The Fight Against Pirates: A Position Paper on One of the of the Major Issues in the Film Industry

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“Piracy, it’s really robbery — it’s theft — and that theft is being combined with consumer fraud,” said Tom Rothman, the co-chief executive of Fox Film Entertainment. “Consumers are purchasing these goods, they’re sending their credit card information to these anonymous offshore companies, and they’re receiving defective goods.”

“Piracy” is slang for copyright infringement, the unlawful copying of the work of another, usually for the purpose of distribution and profit. Once it was a terrible phenomenon that dominated the sea. However, it did not stop there. Piracy changes too as human’s life evolves and now piracy is terrorizing the land. The common meaning of piracy is robbery on high seas. But, because of the advances in technology and the extensive modernization, the world gave birth to the second meaning of this word – ‘piracy’ as the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of intellectual property. Digital technology now allows perfect copies and easy distribution of some works. That makes it easier for people to make and get copies of movies, and more difficult for copyright holders (record companies, etc.) to control the works once they are released to the public. This new technology has changed the way content distributors relate with their customers, and law and business models can hardly catch up, nearly to the extent that media piracy and copyright infringement have become common place. So what makes one a pirate? Downloading a movie without paying makes you one for it is morally and ethically no different to walking into a store and stealing a DVD off the shelf. Sharing it through peer-to-peer applications or posting it on a forum for downloading is akin to giving illegal copies to thousands and millions of people for free, which makes you a more vicious pirate.

Piracy is one of the worst types of Intellectual Property (IP) Crimes that affect our economy. The theft of movies truly represents a loss to the movie studios, record labels, and artists that have worked so hard to create a product that the consumers desire. The movie studios do not make money on every CD or movie they release. So when you really think about how much money is spent in research and development on all the artists and then add the pirates, who immediately steals their creation as soon as it is released, into the equation, it can’t be good. In addition to that, movie piracy has been tied to organized crime, child labor, narcotics trafficking, and other very serious crimes. Criminals are looking at piracy as a crime that is worth committing because the risks are very low, but the reward is extremely high. Pirates and counterfeiters can make more money than drug dealers and do not face the same risks.

Having defined the issue, our group now states our position: we are against piracy or copyright infringement. We detest pirates for these people hinder the film industry to generate new ideas into new films. Through copyright infringement or piracy, they violate the Copyright law, which provides an incentive to create software, music, literature and other works by ensuring that the creator will be able to reap the financial benefits of the work. There is no free lunch, as the saying goes, and we believe that we owe the film industry a great one. Robbing the film industry of the financial benefits which are rightfully theirs is, for us, deemed unacceptable. If piracy continues to grow, this industry will fail to exist as we know it today.

According to the research analysis conducted by LEK last 2005, an international strategy consulting firm, piracy cost the worldwide motion picture industry an estimated $18.2 billion – $4.8 billion, or 80 %, resulted from piracy in other countries and $1.3 billion, or 20 %, resulted from losses in the U.S. This includes producers, distributors, theaters, video stores and pay-per-view providers in the U.S. and around the world. The major U.S. motion picture studios alone lost $6.1 billion. $3.8 billion of the $6.1 billion loss in US was lost to hard goods piracy, defined as obtaining movies by either purchasing or acquiring an illegally produced VHS/DVD/VCD through a commercial source, or making illegal copies for oneself or receiving from a personal source (friend or family) an illegal copy of a legitimate VHS/DVD/VCD. $2.3 billion of the $6.1 billion loss in US was lost to internet piracy, defined as obtaining movies by either downloading them from the Internet without paying or acquiring hard copies of illegally downloaded movies from friends or family. The same research says that typical worldwide pirates are 16-24 years old males who live in urban areas. They represent 58% percent of illegal downloaders across the 22 directly researched countries. It is even higher in the US, where the same age range represents 71 percent of downloaders. 44 percent of Motion Picture Association company losses in the U.S. are attributable to college students.

 

The movie piracy debate isn’t new. Since someone first came up with the bright idea of hooking up two VCRs to record their rented videotapes, movie piracy has been a rampant crime. And thanks to the new innovations provided by the internet which adds new websites daily that allow video hosting, media piracy and copyright infringement have become common place in most countries. Most computers now come standard with a DVD player and/or copier, and anyone can download free software from the internet making it possible to copy or “rip” media from a DVD. So why has piracy flourished so much?

