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There’s Nothing Cute About Pirating

May 9, 2011

More than 3.8 million: The number of times an episode of “Dexter,” the third most-pirated television show of 2010, was illegally downloaded on BitTorrent  (TorrentFreak.com, Dec. 31, 2010)

2.5 million: The number of US viewers who tuned in for the average episode of “Dexter” on TV
(TorrentFreak.com, Dec. 31, 2010)

I’ve been inspired by a talk given by Actress/Director/Producer Betty Thomas at a recent Directors Guild function to share some thoughts on pirating.  To begin, she urges us to stop using that word; one that conjures up cutsie images of doubloons, parrots, and Johnny Depp.  “Pirating” is stealing, and there’s nothing adorable about it.

No matter whose list you read, it is clear that somewhere amid corn and ammo, entertainment ranks among the most profitable of US exports.  And although we don’t make the greatest number of movies every year, we do gross more on our features than any other country.  Movies, television and music videos are among the bright spots of our cultural heritage.  In the last few years we’ve sent billions of dollars worth of smiles overseas in the form of “The Lord of The Rings,”  “Toy Story 3” and “The Dark Knight.”  It’s not world peace or an end to hunger, but it’s considerably less destructive than some of other items we make that rake in the big bucks.  I would hope that would be something in which we could all take pride, especially at a time when our national debt is so high.  Instead, we are chipping away at our own creative product by buying stolen digital copies and steaming illegal downloads to multiple points.

It’s a common misconception that only Hollywood “Fat Cats” profit from the sale of movies and television shows.  There are many rank and file employees who depend on that income.  Every time a production is illegally reproduced, a little less money goes towards those workers’ compensation, health insurance and retirement benefits.  Ultimately, their jobs will be in jeopardy.  These aren’t executives who are touring the world in their corporate jets.  They are production assistants, set designers, camera people, and others who stood on their feet for 16 hours a day to get their jobs done.  They depend on the revenue from secondary markets including DVD sales, television reruns, and foreign distribution.  If you’ve stolen a movie, you’ve stolen from them.

Some tech-savvy audience members are under the illusion that if their software enables them to perform a task, it must be OK.  In fact, it’s rather stunning as an industry insider to see how many shady file sharing providers there are now.  A few even look like legitimate businesses with flashy websites and “Pay Pal” accounts.  To all prospective viewers I say, please purchase your entertainment from a legally recognized vendor.  Otherwise, you might well be a shoplifter cramming a disk inside your jacket, and getting away with it doesn’t make the act any less criminal.

The protection of films and television programs will only get more difficult as the industry moves increasingly towards digital streaming. I can appreciate that not every household has the budget for a full range of theatrical releases and premium programming.  But there are affordable options to doing business with profiteers who contribute nothing to the financing or creation of content.  It is up to individuals to make the right choice: to protect the livelihoods and futures of the over 300,000 people who depend on the sustained success and stability of the entertainment industry.  Please do your part so that we can all continue to sit back and enjoy the show.

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