Monday, November 14, 2011

Here's What I Do at School: An Essay on Film Piracy

Since I've been studying hard all day, I didn't really have time to post something. Well I would if I wasn't watching Schindler's List again, but when the mood strikes, one should watch that film. So here is an essay that I wrote a couple of months ago for school, which is all about film piracy and why I'm against it. The essay managed to get an extremely high excellence. See how different my writing is when I'm at school compared to when I'm blogging (if I seem to be over-exaggerating a lot this is because I'm just trying to get my point across, as I am supposed to be writing this essay for a 'school magazine'):

In 1927, the first sound movie, called The Jazz Singer, was made. After years of silence on film, finally someone had successfully combined talking and music with what was happening on screen. This was the first of many cinematic milestones achieved through advancing technology. Since then there have been several introductions: Technicolour, Cinemascope, 3D, and even a brief trial with Aromascope...all of these opportunities used to try make cinema-going a more involving experience. However, advancing technology has also had a negative effect on the film industry. Since videos have become a form of watching a movie, film piracy has slowly become a huge problem, but even more so since the internet has become more powerful.

Internet film piracy has become a global epidemic. As internet usage has expanded and there is now a lot more space to download and share files, pirates have been using this to their advantage. In January 2011, Envisional was commissioned by NBC Universal to analyse the amount of internet usage dedicated to copyright infringement, particularly in the area of film. One of the areas they looked at was the content on BitTorrent, which is the most used file sharing protocol worldwide. It was shown that 35.2% of what they found on BitTorrent was film content, and all but one of the 10,000 files they tested offered copyrighted and illegal content. They also found that video streaming is the fastest growing sector of the internet, accounting for over one quarter of internet traffic. 5.3% of that is illegitimately streamed content, a number which is set to rise as video streaming continues to grow at a fast speed. Envisonal states that 23.76% of global internet traffic is used for infringing content. With the internet’s continual rapid growth, these numbers are set to get bigger – eventuating in a criminal act such as piracy becoming the biggest user of the internet.

People are under the impression that downloading/watching a pirated film on the internet is harmless, when it is really theft. What these people fail to realise is that film-making accounts for over 2.4 million jobs in the US, and is a major contributor to the global economy. The film industry isn’t the only one that loses money to piracy, as the Department for Professional Employees says the government loses tax revenue “that would have been generated by the sale of non-pirated goods.” The Motion Picture Association of America says that an estimated “$58 billion in economic output is lost to the US economy annually due to copyright theft.” This has a resounding effect on the jobs needed to make films. Most of the workers in Hollywood are on average wages – even though their services such as costume making, food preparing or assisting directors are all vital. If their films fail to earn their budget back, their wages are cut, or even worse, they lose their job. Films aren’t just about the rich actors and lavish sets that appear on screen. Hundreds of people work on one film, and if you download that film instead of paying to see it, there is a chance that you are robbing one of those people of a job.

Film piracy is also a business that doesn’t realise what kinds of people they are stealing from. Most of the downloads available on the internet are for what is doing well at the box-office, but one of the worst cases of piracy was for a war film called The Hurt Locker, which was only given a small release. The Hurt Locker is a cinematic milestone in itself: its director, Kathryn Bigelow, became the first woman in the Academy Awards’ 82 year history to win for directing. It was also the lowest grossing film to win Best Picture, surprisingly beating the highest-grossing film in the world, Avatar, to the award. However, even though the film had many accolades to its name and was met with universal critical acclaim, the film failed at the box-office. This doesn’t mean that the film wasn’t widely seen, though. Most of its audience will remember seeing this film with a hazy picture and out-of-sync sound, through a leaked copy that was released on the internet five months before the films initial release. The Motion Picture Association of America says that the film only had six million viewers in US theatres, but seven million illegally downloaded it through BitTorrent in 2010. In America, the film grossed a weak $16,000,000, which was barely enough to cover its budget. This prompted production company Voltage Pictures to retaliate, suing 24,583 BitTorrent users who illegally downloaded it, in court – making it the largest lawsuit of its kind. Unfortunately, instead of being remembered as the multi-Academy Award winning epic war tale, The Hurt Locker will be known as the film that unfairly had to get its budget back by suing the people who downloaded it.

