Anti-Piracy Message Not Getting Through

One reporter's opinion of a Macrovision sponsored round table on movie piracy.

by El Topo

Nick Love at the EIFF with The Business says filesharing may even have helped his earlier film The Football Factory

Nick Love at the EIFF with The Business says filesharing may even have helped his earlier film The Football Factory

"Piracy: Stealing Booty", sponsored by Macrovision, the source of much of the anti-copying technology on your videos and DVDs, sought to examine the problem of film piracy.

The panel, chaired by Fringe festival comedian Tim Hines, comprised of representatives from Macrovision, FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft), the Motion Picture Association (Europe), the UK Film Council, and director Nick Love, whose new film The Business closes the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 28th August.

For the most part, the story was a familiar one: piracy is bad because the people who do it are organised criminals; the quality of the product is poor, and it prevents money from going back to fund future film production.

However, few in the audience seemed to be convinced by these arguments.

While no one present would admit to piracy themselves - don't ask, don't tell, as it were - you got the impression that many had indeed done so and thereby had a bit of difficulty swallowing the organised crime rhetoric, unless the term is being applied in the broadest possible sense such that buying a DVD burner and some blanks ahead of time is enough to qualify you as being 'organised'.

Likewise, sections of the audience were clearly technically savvy, aware that, unlike the analogue, tape-to-tape copy, a digital disc-to-disc copy can be exactly the same as the original.

(This isn't always the case, to be sure, since compression methods allow you to trade quality for size, but again this surely points to the kind of thing the industry should be embracing: giving the consumer choice.)

Yes, no doubt a camcordered copy from the back of the cinema version is poor quality - but equally I've seen some painstakingly put-together fan bootlegs of otherwise unavailable titles that would put many legitimate releases to shame quality wise.

Nor did the economic arguments put forward by the industry panellists really convince. Stories of films being lost in development hell, box office smashes that make no money for their creators, and lawsuits hardly encourage you to think of Hollywood as a model of ethical conduct.

Indeed, with one member of the audience pointedly raising the question of DVD residuals for screenwriters - or rather the seeming lack thereof - one is almost tempted to say that the only real difference between the guys in the suits in the studio boardroom and the guys in the shell suits at the market is that the former have the law behind them. (What is it they say about US politics, something about the finest government money can buy?)

The one surprise in the whole package was director Nick Love who indicated that, if anything, illegal downloads of his previous film The Football Factory would seem to have boosted its box office through word of mouth.

This, needless to say, raised a number of interesting questions:

How does the industry actually calculate the value of lost sales, seeing as it cannot be assumed that the same person who will download a copy of a film or buy a pirate DVD would actually have gone to see that film at the cinema?

Copying isn't, after all, theft in the traditional sense whereby the thief takes something tangible thereby depriving the victim of it, the only thing affected being a highly abstract revenue stream. Isn't the willingness of the public to buy pirate DVDs indicative of basic supply/demand issues? Could it be that if the right products - no more region coding, no intrusive warning messages that you can't skip over being two obvious examples - were available at the right price points much of the problem would go away? Is the problem fundamentally that of a dinosaur that would rather preserve outmoded business practices via legislation and litigation than evolve? Above all, would better films that consumers actually felt to be worth their hard-earned help?

Alas, with only an hour and a panel that with the exception of Love didn't really represent other facets of the debate - I would love to have heard from a free software representative, for instance, or someone from the anime fan-subbing community - more questions like these were raised than satisfactory answers provided.

If this event was anything to go by one thing did however seem clear: this hearts and minds campaign is going to be a very difficult one for Macrovision and company.

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