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Piracy: (Some Of) The Short & The Long Of It

Posted By Ted Hope On December 16, 2010 @ 8:15 am In Issues and Actions,Truly Free Film | 80 Comments

Thankfully, Taylor Hackford recognizes that the film industry needs to wise up and educate itself on piracy. He and I agree on that. And I think we agree on the goal of it all, but I suspect we have completely different approaches to solving the problem.  And that is where I am really concerned.  To solve it, Hackford seems willing to sacrifice greater principles in the service of business, and that is a shame.  I hope I am wrong.

Mr. Hackford, president of the DGA, was recently speaking at the Content Protection Summit and Variety reported on it [1]. Reading the article I remain unclear as to what Hackford’s point is about piracy beyond that it is bad and we need to make it a real concern of the industry. He seems to be saying that if we want to protect our content, we have to be willing to give up on a free and open internet. He claims groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press as enemies. Shutting down a free and open internet is not the path to solving the piracy problem; it is the path to a closed society that favors a class or capital over access and opportunity — and that is the antithesis of what we need to do.

We can not create a system that favors the powerful, the connected, or the well capitalized. The Film Business already favors all those niches quite well, and government and utilities should do all they can to provide for all equally.  Equality under the law and within the society remains one of the greatest ideals, and personally speaking, I would rather have a world that strives for that ideal’s enforcement, even if that striving has to support some bad apples, rather than risk that anyone does not have equal access or equal opportunity.

Hackford was insightful to link Hollywood’s focus on event pictures to piracy, in that if piracy is eroding film’s revenue — or even thought to be — then investors will be more likely to put money into the projects most likely to generate the quickest return and the most unique experience.  The insight would actually make sense if individual investors were backers of event pictures, let alone studio pictures.  They rarely have such opportunities.

Being someone who has depended on private equity for all but a few of my 60+ films, I have never once heard an investor confess concern about piracy (and granted some of that may have to do with their education on the issue).  I do have investors express concern about distribution opportunities, access to markets, cost of promotion, and difficulties to reaching audiences.     I do hear people intrigued about using the systems that have been developed by pirates and copy-forward advocates to reach audiences that they have not reached before.  They know that the system has to change and recognize the realities of the time we are living in.

I have witnessed first hand, and was one of the key witnesses, in a successful anti-trust suit against the MPAA for coercing the studios to take action that unfairly hurt independents in the process.  That case, popularly known as The Screener Ban, used piracy as the fear that prompted excluding the key marketing tool of Award Screeners from all filmmakers’ arsenal.  The powerful often look out for their interests without even consulting the rest of the industry about their practices.  When Dan Glickman took over at the MPAA, he was quite vigilant at soliciting the indie sector’s opinion on the state of the industry, and I hope his successor remains as committed.  I hope whomever takes over the MPAA recognizes the necessity of our culture industry to commit to a free & open internet or else exclude a serious sector of our community.

When it comes to protecting artists’ rights, piracy is a serious issue, but open and free access to a public good (i.e. the internet) is a greater one.  We can not look at short term solutions that have long term repercussions.  The focus on the piracy issue tends to take place at events that exclude a large portion of the film community — namely the truly independent artists that will never have access to the studio system.  We need institutions, organizations, and methods that make sure to include this segment’s voice — and that includes the DGA.

I, and artists everywhere, will not be able to support ourselves — and thus generate new work — if our work is widely stolen and we are not compensated.   Mr. Hackford is right on when he speaks of the need for passion and education when it comes to the issue of intellectual property theft, but as we enter that discussion, we need to strenuously protect the greater ideal of equal access and opportunity.  We also need to recognize human behavior and the current state of things — people want convenience, but they also want other things.  The large media corporations have done little to offer a better option to theft.  Our methods of licensing and distributing work relies on out of date analogue models.  There are actions that can be taken, by artists and businesses, and it is hight time that we begun this discussion in earnest — but let’s not abandon the ideals as we start the march down the road.

