Pirates in the Dorms

I forgot to mention the Inside Higher Ed report from a few weeks ago on the MPAA’s calculation error that led them to blame university campuses for something like 44% of the motion picture industry’s domestic losses.  It turns out, as the MPAA concluded, that by their calculations, that total is actually closer to 15% (PDF).   Of course, these updated numbers still raise a number of questions about how the MPAA is calculating “domestic losses” in the first place, but more crucially, as Kenneth Green observes in a more recent IHE article, the real target of the MPAA seems not to be the college students themselves, but the high-speed internet connections that are standard in most university dorms.  Instead of acknowledging the role of commercial broadband networks owned by Time Warner, Comcast, and others,  the MPAA continues to attribute much of the blame for piracy onto  college kids in their dorms (it’s worth noting, as Green does, that the MPAA’s report also relies upon a relatively limited notion of a college student, focusing primarily on on-campus residents at major universities or liberal arts colleges).

Green does a much more thorough job than I can in breaking down the problems in the MPAA’s analysis of digital piracy and of the implications of  the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, which stipulated that universities seek solutions to combat digital piracy, so I’ll leave that to him.  But, as always, I’m fascinated by the ease with which the MPAA was able to shift so much of the blame for digital piracy onto college kids when it’s relatively clear that students are far from the only group engaged in this practice.


  1. Parth Said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 5:46 pm

    I think college kids are just an easy target. Downloading pirated music is illegal but not that ethically repulsive for the general public. Kids living in dorms have been linked to a bunch of such issues (underage drinking/sex, smoking pot etc) . So it’s easy for MPAA to vent the blame something like this on them and even prosecute wherever they can without generating too much hype.

    Internet providers, on the other hand, can’t be that easily messed around with. Even if they do agree to help, by blocking such download, they will have a bad name with privacy issues and would risk losing business.

  2. Chuck Said,

    January 30, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

    Oh, definitely. In fact, my major beef with the MPAA’s “blame kids” approach is the degree to which it both relies upon and reinforces stereotypes about college students as pampered, spoiled partiers, when, of course, things are far more complicated.

    And, to be sure, many of the studios that are producing Hollywood films are also the ones that own Internet service providers, so it’s a complicated issue, but I think my main beef is with a representation of college students that is somewhat unfair and unrepresentative.

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