The Future Of Illegal Downloads – Prosecution or Promotion?

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.

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.

Any chance of a pirate copy, my friend?

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, 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 this dude’s a real criminal…. he downloaded an episode of Desperate Housewives.

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?

Somewhere at the back, somebody isn’t playing World Of Warcraft.

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.

The online pirate flag?

Do you have an opinion on illegal downloads? Think it’s okay, or should people go to jail? We want to hear about it! Rant away down in the comments section!!

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8 thoughts on “The Future Of Illegal Downloads – Prosecution or Promotion?

  1. I like when they release films the same day streaming as they do at theaters. I watched Only God Forgives on itunes the day it was released in theaters.

    It would also be a good idea to pack the Blu-rays with extra features so that folks wont to fork over the money to buy them.
    My recent post Tremendous Trailer Trash Tuesday July 30th 2013

    1. While I have yet to watch a film streamed on the same day as cinema release, this is the kind of thing which studios need to embrace. Some people want to watch these films, but perhaps cannot get to a cinema, and so the download/stream option should be positioned to capture this market.

      You should read my post about the scourge Double Dip Blu, mate – I'm all for jam-packed Blu-Ray disc of films!!!

  2. Yeah, it is an issue which never will be solved. I think you make some good suggestions. In the perfect world I would love to see simultaneous release in cinemas and VOD and some small independent movie makers already do this (also because they don't have wide releases) and I used the option (it was for one of Morgan Spurlock's documentaries). Personally I go to the cinema as much as I can and have a subscription to it, so I pay a fixed fee each month to see as many movies as I'd like which gives me no reason to download crappy quality cam videos. The only thing I have to do is find time to actually head to the cinema more often, which is sometimes difficult with a family 🙂
    My recent post The Monday Question: Best of the year!

    1. I'm with you on the "finding time" aspect – we rarely go to the cinema these days, what with escalating costs and finding a sitter for the kids! Mostly it's DVD and Blu at our place, which is a good-enough trade off for lacking the biiiig screen feel. Thanks Nostra!!!

        1. Ahh, to go to the cinema alone. How I miss those days of not having to make conversation with somebody while trying to watch the trailers!!!

          1. Hahaha I know right? It's always normally just small talk.

            My recent post Philip Seymour Hoffman Appreciation Post

            1. Very small – and annoying! Can't all you peopl shut up, I'm trying to watch the trailer for Grown Ups 2!!! LOL!!!!

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