Free, a word that has a strong effect on people for it intensifies our interest in a particular product or service. Neil Gane, managing director for the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, and Van Der Sar, the editor of Torrent Freak, a site that reports on copyright and piracy news, and some people claim that piracy is inevitable, because it has become a big part of people’s lives, that it’s impossible to stop it (Karl Sigfrid, a politician, said in an interview). Gane states that despite the availability of legal services, and discussions around further availability, data from Sycamore Research indicates that content pirates will continue to engage in illegal downloading because it is free. Why would you pay more for something that you could get for less, or for free? The researchers from Sycamore Research found that 86 percent of persistent downloaders and 74 percent of casual downloaders were involved in copyright violations, most of this is copying music and films, because of cost. More than 75 percent of people were aware of legal downloading services. Internet has become the major hub for downloading free stuff, which has expanded our minds to music, movies, games or pieces of software in a huge way. Mr. Van Der Sar says that companies should stop trying to fight piracy and start experimenting with new ways to distribute content that is inevitably going to be pirated anyway. Holmes Wilson, co-director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit technology organization that is trying to stop new piracy laws from disrupting the Internet, suggests that “if every TV show was offered at a fair price to everyone in the world, there would definitely be much less copyright infringement. But because of the monopoly power of the cable companies and content creators, they might actually make less money.” Piracy is inevitable, that’s according to some people.

Others see piracy as an act of revolution. Many see the major corporations that control the movie industry as the ruling power in the world. The act of taking media owned by these companies and sharing it with the masses free of charge can be seen, according to an article in Yahoo! Voices, as an act of revolution, an attempt to overthrow the powers that be by the free exchange of information. The book States of Emergency Documentaries, Wars, Democracies states, “If piracy can be conceptualized as a new media strategy, it then becomes and insignia for difference(s), multiple layers of critique(s), intervention(s), and space(s). Theorizing piracy means disengaging from territories, deconstructing the binary opposition fueling most of a quarter of a century of independent media, and entering the global flows not as consumers, but as producers-in-dialogue. A notion of piracy refuses to recognize images as property, but instead collectivizes the images in the global image flows, severing them from ownership by the trans-nationals.”

In addition to that, according to Screen Rant, a blog site which does movie reviews, most people prefer to “pirate” because they say movies are too expensive. Some also say that the lack of etiquette amongst movie audiences in a movie theatre can ruin the theatrical experience which is why they prefer to pirate and watch movies at home. Others say that movie marketing is often so misleading that it could be considered stealing. And most say the infamous “I’m just one person, I’m not hurtin’ anybody,” defense. The bottom line is, according to the same source, people pirate movies they want to see – or, at the very least, movies they “kinda want to see” (see, but not pay to see). These are some of the reasons why many people see piracy as a crime that doesn’t really matter because no one is getting hurt, but this is not the case.

With media piracy, especially across the internet, governments cannot control the images, ideologies, and opinions being disseminated to the public. The act of piracy clearly undermines the society norms and government control over the population.

 

“We see 20-30 million infringements every day,” said Thomas Sehested, who is in charge of antipiracy services and technology at MarkMonitor.

The film industry believes that media piracy is utterly detrimental to their craft. It creates a rippling, where the effects are felt throughout the entire industry. The MPAA states, “To recoup such enormous investments, the industry relies upon a carefully planned sequential release of movies, generally releasing feature films first in cinemas, then to home video and other media.”

The MPAA and Production Companies have teamed to go after websites and mainly peer-to-peer software companies that allow people to download copyrighted material. One case in particular was that of MGM Studios versus Grokster, a peer-to peer software company that allowed its users to copy and download copyrighted music and movies. MGM Studios argued that the company should be held responsible by “encouraging its users to break copyright law.” The U.S. Supreme Court agreed unanimously with the argument and ruled in favor of MGM Studios. In a statement on the MPAA website, “In one accompanying opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, “Deliberate unlawful copying is no less an unlawful taking of property than garden-variety theft.” Downloading copyrighted material without appropriate authorization has always been illegal. The Supreme Court reinforced this fact in the strongest terms. After the Supreme Court decision, Grokster settled the case with the plaintiffs. While the stance by the Supreme Court was groundbreaking in the fight against piracy, it may have only served to require peer-to-peer software companies to be more adamant in discouraging illegal downloading and be advertise their packages more carefully.

Many countries have had film piracy become a normally part of their society, and governments and organizations worldwide are working devotedly to overthrow this ideology mainly by educating the public about the pitfalls of piracy. The MPAA has involved itself in a series of campaigns around the world to bring the issue to the forefront. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) uses Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) to assist in the fight against piracy, many of them involving fear tactics and frightening themes to get the public to comply with the law. The media piracy industry has been linked in several cases to organized crime, drug dealers and gangs. As the MPAA sees it, “When youngsters find out the benefits of copyright for themselves, they’ll be less likely to disrespect the property rights of others.”

While the industry and governments’ worldwide attempt to prosecute the organizations and individuals who participate in the illegal activity, the amount of copyright infringing websites and downloaders are simply too large to control. Of course, the piracy issue isn’t going to just vanish, so what can we do to make both movie goers and movie makers equally happy in the future?