The main reason why people download movies these days because going to the cinema is a ridiculously expensive task. It costs $12 for an adult ticket, and the refreshments cost an average of $10. So really, watching a movie from the internet saves a lot of money, doesn’t it? In saying that, the box office is enjoying high theatre attendance numbers at the moment. Most of these high-grossing films, like Michael Bay’s latest directorial effort Transformers: Dark of the Moon, are the same: they have huge budgets which are used to fight piracy numbers. Because it’s impossible to pirate a 3D movie...for now. Also, these producers don’t want to pour a huge budget into a movie if they don’t know whether it will work or not, hence the significant amount of sequels and ‘reboots’ being released. Unfortunately, independent film-makers are the only ones who dare to try something new, but they don’t have the money, or the industry backing to fight piracy. In fact, one of the most unique movies to come out in the past decade, independent film The Tree of Life, probably won’t get its budget back, thanks to its more powerful competitors. Thus, piracy leaves discerning cinephiles scratching their heads, seeing their beloved film industry suffering at the wrath of someone like Michael Bay’s hands. All of this because cinema-going is an expensive hobby and the only way to stop people from downloading a movie illegally is to convert a film to 3D and put far too many explosions on it.

Not only does film piracy lose a fair amount of money for the global economy, it has introduced criminal activity to the biggest part of modern life: the internet. Advancing technology has been good to the cinematic world on the surface, but what people think is a harmless activity is really hurting the film industry and tarnishing the art form that it is. When it comes down to it, if someone like Michael Bay can fight piracy with money, and an independent film-maker can’t because they don’t have enough, then cinema-loving might as well just die.

What do you think of this essay? And also, what do you think about film piracy?


  1. A powerful essay, with enough stats to make Mark Zuckerberg's head spin, I'm sure. I don't like piracy as much as the next person. I hate what it's done to cinema (particularly independent cinema, as you pointed out), and I don't see it as worth the time or trouble. A film needs to be seen on a big screen anyway, in quality as rich and perfect as possible. Piracy is pointless, and anyone who thinks they've fully experienced a film they downloaded illegally and watched on their computer is stupid. For example, I've considered downloading MELANCHOLIA but strongly decided against it because I felt the experience of watching it would not be the same. I would rather wait, and that's another thing most people lack, aside from consideration from filmmakers: patience. We all have to wait for things in life, so what makes a person so special that they can just break the law and jump on whatever they want. Be an adult and wait like the rest of us.

    That all being said, I do watch some movies on YouTube, if they are not available anywhere else. I realize this may have completely destroyed the point of my argument, but such are the paradoxes of being a film viewer. Despite this, I'll always stand by my statement that a film is never wholly experienced unless it is watched in a cinema or on a TV screen of a reasonable size, with accurate sound and picture quality, and little to no distractions whatsoever.

  2. NIce essay Stevee. And some very good points made.

    I am with Mark Kermode on this one. He has some really good points when it comes to piracy. The studios harp on about piracy killing cinema, when actually it is really there unwillingness to change and evolve that is strangling it.

    The music industry evolved, napster cam along and FORCED them into it, but it has survived and is now much much strong. The change? CHoice.

    If we were offered the chloice to see a film on day of release at cinema, on dvd, on a HD download. It would basically stop all piracy FOREVER. There would be no need for it.

    It would also make the CINEMA choice of seeing a film a much better experience, as it would stop people coming that really dont want to. And ruining the experience for everyone!!

    So the change that need to be made, not that they ever will, is CHOICE.

    Thanks Stevee.

  3. Fantastic essay. Apart from syntax and punctuation problems, it's near perfect. For example, you can't 'over-exaggerate' something. That's impossible. You can exaggerate something, sure...

    As for my view on piracy, well I agree with Scott's comment. Things need to change. I hate seeing the film industry suffer financially from people stealing movies from the Internet, but this doesn't need to happen if we were given the choice to see a film on it's release in the cinema, on DVD or HD download.

    It's hard being a poor student and the cinemas are too expensive for my budget most of the time but whenever I have the money, I see a film in the theatre. This is because the experience of seeing film on the big screen is far superior than any other alternative.

    However, hiring DVDs aren't too bad most of the time. I'm not talking about new releases here, but you can get a good deal on five to six DVDs at most video store chains.

  4. I just think it's highly ironic that the industry is shitting itself over piracy these days, and yet it was built on piracy—both technical piracy (ripping off patents and so forth) and theft of film ideas, plus bootlegging of the actual prints.

    I don't usually bother with downloading films for a few reasons, such as my rather limited broadband capacity and also the plain and simple fact that the visual quality is usually reasonably poor, and I tend to be more bothered by video compression than mp3 audio compression; I can see the former where I can rarely hear the latter. I will sometimes hunt up public domain or otherwise unavailable titles through Youtube or, but I don't usually go much further than that.

