Major Hollywood studios who campaign relentlessly against Internet piracy are often guilty of pirating movies themselves, according to a TorrentFreak study.
And while the methodology used in the study is flawed, it's the same methods that those studios' industry representative, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) uses to crack down on users, angering Internet rights activists.
Using a website called ScanEye, TorrentFreak looked at a wide swath of computers that were using the peer-to-peer filesharing service BitTorrent to simultaneously upload and download movie files from competitors' studios. The site cited 22 examples of piracy at five major studios, but reported that "what we show here is just a small fraction of the files that are actually being shared. It’s the tip of the iceberg."
Some of those examples? Employees at Paramount studios shared Happy Feet Two, owned by competitor Warner Brothers. Someone at Sony Pictures pirated Despicable Me, property of Universal Pictures. 20th Century Fox downloaded Jeff, Who Lives at Home, distributed by Paramount.
TorrentFreak's study is based on a simple, problematic fact: Everyone's computer is assigned a unique Internet protocol (IP) address, which can be used to track the user's location. That's at the root of most anti-piracy efforts, ranging from how a Finnish music company identified the 9-year-old whose laptop was confiscated because she downloaded a single album, to how, starting next year, the MPAA-backed Copyright Alerts System will know to send you mandatory "education" if you're suspected of piracy.
IP addresses can be an inaccurate way of reporting individuals for a host of reasons: They're easy to fake, it's easy to hijack them, and methods to see where an IP address is coming from simply aren't always accurate: ScanEye, for instance, thinks this article is being written in Ripley, W. Va., 88 miles away from this writer's actual location.
Of course, noting that IP addresses aren't a foolproof indicator of an individual just might be TorrentFreak's point.
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