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Rant of the Week: Streaming Movie Piracy, what’s the big deal?

Submitted by on September 5, 2008 – 4:09 am2 Comments

hollywoodOkay, now this is a sore subject for most, but one I feel must be addressed. To begin with let’s start with a definition of “piracy”

The describes piracy as: “the unauthorized use or reproduction of another’s work“.

Years ago, before the Internet was more widely used, if you wanted a pirate video of the latest Batman movie (for example) you’d need to know a friend who had vacationed in Hungary (or some other abstract country) and visited the markets where some shifty looking in a skirt sold them a tape (for the equivalent of ten dollars) which when played, had so much snow on it you’d think it had been filmed in the middle of winter along with large amounts of shaky cam. It was a bad experience to say the least and you’d only have to watch one pirate VHS for you to learn your lesson. Piracy was not worth it.

Back then we were all warned when we bought genuine video cassettes that piracy funded organised crime and terrorism. These statements may sound like harsh words, but it is easy to believe. The process of watching a pirate DVD was almost tantamount to buying narcotics off of a dealer (apparently).

Now we roll on many years from the black markets of 1989 (or thereabouts) to the world we live in today (that’s 2008 for those of you who are still smoking the funny ). We now live in a world where the more savvy of net users (and you don’t have to be THAT savvy) can access extremely good copies of movies (sometimes DVD quality) for free. So how can this fund terrorism or organised crime? Are we to believe that by watching the latest movie streaming from the net (somewhat like Youtube) we are aiding organised crime? The public doesn’t have to pay for these services directly, so how can we be accused of that? Sadly, this rant doesn’t focus on that argument (see an upcoming post), it is more focused on the financial loss that piracy entails.

Naturally these sites have become increasingly popular and it is often argued if a movie such as the Dark Knight is earning $500,000,000 in box-office receipts, then what’s the harm? Some may also argue that watching a streaming pirated movie is not exactly the same as burning it to CD and selling it down the local market. Along with this it could be argued that sometimes piracy actually promotes movies. Take for example an individual who (by chance) watches a movie that they would not usually go and pay to see (for argumentative reasons, we’ll use a more obscure movie: “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”). It could be argued that by a random individual watching (and appreciating) this streamed film, they would encourage others to watch it in the cinema; thereby actually promoting the movie they “stole”.

The fact is for every “Dark Knight” (that earns many millions in profit) there are 10 movies that make a vast loss such as “Evan Almighty”. Movie making is a risky business. With a few bad reviews movies can actually destroy studios. The independent production company Carolco Pictures who was responsible for films such as Terminator 2: Judgement day and the Rambo series went bust due to box-office flops which included Cutthroat Island and Showgirls. No matter the size of the studio, they are at risk of folding. If history is to teach us anything, it only takes a couple of movies to “flop” and the whole company goes down.

Consider then, streaming sites that offer nearly DVD quality movies to stream. If you were to go to a particular site today, you could watch The Dark Knight instead of watching it in the cinema. On this particular site (and no, I am not giving you the URL), the counter claims that it has been viewed 1,103,205 times. If the average cinema goer pays $10 to watch this movie, Warner Bros has lost out a whopping:  $11,032,050. This site offering free streaming movies (of which I have only mentioned and counted one of them) has cost Warner Bros $11 million bucks. That’s a massive amount of money lost.

For the Dark Knight (due to the amount it has actually made anyway) $11 million may not sound like a lot. However, take a less popular movie at the Box-Office: The Love Guru claimed only $32,128,957 at the U.S box office, which is shameful considering it had a budget of $62 million. On the same site (as mentioned before) 254071 people have viewed the file. If each of those viewings was a paying member of a theatrical audience, then it would account for $2,540,710. The studio responsible has lost $2.5 million to piracy with just one movie on just one site (bear in mind Google claims to find 1,260,000 sites offering the same “service”.

Now I am not naive enough to think that piracy as a whole will cease altogether. I personally feel that there are some exceptions to the rule. I’m sure that there are movies that people would NOT go and see in the cinema, but enjoyed the “streamed” version so much that they either bought the DVD at a later date or went to see it again in the cinema.

However, it is important to note that anyone watching downloaded (or streamed) movies, enjoys them so much that they feel the need to watch it before anyone else. These “movie fans” are actually contributing to the extinction of the thing they love. To (mis)quote Angelina Jolie’s tattoo: What nourishes me, destroys the nourishment. (Before all you movie nuts go mad for blatantly misquoting Ms Jolie’s tattoo please bear in mind that it is in Latin and since I didn’t take Latin at school, I feel I have every right to adapt the true translation to argue my point).

ratatouilleFew will argue with me that a cinematic experience is ultimately much better  than any streaming (or burned to DVD) copy. It is irrelevant of how good the quality is. NOTHING compares to the cinema. If you truly love movies so much that you feel the need to stream (or download) them, then ensure you attend the cinematic experience also. Even the worst movies in the world are a completely different experience (for the better) on the big screen. The art of sitting in a movie theater, munching loudly on your popcorn, whilst getting kicked in the back by the fidgeting fat man behind you, is all part of the experience.

Sadly though if we’re not careful, cinemas (or “theaters” for our American cousins) will go the same way as the dinosaurs. If people are happy to watch a streamed version of the film, then why bother distributing them to cinemas? How long before large studios give up on theatrical releases and simply charge us all “per net stream”. On that day,  I for one, will mourn the cinema experience.

Being a controversial subject, any opinions on the matter will be greatly received. Have your opinion heard (anonymously) here.

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