    As for the studios using what I call the Metallica method, i.e. directly suing individuals for downloading the film/music/whatever, I can't see that ever being a happy solution; you might screw some money out of the victim but it makes you look like a bit of a grasping arsehole. But I suppose it's like drugs, why go to the effort of finding the pusher when punishing the user is quick and easy. Never mind that it's also ultimatey useless and changes nothing.

  5. Also, The Jazz Singer wasn't the first sound film but we'll let that slide... :)

  6. I really like your essay, Stevee.
    In our age, it's far more normal to watch films illegally on the internet every day than to go to the cinema three-four times a month. If you do the first thing, no one will think you're a bad person (and yes, many of my friends do it), but if you go to the cinema often, people will think "What a weirdo", or "Why does she throw her money out of the window?".
    I used to watch films online illegally a few times a month, but I've stopped now, because I have a very very bad consciousness about it... as someone previously said, it's all about the patience. Okay, if there's really no way at all to track a film I really, really want to see, I'll watch it, but otherwise not.
    Many (mostly older) films are now being released online (legally) too, which I think is a great thing... and short films, off course.

    I also agree with everyone else here, that watching a film in a cinema is some of a cinematic nirvana, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching a film on my laptop, really... if it's legally!

  7. Great essay! I do agree with you on piracy. It's just theft but I can also understand why a family of five would rather get a cheap dvd rather than fork out for a cinema trip.

    Very much in agreement with Scott and Kermode too, why not give audiences more choice as to how and when they can watch new releases?

  8. I 100% with you on this one. I will do my best to go out of my way to get my film through legal avenues through which I pay because I want to support the people who make movies, whether or not their movie is any good.

    It's also why I have never asked for my money back after a movie. I've been tempted, but even if I don't like the end product, I believe people worked hard to make that movie and that I should support that effort.

    That does make it hard sometimes, especially when certain films don't play in my town (or sometime even my state) and I really want to see them. Or worse, when there isn't even a DVD release I can buy for cheap. But I still refuse in those cases.

    And yes, as others say the industry needs to change to accommodation the modern viewer but I do not believe this justifies piracy. There is no film you absolutely must see that will sustain your very existence and if you have to wait four months to watch the new Harry Potter on Bluray, you should just tough it out. If I can wait over a year to see Certified Copy for $15, you can wait too.

  9. Hi. great essay and I agree with you on piracy and that how/why it should be stopped. I do have a couple of points, not in defense of piracy but just points that might be a cause.

    Recently I bought a DVD of an India film "Dum Maaro Dum". To my utter dissapointment majority of the film was too dark at times all I was looking at was a dark black screen. It was an original DVD so I wrote to the director on Twitter and he responded saying he was sorry and that he was aware and writing to the DVD manufacturers but nothing had been done. I wrote to the manufacturers, but never got a response.

    My point to all of this is that the film industry is also at fault. A number of the prints that end up as pirated are supplied by people from within the industry. A number of cam prints are made in movie theaters with the permission of the theater owners (who are part of the movie industry).

    Again, not supporting piracy, but I think the film industry all over the world needs to look inside its own house first. Yes, that doesnot mean the people can illegally download, but it's just my insight into the entire problem.

  10. Also just another input. In order to tackle piracy in India, most of the Indian movies are out on DVD, Pay per View, or on TV within a month or so after its release. As a result, most people who used to download now simply wait and enjoy a better print. It hasn't completely solved the problem but has made a major impact.

  11. I agree with you on new and current releases, however sometimes piracy is the only reasonable way to watch some old obscure foreign titles that might be out of print or never even got a DVD release and chances are never will. Surely there's no harm done in cases like that.

  12. Nice essay and very well written. Like Scott says I think the issue is partly because people don't like to go to the cinema as much anymore as they used to. The screens and setup in homes have become better too. I think that services like Netflix should be available in more countries too as being able to watch a whole lot of movies for a flat fee is something which would help a lot in reducing piracy. If you have something readily available, why would you still download it? The movie industry has to change with the times, something they seem to be afraid to do.

  13. Tyler - Thanks!
    Whatever you do, do not download Melancholia. It is a movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen, because it's so epic.
    I've watched a few movies on YouTube. In fact, two of my most favourite movies, Memento and Sunrise, were ones that I watched first on YouTube. If I ever watch a film online, I always make a point of buying it, so there's little harm done.

