Reel Piracy: The Effect of Online Film Piracy on International Box Office Sales
Carnegie Mellon University - H. John III Heinz School of Public Policy and Management
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Department of Economics
January 16, 2012
Hollywood films are generally released first in the United States and then later abroad, with some variation in lags across films and countries. With the growth in movie piracy since the appearance of BitTorrent in 2003, films have become available through illegal piracy immediately after release in the US, while they are not available for legal viewing abroad until their foreign premieres in each country. We make use of this variation in international release lags to ask whether longer lags – which facilitate more local pre-release piracy – depress theatrical box office receipts, particularly after the widespread adoption of BitTorrent. We find that longer release windows are associated with decreased box office returns, even after controlling for film and country fixed effects. This relationship is much stronger in contexts where piracy is more prevalent: after BitTorrent’s adoption and in heavily-pirated genres. Our findings indicate that, as a lower bound, international box office returns in our sample were at least 7% lower than they would have been in the absence of pre-release piracy. By contrast, we do not see evidence of elevated sales displacement in US box office revenue following the adoption of BitTorrent, and we suggest that delayed legal availability of the content abroad may drive the losses to piracy.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 28
Keywords: filesharing, piracy, information goods, box office, quasi-experiment
JEL Classification: L1, L8, O30, O34
Date posted: January 17, 2012 ; Last revised: August 20, 2014
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