Scaremongering trailers against piracy are a frustratingly unskippable feature of many a legitimately bought film or television series on DVD. Tuning into last weeks Film 2009 on BBC1 I didn’t expect to be treated to a five and a half minute propaganda piece lecturing me about the evils of piracy in the same tone they used in the late 90’s. I watch this show to get some insight on why I should go to the cinema, not to be guilt-tripped into going.
Alternatively try this link if the sound is too low on the above clip.
The ever affable if generally quite uninspired host Jonathon Ross crashingly stumbled from a light hearted review of ‘feel-good-movie-of-the-week’ The Boat That Rocked, into a po-faced homily to the film industry and its’ GREATEST ENEMY. He jokes at the irony of going from the ‘friendly’ radio pirates of the 60’s to the ‘no laughing matter’ film pirates of today, without exploring the irony that both are a collective of pioneers who operate outside the law to cater to the demands of an audience hungry for media beyond the tightly regulated channels of the establishment. Who knows, maybe Richard Curtis will one day write/direct a film about the nefarious hijinxs of the questionable geeks behind Pirate Bay? There’s a ‘loveable rum bunch’ if ever I saw one.
The greatest crime of this Beeb authored agit-prop segment is that it completely fails to distinguish between bootleg pirates who sell counterfeit DVD’s and the consumer who chooses to download and torrent films. One funds international crime and terrorism. The other does not. Not that this segment would differentiate between the two as associating both acts of consumption with international terrorism stands in the industry’s favour, facts be damned.
The segment takes the form of the standard parade of talking heads, trotting out the usual execs, producers and film industry lobbyists all pronouncing the imminent death of the dream factory, brought to its knees by those dastardly pirates. It takes a minute of prophesying a bloody doom before they actually address the fact that there are two types of quite different pirates.
The piece consistently skips between condemning one form of piracy, and in the same breath condemning the other, and the whole affair becomes a muddled affair of assigning blame to whom for what. ‘This’ harms the British Film industry, ‘that’ funds international terrorism, higher profit margins than cocaine… it’s all a dizzying blur of blame and guilt, all poured onto the viewer at home. An MPA funded research project authored by the RAND organisation titled ‘Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism’ is at the heart of this segment, and you cannot argue with many of the claims it makes. Pirated DVD sales in Latin America and South Asia have been proven to fund international terrorism. Even in this fair nation of the United Kingdom has bootleg DVD sales gone on to fund the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland.
Yet it feels safe to say only an idiot would buy burnt bootleg DVD’s off a chap on a street corner. Standard definition? Mono sound? No subtitles? No extras? No thanks, I’ll pass on that. But it begs the question who does buy bootlegs any more? Those ‘better-than-coke’ profit margins must be dwindling as more and more people migrate online to get their latest films ripped from pre-release Academy screeners (not from camcorders). Surely the pirate of old is a dwindling breed in nations with ever increasing broadband access?
“The fight against copyright theft will be won or lost on the battlefield of cyberspace”pronounces John Woodward, Chief Exec for the UK Film Council. Out comes the stock footage of red tinted computer mice and computer screens. In heavy tones Woodward calls for the government to grant the industry legislative powers against these ‘persistent downloaders’. “So consider yourself warned” declares Mr Ross.
But you have to draught the legislation first and then make the threats, not the other way around gentlemen. So enough of those idle threats, thank you very much.
The whole segment rankles of an industry scared by ever escalating broadband speeds. In many respects the film industry is approaching the same fears the music industry faced five-six years ago, and are only slowly learning to react to increased downloads and an audience which is going wholly digital a lot faster than they are. Everyone is quick to sound the death knell of movies, yet such pessimism rings hollow in light of claims made in the latest episode of Film 2009 that this might be the first year Hollywood breaks $10 billion. Downloads are up, but so are box office tickets and DVD sales. It all echoes the spike in attendances that live music saw in the years following the boom of MP3 file sharing. A growing ethos with music is that you download what interests you, you purchase what you like and you see the ones you love live. Maybe even get a t-shirt while you’re at it. Films will become much the same, download what interests you, visit the cinema for something you like, maybe buy a DVD, maybe buy another for your friends if you really love it. The film industry needs to square that circle and step away from the process of trying to criminalise the consumer.
The party-political-broadcast ends on a rather dunderheaded link to the latest 3D feature to hit British cinemas: Monsters vs Aliens. The future today! A decisive blow against those pesky bastards with camcorders. And I’m all for it, on one condition: don’t make me, one of the consumer horde, pay for your self-serving upgrades. The cinema has ushered in sound, colour, widescreen, and multiple forms of surround sound: all to tempt lagging audiences away from their homes and their TV’s. Digital projection (the corner stone of all 3D films) is going to save the film industry millions in shipping every year, so why then do I have to pony up for this expense saving technology? At least one British film critic has repeatedly chimed in on this matter, and I think it’s about time we all did.
There’s plenty more to be said on the matter, and I’ll be sure to return to this with focus on other issues in the near future. Til then I’d be grateful to hear any opinions/comments/links.
Just to end on an up-beat, take delight in these wonderful parodies of the rather heavy-handed finger wagging of the old anti-piracy adverts.