MPAA Admits Stats Inflated As Congress Considers Copyright Protection Bill

The study cost $3 million, took 18 months and encompassed 22 countries. Its conclusion--that college students account for 44% of movie industry losses due to piracy--has been the centerpiece of lobbying efforts for the last two years by the Motion Picture Association of America.

There's just one problem: It's wrong.

Now, with Congress poised to consider a bill forcing colleges to explore filtering copyrighted material from their networks, the MPAA has re-examined the numbers and determined that college students account for only 15% of losses.

The MPAA said it discovered the mistake when preparing an update to the original report, prepared in 2005 by LEK Consulting. "We take this error very seriously and have taken strong and immediate action to both investigate the root cause of this report as well as to substantiate the accuracy of the latest report," said Seth Oster, the MPAA executive vice president for corporate communications, in a statement.

Here, the mistake stemmed from calculating lost revenue as if college students would have bought tickets (OR DVDs) for all movies illegally downloaded, rather than just some of them. The MPAA said it will hire an auditor to validate the updated study.

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Some advocates are optimistic that the MPAA's restatement of the original study will help derail the pending Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 (H.R. 4137), which unanimously passed in the House Education and Labor Committee in November. The bill would require colleges receiving federal financial aid to develop a plan to explore "technology-based deterrents" to illegal downloading.

"We hope that many members of Congress will now reexamine the arguments that we've been making for quite some time--that campus networks are not a major source of the problem," said Steven Worona, director of policy and networking programs of Educause, an organization for college technology departments.

Advocacy group Public Knowledge, which also opposes the bill, said the new revelations should cause lawmakers to view other MPAA claims skeptically. "This was flawed from the get-go," said Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder. "It calls into question all of the MPAA's quote-unquote 'numbers.'"

Sohn added that critics of the bill, including some colleges, had unsuccessfully sought more information from the MPAA about the study. "There was a lot of pressure from ... individual institutions for the MPAA to back up their numbers," she said.

Opponents to the Opportunity and Affordability Act say that filtering technology is flawed, both wrongly excluding material that isn't protected by copyright laws and letting pirated material through. In addition, they argue that colleges should not be pressured into spending tuition money policing copyright.

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