Thoughts on piracy

I used to see piracy of film as an unstoppable force headed to the film world that had to be fought on its own terms: ie. it had to be competed against in an open market, which meant that you had to compete against “free”.

I’m beginning to realize that that is not a workable business model, no matter how many ways you frame it. But it hard to imagine turning the clocks back to a time when people actually obeyed the law. I would never have gone into a record store and stolen a box set of The Rolling Stones, yet I have no problem downloading the entire discography for free. I don’t feel too bad about it because, I feel, The Rolling Stones have gotten plenty of my money over the years and most of their records I’ve bought at least once before. But, really, what kind of logic is that?

But that is part of what led the music industry into its current catastrophe. The music business was a cartel, dominated by a few huge record companies that controlled the market at every stage, from development to M+A to distribution. They consistently put out crappy products and rammed them down our throats with payola deals at radio stations and by dominating shelf space at record stores. They consistently stiffed their musicians, loaning them money that was nearly impossible for them to pay back, while at the same time overcharging for their product and taking what they could when they could get it. In short, they ruled their world with the greed and ill-will of a unpopular dictator. So when the option of downloading stuff for free popped up, no love was lost in robbing these people of their stuff. It was like looting Sadaam Hussain’s palace.

What followed was the near total collapse of the record cartel’s revenue stream. But it was also a collapse of their domination. Good things have come from this collapse.

The best thing is that more music is available now than ever before. There is a diverse range of stuff, catering to many tastes. It’s hard to imagine someone like MIA or Little Boots, as pop as they are, finding an audience within an old school record company.

Another good is the instant access convenience. I wanted to hear some Gene Chandler the other day. I did a quick google and found some stuff and was listening within half an hour. I can’t imagine trying to find a Dukay’s record back in 1990. In fact, sometime in the 90’s I basically stopped buying music. I was disappointed too often when I bought new stuff, and the old stuff I wanted was never available. Plus, how many times was I expected to buy The Pretenders first album?

So there have been, from the consumer point of view, some real advantages (I didn’t even count the fact that it is all “free”).

The film industry is headed in the same direction and has generated plenty of ill will for all the same reasons. It seems to have learned absolutely nothing from the music industry, which is incredible considering that most of these are the same companies.

It is this ill will, this animosity between the consumer and these huge conglomerates that is their biggest obstacle when it comes to enforcing the laws that protect their revenues. They need to overcome that, an impossible task, if they ever want to convince lawmakers to do something about piracy.

To do this, they need, among other things, to start treating the consumer of their products with respect, not just like a monkey with a dollar. But all the evidence is that they are trending exactly the other way. They are tightening their grip on the market place, instead of giving the consumer any options. They are interested only in films that make huge amounts of money, instead of ones that make a decent, but smaller, profit. Yet they are the only ones that have to financial power to do anything about piracy. It’s an ugly situation, so we have to look at the positive, but the truth is, that when the cartel of the Hollywood studios collapses, we will all starve.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on piracy

  1. I would say that the Film Industry has one thing in common with the music industry; “Events”. As you’ve mentioned before, going to see a movie opening weekend is an “event”, but then again, so is seeing a Band on tour. Its about the experience.

    Again, you’re right. The studios control distribution for the most part, so they’ll be able to put out whatever shit or shine they want to, where as we, the indie filmmakers have to fight for the those extra few screens or via for attention via the internet. How to profit from that and make another film is certainly something to ponder.

  2. Thanks for the response, Raz. Always welcome.

    I still think that this is how things were in the 80’s. There were a few art houses around, but I can’t believe that they were reliable sources of revenue. Video is what made Indie film big in the 80’s and kept it there until a couple years ago. The multiplex has never been a friendly place for indie film. It’s the studios that made a go of it, and their M+A killed them.

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