US Ambassador Calls For Australians To Stop Pirating GAME OF THRONES

Contributing Writer; Melbourne, Australia
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US Ambassador Calls For Australians To Stop Pirating GAME OF THRONES
Come on Aussies, this is serious. The US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, has set aside diplomacy to issue a drastic call for Australians to stop pirating Game of Thrones

In a missive posted on his official Facebook page at 3:14am Tuesday 23 April (he was obviously up late deliberating about it, drinking whiskey and typing furiously) Bleich takes the extraordinary step of targeting Australians over the HBO show, as they are "some of the worst offenders with among the highest piracy rates of Game of Thrones in the world". 

He writes, "I realize that fans of Game of Thrones who have used illegal file-sharing sites have reasons. They will say it was much easier to access through these sites, or that they got frustrated by the delay in the first season, or their parents wouldn't pay for a subscription, or they will complain about some other issue with copyright laws. But none of those reasons is an excuse - stealing is stealing. Buying a book in a store costs more and takes longer than stealing it from your neighbor's house, but we all know it is the right thing to do and it allows authors to make a living and write more books."

Read the whole missive here.

In all seriousness, Game of Thrones is available to watch in Australia within hours of its US broadcast via Foxtel. A digital streaming deal from Quickflix was also announced this month.
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More about Game Of Thrones

BosApril 25, 2013 7:36 AM

If USA is "asking" to Australians to stop pirating, they will probably just declare war to Italy.

Better gtfo of here soon... ^^

pepaApril 25, 2013 11:41 AM

"But none of those reasons is an excuse - stealing is stealing. Buying a
book in a store costs more and takes longer than stealing it from your
neighbor's house"
what an idiot

Joe FalionApril 25, 2013 11:51 AM

"Buying a book in a store costs more and takes longer than stealing it from your neighbor's house, but we all know it is the right thing to do and it allows authors to make a living and write more books."

Library much? I guess Mr. Bleich forgot about them. The printing press was basically piracy at one point, allowing virtually anyone to have a copy. Societies change over time, we are currently in a state of transitions. The old system is failing, and a new system needs to emerge (or we can just keep piracy and the copyrighters, that seems to be entertaining so far).

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 11:57 AM

There absolutely needs to be system change in how distribution happens, no question. There also needs to be recognition that content providers can't put between 4 and 5 million dollars into producing a single hour of content (which they do with Game Of Thrones) without having revenue come back to them. "It exists so I should be free to take it" is ultimately an incredibly destructive position in relation to content creation. If people can't make a living creating, they stop creating because they need to eat.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 12:00 PM

And your printing press analogy fails because those were always controlled by publishers. An accurate analogy - in the book space, anyway - would be someone taking a book from a library and photocopying it thousands of times for redistribution while selling ads within the pages they distribute to cover the costs of the paper while turning a profit for themselves (i.e. the Piratebays, Rapidshares, etc of the world turn a nice profit from ad sales) while cutting out the people who actually WROTE the book.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 12:09 PM

As a tangible example of this, when I started attending film markets eight or so years ago (I forget when exactly my first was) the American Film Market fully occupied two hotels. EVERY suite in the Loews Hotel was filled with content providers selling titles for distribution around the world and making a decent living doing it. The hotel next door - the Le Merigot - also had three full floors of offices doing the same.

Now? The Le Merigot is empty. There's nobody there at all. Top two floors of the Loew's are half empty, as are the bottom three. The contraction of the industry has been shocking and dramatic. An entire tier has been cut out. It's not hypothetical, it has actually happened.

Yeah, distribution models are crappy and antiquated and the idea that region coding and territorial holdbacks work now is laughable and has been for quite some time. You'll get no argument from me there. But the idea that this is exclusively a distribution problem is absolutely NOT the case. As noted in the article, Game of Thrones is available legally in Australia day and date as it is. The downloading isn't in response to lack of availability. There's something else happening here and we're getting to a point where if it's not addressed in some meaningful way the end result will be that everything is going to have be paid for by in-content advertising. Either product placement or direct advertising (i.e. something that retains or even grows in value as the content itself is spread, independently of whether a ticket is bought), because the revenue streams from selling tickets / DVDs / VOD views / channel subscriptions etc just cannot be relied upon at all. And do you really want to watch a version of Game Of Thrones that somehow has to jam $4.5 million worth of ads into every hour?