Save the internet!Tweet [2]

[3]

80 Comments (Open | Close)

80 Comments To "Piracy: (Some Of) The Short & The Long Of It"

#1 Comment By Mike On December 16, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

f#ck the DGA and the MPAA! piracy is not the issue. it's just an excuse for the elitist pricks to control the internet.

the real problem is hollywood and its stupid decisions. maybe if the dumbasses at the top didn't waste hundreds of millions of dollars they wouldn't have problems making money. piracy is not hurting hollywood. hubris, ignorance, and a huge disconnect with reality is what is hurting hollywood.

instead of blaming piracy those assclowns need to look in the mirror.

#2 Comment By Andrew On December 16, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

Would it be a step in the right direction for someone to create for film what has already been done for music, in iTunes? Granted, piracy is still a major issue for music, but the ability to quickly and easily download movies in bulk from a store accessible on the internet could be, if done correctly, the “better option to theft” that's needed.

#3 Comment By chrisdorr On December 16, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

There is an interesting correlation that no one talks about. This is that the movies that are the most pirated are also the most popular at the box office. So, does piracy reduce sales or increase sales? It appears it is as likely that it increases sales as it is that it decreases sales. Imagine if this correlation did not hold or it went the other way. Then the most pirated movies would have the least box office sales. Base on this kind of correlation one could easily prove that piracy destroys box office potential. But that is not what the evidence shows. Of course, no one wants to really study this because if it were proven that digital piracy actually increases box office sales, would the studios even believe it? Probably not.

#4 Comment By Jennifer Ichameleon On December 16, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

Great article, the internet needs to be 'Free'.
Niche documentaries often create a demand without a means to supply, I have contacted several filmmakers to obtain a copy of a film, and been told it's not available in my territory (UK). End of. No options given. I'd gladly pay, I'd gone out of my way to give the filmmakers my money, but can't. Not even a donate button on their site.
Piracy won't ever be eradicated. The Yes Men proved working with, rather than against, torrent sites can open up audiences, work around censorship or copyright issues. And they have a donate option which VODO and torrent sites promote.
There are options that need to be explored.

#5 Comment By Jessespano On December 16, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

I agree with Andrew… and I think there are companies that are moving in the right direction. It comes down to price points, and convenience.

Recently, I put a DVD in and had to go through 6 trailers. SIX. I couldn't skip them entirely, just skip to the next one. By the time I got to the main menu, it took about ten minutes. And that's without me actually suffering through them. Does this make any sense? It is inconvenient. We're no longer in the age of 'when it is convenient to watch the internet on your tv'? The when is gone, we're there. It is happening. Why rent/buy a DVD, sit through this nonsense – when I can download/stream the movie in seconds?

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that movie theater ticket prices are out of control. When you can buy a full album on itunes for 9 bucks, why is one movie ticket (2 hours of your time) selling for upwards of 14 dollars in NY/LA? Even more in Imax/3D.

There are screenings/days at certain theaters in NY where ticket prices are cut in half ($6) and the theater is sold out every single time. I realize that bigger movies, like Harry Potter, can get away with charging more money – and it would be difficult to let theater owners/studios tier prices based on content… but not impossible. Why hasn't this at least been explored a bit more? Such as decreasing ticket prices for films that have been in the theater longer. Or possibly charging less for indies. It may be a blow to the indie filmmaking ego, but it could keep your film in theaters longer, sell more tickets overall (which would get more eyeballs on your movie, and that may translate into word of mouth, etc…)

If they shut down a free and open internet, I think history has taught us that something will pop up to take its place to rival it… No offense to anyone collecting social security, but can they truly grasp what is happening and where things are going in terms of technology/internet/social media/etc…? A handful, perhaps…

#6 Comment By Michael R. Barnard On December 17, 2010 @ 8:41 am

The heavy stick approach, written by legal departments and leading to lawsuits that destroyed companies' credibility and goodwill, is slowly being left behind. Of course, poor management at major companies turned away from customer satisfaction and inspiration and instead handed the issue to their legal departments in a scenario that proves the old saying, “To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

But we move forward. Warner Bros. seems to be doing the logical thing ( [4]…/) by actually analyzing piracy as if it were a cost-of-doing-business and part of a marketing effort. And worth the study in order to find profitable ways to deal with the problem.

