a form of organic, word-of-mouth marketing.
Torrenters spend more money on music
A 2016 study by MusicWatch found that 57 million Americans used torrenting or other methods, like stream ripping, to download free music. That’s 20% of all Americans online.
These numbers, of course, were meant to show how bad piracy is. However, the study also discovered that the “badquirers”, as MusicWatch called them, actually bought way more music, spending $33 per capita on physical or digital music per year. That’s nearly 75% higher than the average consumer!
Other studies have shown that these downloaders are also more likely to attend concerts, buy merchandise, and otherwise support artists. And musicians actually get a much larger percentage of concert and merchandise revenue than from albums or streaming.
Torrenting increases in reaction to bad industry practices
The MusicWatch study also revealed a few other interesting tidbits that hurt the industry’s arguments. For instance, when Kanye West’s album Life of Pablo was released in 2016, it was restricted to the Tidal streaming service. This caused an explosion in its torrenting, with over 500k downloads in the first week.
In general, “badquirers” have cited ownership of music and the ability to access it easily on multiple devices, like smartphones, as one of the biggest motivations for their torrenting. Because you don’t actually own music (or movies, ebooks, etc.) you buy digitally, and you definitely don’t own music you stream.
Both of these instances support arguments that pirate torrenters have been making for decades: that the entertainment industry’s own practices are one of the biggest causes of pirating.
This pattern is currently repeating itself with streaming, as consumers return to pirate torrenting in droves to avoid needing 5 or 10 different streaming subscriptions just to watch the content they want.
In short, no, torrenting piracy isn’t destroying the entertainment industry. In fact, it often has positive effects.
And when it does cause damage, it’s usually because it’s threatening the industry’s anti-consumer methods – and not individual artists.
That being said, it’s not like everyone who torrents a movie is conscious of all this information, or is some kind of freedom fighter. But it’s worth being informed about.