Joe FalionApril 25, 2013 1:29 PM

Well saying that they don't get any revenue back is a little extreme. Obviously people need to be paid for their efforts. It's not like everyone is pirating the show, HBO still has plenty of paying subscribers.

And yes "It exists so I should be free to take it" is without a doubt a very destructive attitude taken on by much of the younger generation. Nothing good can come from that like you said, eventually the well will dry up.

Joe FalionApril 25, 2013 1:29 PM

Personally I think the outcome of all this will be the end of the internet as we know. The net will become highly regulated, and much less fun.

Something that I'd not considered until you mentioned GoT with $4.5 mill worth of adds included. There is no way for them to make any extras off product placement.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 2:17 PM

Sure, not EVERYONE pirates but the erosion to the subscriber base is clear and progressive. It's not sustainable. And people who use the "Well, someone else will pay for it so why should I" argument make me want to slap them. Not that I think you're using it that way ...

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 2:26 PM

Change to the internet is inevitable and, honestly, has always been one of the hallmarks of it. The internet now is RADICALLY different from the internet ten years ago. Regulation of some sort is inevitable, I agree, and while I don't particularly look forward to it I think the only reason it hasn't happened already - because, let's be honest, the sheer volume of illegal activity that happens here would NEVER be tolerated in any other forum - is because there was initially a generation of legislators who didn't have the first clue how it actually worked (which is not true any more) and the amount of international coordination required to do anything effectively online is enormous.

sp6onApril 25, 2013 2:57 PM

Hey! Todd Brown, the 80s called. They want you back.

All of your analogies are bullshit since they are based on the fact that "piracy is stealing" - which is completely false. Untrue. Theft implies that someone removes the original, and that someone no longer has access to "it" - that's not piracy. I won't even go into the whole lame piracy = lost sales argument. We all know that's bullshit.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 3:04 PM

Nothing like a reasonable conversation, eh? Can't engage in actual fact so you need to lead and end with insults.

I'm sure the MASSIVE drop in ticket sales for The Raid immediately after the film leaked was purely random, right?

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 3:20 PM

And explain to me please how exactly my "piracy is equivalent to photocopying a book" analogy isn't accurate. Given that's the only actual analogy I've used this whole time.

Michael_456123April 25, 2013 3:43 PM

"And your printing press analogy fails because those were always controlled by publishers."

Without getting into the larger argument about publishing, this particular statement is untrue. The invention of the printing press coincides with of the Protestant Reformation for a reason, and non-commercially printed handbills and pamphlets were at the forefront of every revolution (failed or successful, good or bad) from invention of the press onward. Censored and copyrighted works were spread much more easily (and even for free) as well, often without the approval of their creators.

This isn't to say it's a completely analogous situation either, but many presses were and are not controlled by commercial publishers.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 3:46 PM

Fair enough. And the Reformation bit totally should have twigged in my head given that I've got a religious studies degree. I'm gonna stick with my photocopier analogy, though, 'cause I think it's matches better - because, among other things, they're accessible and simple to use for everyone. Printing presses have always been controlled by a few while the whole point of online is its complete decentralization - and is something far more relatable.

iPhone_4SteveApril 25, 2013 6:14 PM

Copying is not stealing. When you copy there is no victim, when you steal someone is left without something when you copy you both have it.


King_LeerApril 25, 2013 6:49 PM

I wonder if there's anything ELSE which has happened in the last eight years which could also explain the poor fortunes of your content providers. "The contraction of the industry has been shocking and dramatic"? It's a familiar sentence. You lay all of this at the feet of piracy because you want to, but the truth is much more complex. Regarding the subject at hand, I hear Game Of Thrones has graduated to a THIRD season despite the crippling influence of Australian pirates and is already renewed for a fourth. The ambassador isn't the first person to lose his head because of this show.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 7:30 PM

This is wrong in so many ways it's just laughable. As a producer who has put years of work into projects to watch their value be permanently damaged around the world, I can tell you there absolutely are victims. I've been one.