Piracy should NEVER be used as an excuse to cripple the Internet. [5]…/

While I disagree with the corporate legal mentality that can't see beyond lawsuits, and I disagree with the implications of the DGA and other Hollywood entities that call for ways to cripple the Internet in order to reduce piracy, I also strongly disagree with those who say we must abdicate to piracy simply because it's so easy for anyone to obtain copies online.

The argument that it's tough to fight and easy to copy is the weakest argument I've ever heard. Abdicating is not only an insult to our creativity, it's the wimpiest approach any endeavor could succumb to. It's just as wimpy and pathetic as blindly turning the issue over to corporate legal departments, devoid of any creative or moral spark to find a worthy solution.

This is a social phenomenon — a decade of reaction to ease-of-copying — and I believe if Hollywood (including us) had been creative in the approach to sway people from piracy, the phenomenon would be diminished. There has always been “shrinkage” (the term the retail world uses to describe losses from various forms of theft), but most people walk into a store, pick up what they need, and then pay for it on the way out. Human nature is to recognize value, realize the choice to either take or pay, and then move on. We need to address THAT issue: value. Movies have value. Otherwise, why spend over two hours searching and downloading them? The justification for online theft of movies–and most people I've talked to acknowledge they feel as if they *should* pay for it–is often a sense of anger against filmmakers, as if we were all pompous, elitist millionaires trying to pry $10 out of their hands. Weird.

Maybe we should work on the issue of perceived value and ease of legal acquisition, rather than abdicate to the worst level of human nature on this issue.

#7 Comment By David Geertz On December 17, 2010 @ 5:45 pm

Jennifer,

I live in a small town outside of Vancouver, Canada and we just bought a community screening of The Yes Men. We did so because a member of our group had downloaded if first. He watched it and thought it would a good fit for our group. We paid the 4 wall price for the film for an evening (around 300 bucks I think) and we've sold 250 tickets to the screening at a community center for 10 bucks each. Do the math , it can work for indie film. The one requirement is that your film doesn't suck so that the influencer in the hyper localized market feels comfortable with putting his reputation for curation on the line.

#8 Comment By David Geertz On December 17, 2010 @ 6:08 pm

Let me see if I can quantify this for you in lay terms Jesse.

Movie Theater – 14 bucks
Content format = Sound + Vision
Length of Experience = 120 minutes
Conservative Budget = 20MUSD
Deliverable cost per minute to Producer – $166,666.00
Cost per minute for Consumer – 0.12
Ratio of cost to consumption – 1,388,883:1

Record on Itunes – 9 bucks
Content Format = Sound
Length of Experience 50 Minutes
Conservative Budget = 20KUSD
Deliverable cost per minute to Producer – 400.00
Cost per minute for Consumer – 0.18
Ratio of cost to consumption – 2,222:1

Does this make sense to you know?

#9 Comment By Jennifer Ichameleon On December 17, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

Exactly. The Yes Men are using piracy to their advantage, allowing influencers to become curators, so they can spread the word (and generate revenue) while getting the filmmakers message out to as many as possible.
It works well for documentaries, niche films and films with a social cause. I'm unsure how dramas can do the same, although Arin Crumley and Four Eyed Monsters shows there are avenues that need to be explored/created there.

#10 Comment By Hans Christian Vang On December 18, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

So much talk of 'other practises' but never any actual examples of new business models that would function and generate the profits necessary for someone to want to take the risk of funding a film with millions of their hard earned dollars.

#11 Comment By Hans Christian Vang On December 18, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

All I'm hearing here is “I want my free movies, dammit! Fuck the producers, fuck the artists!”

