Piracy by Ethan Hargreaves

With the break of the digital age the film industry changed dramatically with huge jumps in technology for both production and exhibition, but how did it impact the ‘backstreet’ film industry? Film piracy was another aspect of the industry which would gain immense popularity with the advent of the internet, how and why is the culmination of multiple of factors.

Prior to the breakthrough of the internet, film piracy was predominantly made up of street and car-boot sales selling DVD and VHS copies which were either recorded from TV or in some cases they would be manufactured from the original factory at night by workers hoping to make a bit of money on the side. However, the quality of said copies was frequently of a low standard which led to pirated copies rarely circulating on a large scale, partially due to its physical format which would only allow one viewing at a time. In a recent survey carried out by myself only 38.5% of people had encountered a DVD form of film piracy whilst 84.6% had used streaming as a viewing platform.[1]

In conjunction with having a low level of circulation, the pirated DVD era was considered a much more substantial crime than in the present day. The ‘You wouldn’t steal a car’ campaign was the industries attempt to express the reality of film piracy in a fairly aggressive manner, in an attempt to scare people away. However, as torrent sites and downloadable content have become much more common and frequently visited, piracy has practically become a misdemeanor as many don’t consider the knock on effects of illegal viewings as streamers and viewers simply claim plausible deniability. Due to such a shift in public opinion the anti-piracy campaigns took a complete shift as instead of picking out criminals they chose to be appreciative of those who had not pirated, potentially causing guilt amongst viewers for not, as the advert puts it, ‘supporting their local film and television industry’.[2] Such ‘guilt’ does not appear to have made such an impact since the campaigns shift.

 

Another issue which the anti-piracy campaigns have encountered with digital technology is an increase in the quality of videos, whereas previously a key reason to pay for a film was its higher quality, now you can often find a top quality stream of whichever film you want. An example of how digital technology has increased the frequency of good quality of film in recent years was in the 2014 hacking of Sony which saw the leak of around 100 terabytes of film data.[3] Containing multiple films prior to their release, the data was instantaneously uploaded to multiple torrent sites causing mass panic in the Sony organization as its potential earnings were lost to stream viewers.

In a statistics review from The Guardian the top 14 most downloaded films of 2015 were listed with the top ten amounting to 366,056,256 downloads.[4] An astronomical quantity that can present to us the level of money not being earned by the industry (cinemas and production companies combined) in just a calendar year. Considering a Showcase standard adult (whom the majority of the top ten films are targeted towards) cinema ticket costs £7.99, multiplying these numbers results in £2,924,789,000. Based on an article from 2014 (when cinema tickets averaged around £6.99) it is stated that around 43% of each cinema ticket is paid to the production company for the rights of a film to allow it to be screened, meaning that the production companies themselves didn’t receive somewhere in the region of £1,257,659,270.[5] Such a large quantity (which is similar to the complete economy of the Solomon Islands) shows just how much money is being ‘lost’ by the industry through people’s ability to quickly and easily download films via the internet and various torrent sites.

Such speed and ease drawing people to the sites is supported by the survey mentioned previously in which 84.6% claimed that ‘ease of access’ was a reason which drew them towards piracy; 69.22% also claimed ‘high cinema ticket prices’ were also a reason. Such a resounding percentage coincides with the ‘Six faces of piracy’ consider by Ramon Labarto which includes a more considerate (towards the pirate) approach in segment analyzing ‘Piracy as Access’ in which he states ‘For billions of people around the world, piracy is an access route to media that is not otherwise available’.[6] Not only does this challenge and place some blame for piracy on the censorship of media across the world, it can also promote the argument of how difficult some forms of media are to access.

Previously piracy of video format was primarily made up of films, yet, with an increase in subscription based services such as Sky (Sky Atlantic in this particular case), Netflix and Amazon Prime there has been a surge in piracy surrounding TV. Statistics from 2015 even present the difference in piracy levels between a show which is available through a standard television model (The Walking Dead) and a show which requires a subscription (Game of Thrones). The frequency of downloads of The Walking Dead are much lower whilst it has almost double the number of U.S television viewers.[7] This potentially suggests that if television shows were available through a standard TV license then piracy levels would decrease however, this is an extremely optimistic concept as despite lowering piracy this would lower company incomes from ‘channel exclusives’ and subscription models, something which would harm the industry in its current state more than it would help.

Simply put, digital technology has had a profound impact on the act of film piracy. Allowing a global outreach, quick and simple accessibility whilst also being difficult to trace (take The Pirate Bay for example) meaning there will unlikely be any consequences. Therefore it appears there are no simple or even realistic ways of currently stopping film piracy, the industry must simply be grateful to those still funding them whilst trying not to lose them to the temptations of the torrent sites, of which there are many.

[1] Ethan Hargreaves, ‘’Piracy Researching’’, Google Forms, created April 28, 2016, http://goo.gl/forms/RrBMRULnm8

[2] Xan Brooks, ‘’Film Piracy: why the new anti-piracy advert works for me’’, The Guardian, April 2, 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2009/apr/02/film-piracy-noel-clarke-ray-winstone

[3] Elyse Betters, ‘’Sony Pictures hack: Here’s everything we know about the massive attack so far’’, Pocket-lint, February 5, 2015, http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/131937-sony-pictures-hack-here-s-everything-we-know-about-the-massive-attack-so-far

[4] Ben Child, “Interstellar most pirated movie of 2015 with 46m illegal downloads,” The Guardian, December 28, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/dec/29/interstellar-most-pirated-movie-2015-46m-illegal-downloads

[5] Sam Bradley, ‘’Your cinema ticket: where does the money go?’’, Pie-Magazine, June 28, 2014, http://pie-magazine.net/2014/06/28/your-cinema-ticket-where-does-the-money-go/

[6] Ramon Lobato, “Six Faces of Piracy” in Shadow Economies of Cinema: Mapping Informal Film Distribution, Ramon Lobato (London: Palgrave Macmillian, 2012).

[7] Ernesto, ‘’Game of Thrones Most Pirated TV Show of 2015’’, Torrentfreak, December 27, 2015, https://torrentfreak.com/game-of-thrones-most-pirated-tv-show-of-2015/

 

Bibliography

Betters, Elyse. ‘’Sony Pictures hack: Here’s everything we know about the massive attack so far’’, Pocket-lint, February 5, 2015, http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/131937-sony-pictures-hack-here-s-everything-we-know-about-the-massive-attack-so-far

 

Bradley, Sam. ‘’Your cinema ticket: where does the money go?’’, Pie-Magazine, June 28, 2014, http://pie-magazine.net/2014/06/28/your-cinema-ticket-where-does-the-money-go/

 

Brooks, Xan. ‘’Film Piracy: why the new anti-piracy advert works for me’’, The Guardian, April 2, 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2009/apr/02/film-piracy-noel-clarke-ray-winstone

 

Child, Ben “Interstellar most pirated movie of 2015 with 46m illegal downloads,” The Guardian, December 29, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/dec/29/interstellar-most-pirated-movie-2015-46m-illegal-downloads

 

Ernesto. ‘’Game of Thrones Most Pirated TV Show of 2015’’, Torrentfreak, December 27, 2015, https://torrentfreak.com/game-of-thrones-most-pirated-tv-show-of-2015/

 

Hargreaves, Ethan. ‘’Piracy Researching’’, Google Forms, created April 28, 2016, http://goo.gl/forms/RrBMRULnm8

 

Lobato, Ramon. “Six Faces of Piracy” in Shadow Economies of Cinema: Mapping Informal Film Distribution, Ramon Lobato. London: Palgrave Macmillian, 2012.

 

 

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