Put it this way. How about you spend two years of your life and a couple million dollars to create something. Then take it to market and watch as hundreds of thousands of people simply take it and copy it without your permission and without paying a cent to compensate you for your work on this or to fuel future projects. How good are you feeling that you still have the original copy.

It's a ridiculous, stupid argument made out of convenience to justify taking something you want without paying for it or supporting it's creation in any way.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 7:38 PM

Of course there are other contributing factors, I've said as much in other comments. There are plenty of things that could - and should - be changed in distribution models to improve things. None of which negates the fact that hundreds of thousands of people taking something for free instead of paying for it has a negative impact on the economics.

Take the Raid example. Was it a distribution issue or some other factor that caused a 60% drop in two days? No. It's that someone put a good version online for free and thousands decided not to buy what they could take. It's pretty damn clear.

Todd BrownApril 25, 2013 8:08 PM

And to stay on the HBO tip for a moment, it's worth rememvering that both Deadwood and Rome were cancelled despite being VERY highly rated and - incidentally - cheaper to produce than Game of Thrones. So while - as a raging fan - I'd like to think GoT is untouchable I know that's not true. These big budget shows depend on ancillary money to stay in the black and the more you bite into that the shakier things get ...

darrenjhApril 25, 2013 9:40 PM

Coming from a guy who says the US is not interested in Julian Assange. What a tool.

owenApril 25, 2013 11:43 PM

well i download it i live in ireland even though i record it on sky atlantic ill wait til the show is over so i can binge watch it without ads

SamjuroApril 26, 2013 4:45 AM

I went looking for this Quickflix thing a week ago - nothing yet. But Foxtel is owned by Rupert Murdoch, whom I am MORE than happy to be stealing from. The "authors" will get their money when I buy the box sets.

Simon de BruynApril 27, 2013 9:25 AM

The Quickflix deal has been very vague. Some reporting has hinted it will be (at some point in the future) instantly available after airing in the US, while other reports suggest it's more of a Game of Thrones library for old seasons. Looking around on the Quickflix site it appears to be the latter.

davebaxterApril 28, 2013 3:22 AM

Okay, here's an attempt at a reasonable conversation, I'll try to be brief and not tangent too much. Lots to say.

First off, let's point out that the following statement is correct although is doesn't serve as the justification that people try to use it as: "Copying is not stealing". And it ISN'T. But it IS "copying", and that is a problem in its own right. The copying and distribution of digital content is far more technically akin to counterfeiting than it is to stealing or piracy, because its making a copy of the original that is no longer the "authentic" or "approved" version, but rather a copy, no matter how perfect or exact a replica. And counterfeiting/copying does indeed devalue the original item by offering an alternative that is not under the control of the rights holder and is often much cheaper/devalued than the original. Devaluing the original item has an impact on the market/industry, no question. So I think that's where the "it isn't stealing" is both something that anti-piracy advocates need to accept and stop trying to falsely equate copying with something far more tangibly criminal, but also that pro-piracy (for lack of a better term) advocates need to not use as a get out of jail free card, because it ain't that either.

Now the real question is: WHAT impact does this copying have on the market and industry, and here is where anti-piracy advocates alienate the rest of us aka the whole wide world. Whenever anti-piracy mouthpieces need to inform the rest of us on why piracy is a bad thing, and what the consequences to society will be if we don't play ball, we're basically told the most outlandish, hyperbolic, apocalyptic rubbish we possibly COULD be told, and many cultures have moved beyond from where the fire and brimstone approach was effective. So most tune out from that alone, but there's more to it than that. The reports that anti-piracy advocates release, the numbers on how much piracy is effecting the industry, the losses, the downloads - the numbers are always alarming, but always fail the slightest scrutiny.

Taking this article's example, the Game of Thrones director David Petarca went on record as saying that piracy of GoT is only helping, not hurting, which naturally makes this announcement - that Australians are doing something oh-so-horrible just because the current law books has it marked down as such - disingenuous to say the least:

Coming back to those suspicious numbers, the US government itself, from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) researched three of the most sourced government reports on piracy as well as private industry reports and found that it is "difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the economy-wide impacts." FBI officials admitted that they had no record of source data or methodology for any of their reports. And the private industry reports equally could not say how they substantiated their numbers with any clear methodology.

