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The Surge of Piracy and a Call for Industry CLOs

August 24, 2011

Janko Roettgers’ GigaOm article predicts a new rise in piracy because of the current economy. I’m not sure where he got the idea that Hollywood is treating the issue as “passé.”  Within the Directors Guild, it’s been a hot topic at our last few meeting and headline news on our website.  Yes, it’s been helpful that services such as Netflix and Hulu provide entertainment at a more reasonable price.  But there are still many challenges to fair distribution that need to be addressed.  From what I see, a contributing factor to the surge is a misunderstanding held by many viewers concerning who is affected by these free copies, the sharing of which gets easier all the time.

I learned how grave this misunderstanding had become when I read the comments addressed to GigaOm guest writer Alex Swartsel.  A member of the Motion Picture Association of America, Ms. Swartsel’s blog piece accused Mr. Roettgers of promoting piracy.  (GigaOm staff writer Ryan Lawler explained that their intent was exactly the opposite: to alert the studios to the need for viewers to have easier access to better legitimate sources.) Readers were absolutely livid that Swartsel and the MPAA were given a say on a site like GigaOm and many stated plainly that they do not have much respect for current copyright laws.

Let me make a few things clear before I go any further.  I don’t love the MPAA either, but mostly because I think their ratings system is absurd.   (The Kings Speech an R?  Really?)  And most of what Swartsel said, including her unfortunate shoplifting analogy, inflamed more than informed.  Clamping down is a pointless response to pirating; just ask the music industry.  Further, I 100% agree that it’s wrong to ding honest viewers multiple times for the same content.  But P2P sites shouldn’t be considered the best source for material just because the audience is frustrated.

That piracy has become “socially acceptable” comes in part, I think, from putting much of the available content under the banner of Big Hollywood.  As I pointed out in my piece There’s Nothing Cute About Pirating, it’s the little guys who get crushed first and worst when content is distributed illegally. The way the system is set up, the revenue from secondary markets is what helps fund salaries, healthcare, and retirement for over 300,000 workers who have very everyday jobs that just happen to be in the film and television industry.  These earnings are syphoned off every time someone helps themselves to a free download.  So in many ways, the people who are losing money aren’t very different from the people who are trying to beat the system.

Obviously, the providers need to get real about the way viewing habits have evolved.  Finding, retrieving and sharing content has to be made much easier and priced within reason.  It’s time for companies to rethink their current adversarial relationships – easily developed when you’re fighting over the same eyeballs and same pot of money – and work together more effectively and efficiently.  As the saying goes in the US market, Bulls and Bears both get ahead, but Pigs never do.  By now, Chief Liaison Officer, someone comfortable and conversant with broadcast and technology, should be a common position in the convergence space.  There’s been plenty of tech giants buying cooler widgets and media giants buying cooler product, but not as much collaboration between the two worlds as obviously needs to happen. I applaud the concept posted by  Kelley Mitchell, a commenter on Roettgers’ piece, that companies should start thinking of piracy as a competitorThat would indeed be motivating!

It’s also time for a group-effort campaign putting a face on piracy.  Not everyone in entertainment is Big Hollywood or greedy or trying to “screw over” the audience.  Many are just doing the best they can to make the next house payment and take care of their kids.  I’m not saying piracy will ever go away, but it would be preferable if we could head off this new surge, resulting from the worsening economy, and didn’t generate more unnecessary job loss.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2011 10:29 am

    Being a viewer of only a few programs that our DVR records for us to watch, at who knows when in the future, I never even thought of the issue of downloading programs (like people did/do with music). And further, the idea that the people pirating are in very similar jobs to the people in the film industry who will lose theirs if pirating gains even more ground. Bet they never thought of this either. Bravo, Cathy, for noticing the relationship!

    • August 24, 2011 10:37 am

      Some often sit next to me at dinner, so are easy for me to notice. Just wanted to spread the word. Thanks for reading.

  2. August 24, 2011 3:06 pm

    Do we have to redefine what is content, or maybe create a classification system of some kind for content?

    • August 24, 2011 5:09 pm

      Now that we can no longer define the content by how it is delivered (ie: *This* is a TV show) what would the new classifications refer to? Would love to hear what you have in mind.

  3. August 25, 2011 3:30 pm

    Interesting, it’s been nice to get some insight from someone within the movie industry!

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