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Selling Legal Downloading

The movie industry’s pre-emptive strategy of prosecuting file-sharers is misguided

By The Crimson Staff

After several years of virtually unrestricted music file-sharing, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) took serious and direct measures last spring to curb the controversial downloading phenomenon. The association filed hundreds of lawsuits against online music-traders, inciting fear amongst millions of KaZaA users and causing havoc amongst the thousands of guilt-free, blissfully oblivious downloaders. Now, under increased pressure from movie studios, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has announced that it will take similar steps to stem the tide of illegal movie downloads.

The association stated that it plans to take “preemptive measures” against illegal movie-downloaders in the near future. Citing the growing use of broadband and the ease with which people can pirate movies online, the association fears the potential effects downloading might have on the movie industry. In July, the MPAA claimed that illegal downloading could cost them billions of dollars in lost revenue; and Dan Glickman, the MPAA’s new chair and former director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, recently claimed that without preventative measures, moviemakers would no longer have the incentive to make movies.They will thus begin taking legal action against online transgressors. Fortunately, Harvard students will not likely be affected by the MPAA’s upcoming campaign.

As it stands, the University shields students from the litigious reaches of the RIAA. If the College’s computer services office receives a complaint about illegal downloads, the College sends the student a warning instead of reporting the name and leaving him or her vulnerable to lawsuits. If the student is caught again, his or her access to the network is terminated. Thankfully, the University has confirmed that the same policy will be pursued in the case of any movie-downloading violations.

But while we certainly support Harvard’s efforts to protect students from the MPAA’s potential lawsuits, it seems that the movie industry is missing out on important lessons learned by its music industry counterparts. Rather than filing lawsuits to make examples out of individuals—sparking further antagonism with consumers—the MPAA should be taking much more progressive steps towards harnessing the potential of online movie downloads. Until the industry provides a reasonable online alternative, consumers will continue feeling all too justified choosing the easy, illegal option.

With the huge success of Apple’s iTunes, we’ve only begun to see the potential for capitalizing on legal Internet music downloads. Users sign up for the service and have access to millions of music files instantly. iTunes has proven to be a boon to an industry otherwise doomed to downloading exploitation. There is no good reason that a similar service could not be devised for downloading movies—and it’s towards this goal that the movie industry should be devoting its efforts.

The MPAA clearly has a vested interest in curbing illegal movie downloads. But at a time when people greatly lament the skyrocketing price of movie tickets and the arguably inflated price of DVDs, the industry should be looking for ways to attract online consumers, not antagonize them. If they fail to take advantage of this opportunity, it will likely be to the detriment of the industry alone.

As the music industry has learned, where there is a will to download, there is a way; the movie industry must devote its energies to providing a legal and attractive alternative.

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