The MPAA's numbers were so ridiculous that, when calculated, the numbers by default inferred that each downloader would buy 200 more DVDs per year without piracy, meaning they'd be buying new DVD's more than every other day per year.

And the IIPA does things like throw Canada on the "Priority Watch List" when their "Claimed Piracy Rate" is less than half any other country's on the list, obviously as nothing more than a PR/political maneuver:

Right here is giant problem #1: the people with supposedly the most to loose due to piracy can't be bothered to put together a substantial enough report to explain what the impacts are, or why the impacts will occur, to what extent, or how. They'll tell us their beliefs, and throw numbers and charts at us, but when it comes time to show us anything we can believe in ourselves to weigh the costs of piracy - nada. That's a big red flag right there. Plus there's been plenty of reports from independent (and even some surprising reports from industry groups themselves) that have shown that piracy has a positive impact in some cases, middling negative impact in others, and often has no detectable impact at all. So it seems more like a true mix. Which...isn't exactly sound like something that should be criminal.

But okay, so it's super tough to put that kind of info together and be robust about it. But it's easy enough to look at the health of the industry as a whole and try to correlate the rise of piracy with the effects on the industry. But even here, we hit a snag, as the entertainment industry released a report of its own that showed how strong it was during the current recession. This report was meant to showcase how the entertainment industry was a key engine of growth for the US economy as a whole, to argue why it should be protected by legislation like SOPA and PIPA, but anyone looking at the report and thinking about the piracy issue, it's another big red flag that the industry is doing better than any other at this moment in time, while piracy is more rampant (and flagrant) than ever. That doesn't compute.

Now maybe the industry would be even better without piracy, and no doubt it would be. But to what extent? Since we cannot trust the data given to us and therefore cannot know about the actual impact of piracy on the industry, we can't determine what the trade off is, or what the actual impact of the consumer will be. Additionally, there's the question of to what extent is the consumer responsible for the level of success any business or industry is allowed to have? Laws are made to have a beneficial impact on society. If a law is suddenly questionable in its impact especially vs. its negative impact (like, say, many current marijuana laws which criminalize without demonstrating what the benefits are), then the law itself in its current form becomes questionable. The fact that something is currently illegal, or one upon a time had a demonstrably positive impact on society, bears little weight on the current dilemma. Copyright law doesn't allow us to wield any leverage on industry, but why not? Why must we criminalize each other for the sake of greater profits to an industry? How does that hurt us as a culture if it changes? How might it in fact help?

As a final minor point before hitting one of the biggies: some have tried to look at the impacts of piracy from a very small, specific window - how does it effect the sales or performance of a single small company or item? This can pertain to what you directly, Todd, as you say you've been a victim. Plus you mention that THE RAID lost sales once a copy was leaked - do you have a link to this news? I've tried numerous Google searches and have found nothing about this. But here's something to consider about both the RAID and yourself:

Content creators often point to piracy for why they're losing money or can't make new product. One example relatively recently was UNDISPUTED 3 which I believe Adkins went on record saying that piracy was keeping DTV films like that from performing better. UNDISPUTED 2 came out in 2007, when piracy was alive and healthy. Not much has changed about piracy between then and UnD 3's 2010 release. But here's what did change: UNDISPUTED 3 was available to stream on Netflix the very day the DVD came out. I watched it on streaming. And eventually, a little over a year later, when it disappeared off streaming, I bought a DVD copy. But that was well after the DVD sales were deemed much lower than UnD 2's. And streaming is a sale that is often bundled by the distributors, and I've heard from many producers that they never receive reports of streaming revenue or even much in the way of digital, especially from the larger distributors.

More to the point, here's an example of someone who tried to determine the exact effect of piracy on a single Indie Film distributor. Wolfe Video (headed by Kathy Wolfe) went on record claiming that half her profits ($30K a year) were lost to "fighting piracy". She spent $30,000 a year sending take down notices on illicit links, and complaining that she'd be out of business if this kept up. Someone got curious about this and figured there must be a reason she spent $30K a year on this as naturally she could just stop and double her profits. So there must have been some sort of sign that her $30K worth of take down notices was having an effect, an effect that she couldn't survive without. When contacted Wolfe said: "I would be happy to discuss with you. Basically, without the take down effort I would be out of business. I have over 100 films to protect." But when the specific question as to what effect the take down notices were having was asked, Wolfe stopped corresponding and never answered.