    Scott - That's actually not a bad idea. I'm ashamed that I didn't think of it myself.
    Yeah, cinema is afraid to change. Instead, they just keep adding stuff, like 3D. Which is a shame.

    Leith - I'm useless with punctuation, to be honest. Mind you, I'm a lot better than some of the other people my age.
    Yeah, I'm usually too poor to go to the cinemas, but when I do it's always an amazing experience. I don't think a downloaded copy could ever compare.
    DVDs are where I'm at, though. I mean, when my Dad owns a DVD store, I just watch them all. Which is good.

    James - You make some good points. And The Jazz Singer is technically the first mainstream talkie. I'm sorry but in the world where teenagers roam they're only looking for mainstream.

    Mette - Thanks!
    Jeez, I know *exactly* what you're saying. Going to the cinemas is so out of fashion now, and people think I'm weird for going once a month. Which is odd.
    I admit that I did too. This was around awards season when a lot of the movies were R16s and they were coming out quite late. Since then, I've bought every single one of those movies. Now we have a really tough piracy law in NZ, I'll never do it again. My brother brought around a pirated copy of The Smurfs and Paranormal Activity 3, and I refused to watch it.
    My laptop is where I watch most of my movies, legally, of course!

    Pete - Yes, money is a big factor. As long as they do it legally, it's okay.
    And that is a very good idea indeed.

    James - Yes, I always respect the work that people have done.
    Luckily, I can usually get most of the movies that I want to watch (apart from Days of Heaven, grrrrr). I'll always refuse piracy.
    Yes. People can tough it out. Seriously.

    Raghav - That's interesting. I agree that the film industry is mainly at fault, as people within the film industry make bad copies.
    I've noticed that the space between cinema releases and DVD releases are getting closer and closer in NZ. Which is good. It must work really well.

    Bonjour Tristesse - I totally agree. I have watched quite a few movies that I've been unable to find on the net, usually through YouTube. It's really just the new releases that I have a problem with.

    Nostra - Thanks! Yes, I totally agree. I think the movie industry should change. But it will always be too afraid to do it.

  14. I am with Mark Kermode on this one. He has some really good points when it comes to piracy. The studios harp on about piracy killing cinema, when actually it is really there unwillingness to change and evolve that is strangling it.

    The music industry evolved, napster cam along and FORCED them into it, but it has survived and is now much much strong. The change? CHoice.

    If we were offered the chloice to see a film on day of release at cinema, on dvd, on a HD download. It would basically stop all piracy FOREVER. There would be no need for it.

    The studio can certainly make some better choices to help themselves. But the flaw with Mark Kermode's argument is that there are far too many people out there who would never pay even a penny for something if they know they can get it for free without consequences. Internet downloads are a nice alternative for those who don't enjoy going to cinemas or wish to avoid high ticket prices. But it does not solve the piracy problem. Both the music and film industries lose out on a lot of revenue because of these cheapskates.

    Some people try to justify piracy with the Robin Hood argument. "It's okay to download Avatar because James Cameron is rich and doesn't need my money." That would make sense except that Cameron is not the only person who's affected by the box office revenue. Try watching the entire end credits sometime.

  15. Ian - Yes, that's totally true what you said about Avatar. So many people are needed to make movies, and most of them aren't paid the big bucks that we all think they are. So yeah, piracy hurts a lot of people.

  16. First of all, great essay! I'm glad to hear it was so successful that even the studios called to talk about it!
    Second of all, I do whole-heartly agree that piracy is a bad thing, especially when we have to and must consider the people working in the industry. We always think, ehh, the stars have enough money, but don't really think about the hundreds of people who survive by working on set.
    But third of all, I must confess that I do download movies from time to time. Why? Because I am a student, my budget is not big, because I want to see all of the releases, because I do want to watch old movies, and sometimes online is the only way to find it. I do understand why people in the business or most critics say piracy is horrible and blame those who do it, but most of them have invitations or press screenings for all of them- then again, it is their job to see the movies, so I guess it's all a cycle, right?
    As a last point, I have to point out that most of the people who download and choose the online version and not cinema, don't usually go for the CamRip version, because it is not good quality, and most importantly, you can't really enjoy or,sometimes, understand the movie. Maybe studios should be more carefull with their screeners or DVDs and make to say it?"un-copyable"-I know it's not a word, I just can't remember the good one(english is not my native language)
    In the end, yes, people shouldn't do it, but don't blame them for doing it! You made the film, you figure out how to make money out of it- it's your business after all, right?

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