Midweek Mumble – Film Piracy
Rodney is back for another mumble, this week he is here to talk about a subject close to all our hearts, Film Piracy…
I have a grudge to bear, dear film industry. I want to ask you a question. It’s a question the legal-eagles and suits have discussed well before now, and a “problem” plaguing the film industry that will only have resolution once a large number of people are in prison. Or bankrupted by lawsuits.
When is enough enough? For so long now, we’ve heard the film and music industry cry poor over lost revenue from illegal downloads and file sharing online. Apparently, the poverty line for major motion pictures is at such a perilous stage, the corporations have decided to pursue legal action against illegal downloaders via information gathered through social media and other internet-based information, mostly for very little actual gain save to thwart the online pirates. Sure, there’s a problem for filmmakers when you can walk down a street in Indonesia and find boxes of current release films available for as little as a single dollar. Yet, for all the bleating and moaning about lost revenue and how hard it is to get films financed these days, we have mega-budgeted films like The Avengers raking in record box-office receipts month after month, making studio arguments that they’re going broke seem like a complete fallacy. Think about it: Paramount and Marvel Studios spend $200 million to make and market The Avengers, and within a week of opening across the US – and three weeks after opening elsewhere across the world – the film rakes in nearly a billion dollars in box office. Roughly, that’s $800 million after costs. Go to any torrenting site within a few hours of a major film being released, and you’ll have available an extremely bad camera-clone copy of the film, filmed from the back of the cinema with a handycam, ready to watch, and no doubt the thousands of geeky teens sitting at their computers waiting to pounce just hit the mouse button without any thought about it, but the film made nearly a billion dollars regardless of the thousands who didn’t pay to go and see it.
My stance on film (and music) piracy is that it should be stamped out. Piracy does rob film studios of their rightful income, and no doubt there is a small flow-on effect for filmmakers getting their projects off the ground. But how can you say you’re losing money when a film you make earns more than the GDP of half the European Union? The pirates, the downloaders and those who just couldn’t afford to spend money going to the cinema (and really, it does cost a fair bit to go see a major new release these days!) will simply argue that if the cinemas didn’t charge so much then people wouldn’t need to pirate films. Externally, they have a fair point, I think. Attending a cinema does take a fair chunk out of the family budget, especially when you factor in the junk at the candy bar and perhaps even parking fees and whatnot. Yet the fact remains that many films make a substantial amount of money, in many cases an order of magnitude more than they cost.
To combat this “growing menace”, film studio’s have embarked upon a plan of attack many see as an invasion of privacy – they intend to track you down if you illegally download one of their films or television shows (damn, so now I can’t download Game Of Thrones direct from the US?) and prosecute you with all the legal power they can muster, and boy, can they muster a lot. What does this achieve, if nothing but removing one pirate from the system temporarily. Peer-to-peer file sharing sites, such as Pirate Bay, have long been the bane of film companies for tacitly approving of people sharing files – illegal or legal – with impunity. The tide is starting to turn, however, with recent lawsuits being made against a high profile torrent site (and the owner) and the closure of Megaupload.com, including the recent suit brought against Pirate Bay, have many asking if it’s just politicizing the issue or if there’s even anything the closure of these sites will achieve. New congressional bills such as SOPA and PIPA were designed to help crack down on illegal content sharing, however the privacy and civil liberties groups all rallied around the fact that it would even affect mega-giant sites like YouTube, perhaps the biggest online content sharing site in the world.
I think the proliferation of piracy amongst the internet generation indicates perhaps not a growing malaise to go out and pay for stuff, but a refusal to be forced to hand over money for stuff they’re not sure they will like. People are inherently lazy, and if it’s easier to download an illegal copy of a film instead of forking out half a weeks age to see that film at the cinema, I know which option I’d prefer to take. Save the money, right? I’m not trying to justify illegally downloading content, but I am trying to highlight a problem film studios are facing that they cannot hope to overcome with brute legal force. For one thing, the internet is already too uncontrollable to allow illegal file sharing to just disappear. There are always workarounds to torrent sites, and inevitably somebody will come up with a solution to it. The genie’s out of the bottle, guys. It’s too late to try stuffing it back in.
Instead, why not try and rework your business model to counter – not control – the piracy movement, and make it work in your favor. Imagine if everyone who wanted to watch The Avengers could download it for a dollar or two from a sanctioned site, in high resolution and good quality, and stream it to their television set in the comfort of their own home. Imagine if the millions of people who watched it in the cinema just paid $2 to download it at home. Imagine if somebody who couldn’t afford to go to the cinema decided to just spend that couple of dollars to download it too, instead of illegally doing so and getting a less-than-ideal copy of the film and having an average film experience… There’s no reason money can’t be made by simply looking at the distribution model for a film and making the internet work for you, instead of railing against those who work against you. You’d still make your money, people would still be satisfied, and those who still want to see it in the cinema can still do so – but by offering it for a small fee, a negligible fee, online within a week or day of cinema release, you’d scoop up a large proportion of customers who’d otherwise do it illegally. Lower your buy price, and get more people buying. Am I wrong?
Then of course you have the inevitable issue of disc cost – the amazing cost of a Blu-Ray new release to purchase – which still manages to make studio coffers bulge more than ever. How about this: make the Blu-Ray disc cheaper from the get-go, and get people who’d otherwise pirate a copy of one to actually buy it legitimately at a reduced price, you’ll still make your money back? Surely the budget balance can handle this brave and ingenious solution, right? The more people buying your product at a reduced cost, you’ll make less on margins but more overall.
You’ll never rid the world of film piracy – the idiotic use of staggered release dates and region coding on discs will always create a market for illegally obtained content, until studios wise up – but there’s ways of curtailing it without spending inordinate amounts of money chasing backroom bandits through the courts. If only the men in suits would wise up, they’d not have to go through all the Bill passing and foot stomping to get what they want. And until The Avengers only makes $10 million instead of $800 million, this problem is not going to go away. It’s going to take somebody with guts to make a change to the way it’s being done, by changing the way it’s done. In this capitalist world we live in, I doubt it’ll happen, but one can always dream.
Aussie film fan Rodney has been writing about film, DVD and Blu-Ray since 1998, when he became Chief Reviewer at a now-defunct Adelaide-based online retailer. A fan of blockbuster and mainstream cinema, as well as dabbling in arthouse and independent forms of the industry, Rodney prefers to spend his nights and weekends in front of the television watching the latest release on Blu-Ray instead of out getting sloppy drunk like many of his friends. When he’s not out in the Front Room, Rodney can be found writing reviews for his own website www.fernbyfilms.com, helping good mate Al K Hall over at The Bar None, and dabbling in lists over at Top 10 Films.
So here’s my question: if you were a movie mogul in control of a film studio, and you wanted to try and minimize piracy of your product, what would you do? Comment Below…