#12 Comment By Hans Christian Vang On December 18, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

It's already widespread, though. Been so for years. There is no excuse anymore, for stealing your entertainment product online anymore – there really isnt.

- Prices on DVDs and Blu-rays have dropped immensely. You can buy a brand new DVD for 4-5 quid.

- Blu-rays are avilable for 5-6 quid, even including a digital copy for you to use in your iPod, etc. sparing you having to rip it yourself. Service.

- Legal downloads are a few bucks.

but people in these communities just wont be happy until they can get their entertainment for nothing. It's that simple.

“Information wants to be free” – maybe, but that's got nothing to do with entertainment.
“Culture has to be freely available to the people” – it is, alway has and always will. Has nothing to do with entertainment. We had culture for millenia before we started writing music, books, making radio shows, movies, television, computer games, etc. Our culture is the way we interact with one another, our history, not what we watch on the tube, people. Not what you stick in your ears on your iPod.

oy…

#13 Comment By Hans Christian Vang On December 18, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

You steal a film online, you watch it. If you then tell me that 'yeah, I'd go watch it in the cinema', you'd be full of it. Or you could mean well, but you'd never actually do it. Human beings are funny that way.

#14 Comment By Hans Christian Vang On December 18, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

So you made a profit of 2.200 dollars on a film you paid 300 dollars to license. The filmmaker made 300. You couldnt have asked for a screener from the distributor, like everyone else does when they're interested in licensing a film? I mean, it's not difficult – as I'm sure you know now, after having licensed it. There's no reason to run for the torrent site the second you read about a film in the newspaper or on a blog. There is always a legal alternative.

#15 Comment By Hans Christian Vang On December 18, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

So, if a filmmaker doesnt want to release a film in america, you're just gonna steal it from him? You pretend to have the right to decide where he is to release his own work, or how? Hmm.

#16 Comment By Hans Christian Vang On December 18, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

but 'freedom of information' should be used as an excuse to steal other peoples work… gotcha(!)

#17 Comment By chrisdorr On December 18, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

Hans, you might be interested in the following article–Warner Bros.’ Newest Consumer Segment: Pirates | paidContent [6] and the following quote from the article:

“Pirates Make Purchases: Few subsist on copyright infringement alone; typical pirates steal in addition to making legitimate entertainment purchases like boxoffice, DVD and even online transactions. Even the most diehard pirates spend some money, though less than more casual infringers. “One of the main things we’re doing is looking at why they do things legitimately on certain products and not on others,” said Karakunnel.

My two cents: WB’s recognition that pirates are legal consumers too may bolster the theory the piracy not only doesn’t necessarily replace entertainment revenues, but may in fact serve as marketing for legal consumption. When footage of WB’s latest Harry Potter film leaked online last month, some theorized that the studio did it intentionally for publicity purposes.”

#18 Comment By David Nerlich On December 19, 2010 @ 4:13 am

It's often occurred to me that box office would be a more meaningful indicator of audience approval if people paid AFTER seeing your film. Buying a movie ticket or DVD is a gamble. You don't know if you're going to get your money' s worth. People don't want to pay for garbage the trailer lied to them about. I think this might be one driver behind people wanting to download stuff for free. I wonder if endeavours to collect voluntary payments from people who like your film AFTER they've seen it might be fruitful. I've no idea how to organise that right now though, so don't flame me about it.

#19 Comment By Dave On December 19, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

Hans,

Who said we made 2200 in profit? We had to rent the hall, pay for parking in advance, outfit the hall with a projector and sound (which we rent), then we had to advertise in our community which took both time and money to do.

Its called 4 walling Hans and its a method that indie films are very familiar with. They get their money now instead of a portion of it later. I can tell you that if we took a screener from a distributor, then agreed to terms, then marketed the film, then sent receipts back based on our gross proceeds, the filmmaker would have seen a fraction of the 300 bucks.

This was the legal alternative. As a film society that hosts films on a bi weekly basis we would never consider bilking the filmmakers.