And this is another big red flag: lots of distributors, producers, directors, writers, actors, etc. have all declared piracy as something that has eviscerated their ability to make a profit. But lots of films don't make a profit, and it's always been this way. Distribution models are in transition as are delivery and even production models, so naturally a lot of things that were assured at one point in time suddenly aren't any more. I recently talked with a writer of a number of martial arts films from the 90's, and he mentioned how they could take any film in this genre to festival and get $800K MG for domestic from certain sales agents without even talking about it or showing it. One year, they brought their film to market and the offer was $80K! Only 10% of what they could get the year before! Because, for whatever reason, that's all that could be justified. This was still the 90's, no (or extremely minimal) piracy, just an obvious market shift. Needless to say, that was the last MA film they we're able to make, after a very nice run. It happens. With or without piracy. Things failing do not mean piracy had any outsized impact on it. It is one element among many of the new marketplace, and there's evidence it has positive impacts as often as negative, if not more often.

I'd be thrilled to hear any details about your personal experience and/or THE RAID's though. While I'm currently unconvinced of piracy's harsh impact on the market, I'm always open to looking at new evidence.

Lastly, the piracy argument is put into perspective when you realize that this has been happening since at least the 80's:

The MPAA had the FBI working closely with them even back then, believing once again that the apocalypse was happening due to "pirating" cassette tapes. The music industry fervently believed the cassette tape was the end to music. Instead, both ushered in what is possibly the most profitable era of entertainment production period. Between tapes, then CDs/DVDs (where we all bought everything all over again) and all the new tech and news ways to deliver the entertainment, there was once again an explosively growing industry, who at the same time doom-sayed whenever they could, and criminalized as much as they could everything they didn't directly control. In hindsight, we can understand the absurdity of the music and film industries believing our first ability to copy their products and/or remix them as being the End Times. And there's a very fishy feeling that this time is no different.

And here's the big-big point, the sort-of conclusion. The industry and the law comes to the people and declares something that is now accessible and available to them is illegal, immoral, and harmful. They proceed to fake or excessively blow up and overstate the evidence of the harm involved, which is pretty much the only thing we have to put on our side of the lady justice scale to determine if it is indeed immoral and, if it isn't, if it should even be illegal. The people do not have access to the information needed for which to determine any evidence themselves, because it's corporate and private. Instead of being given better evidence, the law and the industry instead begins to get aggressive. Which is classic bullying - "I don't have to explain it to you, I just have to make you do what I want you to do." Now we know we're being bullied, and the only people that can give us any real reason to stop resisting (real evidence), won't do so. Or, as we suspect is likely, can't do so.

We have evidence of an industry making record profits. Movies with record budgets, and studios with record output (though now shrinking in number due to an increase in tentpoles, but not in total money spent or earned). We also have evidence that the more we use the internet, and the more we gain access to content via whatever methods we most prefer, the more the industries react to meet us at least halfway.

And HERE is the biggest point of all: the internet is the first time in the history of industrialized society where the people realize (even if borderline-unconsciously) that we have leverage over the industry itself. Naturally, we're being told to let it go and give it wholesale over to the industry, to run, and regulate, and police, and price. And naturally, we're saying f*ck you very much no.

It's been persuasively argued that DRM has little to do with protecting content, as you technologically you cannot both show something and hide it at the same time. Meaning once you've paid, and it displays for you, it's no longer protected in any significant way that can't be circumnavigated. However that doesn't make DRM useless, it actually points to DRM's true purpose: to control how people consume products legally.

QUOTE: "Arguing that DRM doesn’t work is, it turns out, missing the point. DRM is working really well in the video and book space. Sure, the DRM systems have all been broken, but that doesn’t matter to the DRM proponents. Licensed DVD players still enforce the restrictions. Mass market providers can’t create unlicensed DVD players, so they remain a black or gray market curiosity. DRM failed in the music space not because DRM is doomed, but because the content providers sold their digital content without DRM, and thus enabled all kinds of players they didn’t expect (such as “MP3″ players). Had CDs been encrypted, iPods would not have been able to read their content, because the content providers would have been able to use their DRM contracts as leverage to prevent it. DRM’s purpose is to give content providers control over software and hardware providers, and it is satisfying that purpose well."