On the side of the pirates or the movie-watchers in general, let us keep in mind that our movie ticket money isn’t just throwaway capital – often it is the measuring stick for how the ever-shifting landscape of cinema will shape itself next. If studios don’t think films, like the Harry Potter series, are what audiences want (And we do! Really, we do!) just because it had low income, then what we’re going to get instead is something we don’t want.

If you use peer-to-peer file sharing services, like 4shared and the like, you are almost certainly exposing your computer to harmful viruses, worms, Trojan horses and annoying pop-ups, and you are inviting strangers to access your private information. Since many P2P applications require users to upload content at the same time they are downloading, you may be exposing yourself to criminal liability as well. And in a larger sense, you are threatening the livelihoods of thousands of ordinary working people, as well as potentially reducing the number of films that are actually made. Last but not least, you’re cheating yourself out of the movie experience. Is it really worth all that to save the price of a movie ticket?

On the side of the film industry, they should market the $mart way – If they’re taking full advantage of the digital market, what’s the need for huge billboards, three different trailers, TV spots, print ads, etc.? Cut off production costs by advertising a movie to the online/digital consumer using the free promotion from blogs like Screen Rant, IMBB – or maybe they can loop trailers and spots on cable on demand menus ad nauseam. Archive movie info in one place (on cable menus, websites), use fan reactions and early screening promotions to build an interactive rating/review system to let perusing viewers know what new movies are worth their time and money. Once the consumer adapts to the new digital model (i.e., learns where to go to find out about movies), the film industry can spend less and more effectively, to reach their audiences.

Another tip for the film industry: they should learn from the mistakes of the music industry: Make it easy for their consumers to get what they want, how they want, when they want, and they will pay for the comfort and convenience. People want things to be easy. Physically going to the movies is hard enough without paying way too much for the privilege. Going to a store and buying a DVD instead of renting or downloading is generally an impractical thing to do unless you A) really love a particular movie or B) are an avid film buff or collector. Perhaps they could create a site like iTunes where people can download movies in a cheaper price. That site should also be equipped with the movie information, a movie review and score, and a photo gallery for the consumer’s convenience.

Lastly both sides should exert effort in educating each other on the negative effects of piracy and high market pricing of movies. We all need to educate ourselves and those around us to the true harmful effects of piracy. Nothing positive comes from piracy. To quote MPAA, “When people find out the benefits of copyright for themselves, they’ll be less likely to disrespect the property rights of others.”

 

Bibliography:

Bilton, Nick (2013). Internet pirates always win. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/sunday-review/internet-pirates-will-always-win.html?_r=0

Caruana, Anthony (2013). Online piracy inevitable: a fact. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.itnews.com.au/News/303182,online-piracy-inevitable-afact.aspx

EFFector (2013). Op-ed: dumb and dumber – why the movie industry shouldn’t do as the recording industry has done. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://w2.eff.org/effector/17/41.php

Forbes (2013). Will the new ‘copyright alert system’ actually stop people from downloading music and movies illegally? Retrieved March 17,, 2013 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2013/02/25/copyright-alert-system/

Forbes (2013). You will never kill piracy, and piracy will never kill you. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/02/03/you-will-never-kill-piracy-and-piracy-will-never-kill-you/

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niDirect Government Services (2013). Film and music piracy. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/film-and-music-piracy

Patrcik, Aaron O. & McBride, Sarah (2013). Showdown looms over pirated-media directory. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120001282486582581.html

Reporting – copyright infringments and piracy (2013). The making, selling and distribution of – illegal copies of movies / music / software / fake & counterfeit merchandise. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.copynot.com/

RIAA (2013). Unauthorized copying is against the law. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.riaa.com/physicalpiracy.php?content_selector=piracy_online_the_law

Screen Rant (2013). Why movie piracy is bad (and what to do about it). Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://screenrant.com/movie-piracy-zombieland-video-on-demand-digital-download-solutions-kofi-35289/

Stopmoviepiracy.co.nz (2007). Stop movie piracy. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.stopmoviepiracy.co.nz/

http://www.chillingeffects.org (2013). Frequently asked questions (and answers) about piracy or copyright infringement. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://chillingeffects.org/piracy/faq.cgi

http://www.chillingeffects.org (2013). Topic: piracy or copyright infringement. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from https://www.chillingeffects.org/piracy/?print=yes

Yahoo! Voices (2013). Media piracy and copyright infringement in the film industry. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://voices.yahoo.com/media-piracy-copyright-infringement-film-1296131.html?cat=15

Yglesias, Matthew (2013). Piracy is a form of theft, and copyright infringement is neither. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2011/12/15/piracy_is_a_form_of_theft_and_copyright_infringement_is_neither.html

 

 

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