Piracy and the Future of the Film Industry

I recently came across this tweet from Duncan Jones, the director of the little film that could, ‘Moon’:

“Dear BitTorrenters… so pleased Moon is popular with u; 40,000 active seeds cant be wrong! One thing. Will you please buy the DVD as well?”

Film piracy is no longer a hot topic; it has been around long enough to cool down a little. That has not, however, prevented it from continuing to cause a lot of problems for the film industry. Dodgy DVDs and increasingly, illegal downloads, cost the film industry massive amounts of revenue every year. A report in 2005 for the Motion Picture Association (all the big studios) estimated that the studios lost $6.1 billion a year and that the industry as a whole (theatres, cable tv etc included) lost $18.2 billion. At the time it was estimated that of that $18.2 billion, $7.1 was due to internet piracy. There are few people, I feel, who would disagree with the suggestion that that figure has risen. This loss of revenue will obviously cause serious financial problems for the studios and is certainly contributing to their current downfall.

The movie industry is not without clout however and it is responding to this threat with both with hard legal Streaming Gratuit measures and also by raising awareness of the consequences of piracy. Recently the founders of the hugely popular illegal download website Pirate Bay were found guilty of copyright infringement and are looking forward to a year in goal. In Australia the film industry has accused one of the country’s largest internet service providers of encouraging pirates, its largest users, to upgrade their packages and turning a blind eye to their download content.

On the other, friendlier, side of the equation, the Trust for Internet Piracy Awareness in the UK has changed its campaign from the aggressive and accusatory ‘Piracy is Theft’ adverts to a kindlier thank you note for supporting the British film industry by not turning to illegal downloading.

Piracy, in particular, internet piracy can be assumed to be growing. Even if it is not, it is a significantly large enough problem at the moment for something to need to be done about it. Piracy needs to stop, or at least be controlled to prevent it from completely undermining the film industry (something that some people may be all for but that the studios (i.e. those with the money and power to effect change) most emphatically do not). The question is, why has internet film piracy become so popular?

Obviously the prospect of getting a product for free is plenty enough enticement for some. Others see it as the beginning of the end of capitalist materialism and a shining new future for the arts. These reasons do not account, I think, for the huge numbers of otherwise ‘respectable’ people who engage in this practice. The anonymity of sitting behind a computer and large number of other people doing it are certainly factors that encourage piracy. More significantly I think is the increase in technology that has allowed it to become so simple. Obviously hugely increased internet speeds facilitate film piracy but so too does the freely available and easy to use peer2peer software such as BitTorrent.

Behind all this, I feel is an increasing disengagement with the cinema as more entertainment is to be found in front of the computer (YouTube games, networking sites etc). Fewer people need to leave their computer to be entertained or to do the shopping or pay bills, why should they leave their computer to see a new film? Disgruntlement with Hollywood; poor films and the ever-increasing cost of seeing them, both at the cinema (up to £15, when it was £5 in my youth) and on DVD (and the yet more expensive BluRay) may also encourage people to illegally download films. Dominic Wells argues that people are using downloaded films as a test of brand value; i.e. that people will go to the cinema to see another film by same director or will a DVD of a film they have downloaded. This is certainly a much more economically efficient way for the consumer to find the film they want to own or pay to experience in the cinema. A look at the summer’s hit films show that it was not the star driven heavily marketed films that did well and created a buzz, it was smaller films such as ‘The Hangover’ and ‘District 9’. Some studies on the music industry (which has also been massively affected by online piracy) argue that pirated tracks encourage people to buy the song legally. However, some will see this as mere wishful thinking, arguing that people will never go back to paying when they don’t need to.

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