If I make running shoes and sell them to retailer at a 1 dollar per pair as long as they buy a 300 pair minimum why should the retailer have to pay me anything more if they decide to sell the shoes for 100 bucks a pair? Don't be greedy Hans….know your business or get into another business that suits your appetite for revenue.

#20 Comment By Dave On December 19, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

What a great idea! Maybe we can do that for all “consumable” product that ranges from 0-15 bucks.

That way the saying “there's no such thing as a free lunch” will become obsolete. I'm in…there are about 500 eateries in and around the area in this town and as long as a hit a new one everyday I'll never have to pay to eat!

Man….why didn't I think of this years ago?

#21 Comment By David Nerlich On December 20, 2010 @ 5:34 am

Thanks Dave.

Despite all the ways in which food, even at KFC, is different from easily reproducable digital entertainment products, yours proves a useful analogy.

Look at eateries. If you're going to as much trouble as you describe to eat for free you must be short of money and you must be in need of food and I say, let Dave have some food, the dude is starving. Meanwhile I'm using my free sample meal, if I understand your model, to find some places I really like and would pay money to go back to for more good eats.

What does it mean for indy films? Of course! Its free sample marketing. Sell your product in installments – the first few for free. You forego some initial revenue and pick it up later from the fanbase you grew with your freebs.

What do you know, they did think of it years ago. Is it the Answer? No. Unlike food it can still be pirated. But it is a way to pick up payments after people have been able to decide they do like what you're selling.

#22 Comment By Mike On December 20, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

hans, you need to get your ears checked b/c that is not what i'm saying.

#23 Comment By David Geertz On December 20, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

Hey David,

I also see your point with the food issue as it is a staple and is required for human life. Film is not a staple and therefore is not an option in my opinion.

Added to this I would bet that the people who would abuse the film and food acts as we both have described would not be the most needy but more than likely the most fickle or miserly.

Its pretty simple…open your wallet and pay like everyone else. It doesn't matter what the industry is. Sometimes you eat/watch/listen/wear/drive/stay something or somewhere nice….and sometimes you don't.

#24 Comment By Andrew On December 20, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

“Our culture is the way we interact with one another, our history, not what we watch on the tube, people. Not what you stick in your ears on your iPod.”

Keep in mind, though, that culture also is no longer a monolithic sculpture to bring people together. This is because culture is not static, it is dynamic, and more so than almost anything else in society. It is non-tangible, it is ever-changing, it is something that simply is. You are right to say that culture is not what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, because it is none of those things. Culture instead, is all of those things, on top of a whole heap of other things.

There is no denying that from cave drawings to today, culture and entertainment has grown more complex. As forms of entertainment grow and grow and new forms are born, all these add up in some unwritten algorithm to create the culture that we live in. And if you live within something, you don't want to be left out of it. And for that reason and that reason only, people want the most immersion into their culture for the least money they can possibly spend, also known as zero.

#25 Comment By Craig On December 21, 2010 @ 4:45 am

It comes down to not only price, but convenience. The best model for this would be video game developer Valve's digital distribution platform, Steam. Steam allows users to download games from Valve and many other developers. The user can use their account on any computer, and install games to any computer (they just can't be signed into multiple locations at the same time).

Steam also offers great prices. They often have sales, including two large ones in the summer and during the holiday season. It's incredible for sales. Some numbers from the 2009 holiday sale:

“10% sale = 35% increase in sales (real dollars, not units shipped)
25% sale = 245% increase in sales
50% sale = 320% increase in sales
75% sale = 1470% increase in sales”

[7]

The future of the film industry most likely lies in digital distribution, and Steam offers a fantastic model that has cut down on piracy and been enormously profitable.

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[1] Variety reported on it: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118028784?refCatId=1009

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[4] : http://www.slashfilm.com/warner-bros-tracking-pirates-hopes-turning-consumers

[5] : http://michaelrbarnard.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/the-internet-needs-to-be-free

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[7] : http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/57308

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