Piracy, and free internet the way it exists (mostly) today, is the only leverage we have against the industry locking down and returning to the way they used to control output back in the 80's and 90's. We sense this, even if we might not "know" this. As long as we continue to resist and use the free internet freely, the industry is forced to adapt and come to us, at least part way. This in no way has stopped them making more money than they ever have before, but it does allow for us to have a voice and an impact on deciding how our entertainment will be delivered, in what format, in what timeline, and at what price.

Here's a parting quote (from
"Let me tell you what a pirate actually is. It's just a word. And that word is a weapon. Corporations and governments will use that word to try to destroy our freedom and halt progress. They'll use it to try to turn us against each other. When big business talks about a pirate, it's creating a bogeyman that will be used to justify the continuation of its worst practices. We have to reject it, every time. There are no pirates. There's only me and you."

And that's the core of it: there's only me and you. If something is wrong, we have to discuss the evidence of such wrongness, and sensible disincentives that match the consequences to society for doing it anyway. And if the consequences are in fact positive? Or an equal mix? Then we have to discuss the need for disincentives at all, certainly the legal ones.

If you want to brand your neighbor a criminal, or immoral, or unethical, then show him WHY this is so. If all you can do is tell us that it is so, with no evidence that can be substantiated, then yes, one side is being "wrong" and immoral. But it might not be the one you think.

Todd BrownApril 28, 2013 10:34 AM

This is a GREAT, well thought out response, Dave, and thank you for it. One of the things that has kept me doing Twitch for so long is that we are, in general, blessed with intelligent and articulate readers who are able to really engage with issues and you've done exactly that here.

And, honestly, I have nothing here to really disagree with. I might quibble with how reliable some of the studies linked to really are - having worked in the sciences I know first hand how easy it is to manipulate results to match your own bias, and that's true on both sides - and I definitely throw up a flag whenever someone equates the effects of music piracy - where the dominant revenue stream for the actual artists is live performance, so any exposure is good exposure from that perspective - with the effects of film piracy - where the film is the only thing and any lost sale is a straight hit to the pocket - but that's a rabbit hole that nobody will ever come out of, honestly. And you're absolutely right that the impact is impossible to quantify because doing so ultimately means making assumptions about what people WOULD have done if they hadn't downloaded, which is ultimately impossible. So nobody is EVER going to agree on that, no matter what approach is taken. It's part of the problem in assessing what the issue actually is: Everything fundamentally is anecdotal on both sides. But here are a couple of anecdotes:

1. I have never in my life met anyone with access to a VideoScan account who questions that piracy has had a direct impact on legal sales. Not a single one. When you have direct access to the actual numbers it is very clear that sales are spinning out, particularly for the smaller, lower margin pictures, which is why distribution has shifted further and further towards the blockbuster model where you can at least hope for the impulse buy in Walmart to keep your numbers up.

2. On The Raid thing, you won't find any news stories because, honestly, it's just not newsworthy at this point. Because everything leaks, everything gets pirated, and everyone takes a hit. There's no news. But as for how I have the numbers, it's pretty simple. I'm a producer on the film and - in Indonesia, at least - local films are self distributed by their makers (in this case the director's own company) so we have direct access to the actual numbers with no worries about about anyone doctoring the books. There is no intermediary at all between us and the box office reporting in this case, which is why it's the only case that I've cited. I know these numbers are true and reliable in a way that I can't say in any other territory. And the drop in Indonesia was shocking and immediate. We went from holding 80% of the Week One box office to holding just 20% of the Week One box office in just two days - a freakishly large statistical drop that defies the standard pattern by a huge number - with event in the middle being the leak of a high resolution copy online that somehow got out of the mastering process in another country. There's literally nothing else to put it down to. The film leaked and in two days we went from being on pace to become the number two film in Indonesian history within the next couple weeks to being out of theaters. It was crazy.

That said, my real objection here is purely to say to the people who like to stamp their feet and say "I'm not hurting anything" that, "Yes you are." It's hard to quantify exactly how much, but you're hurting the industry I work in and my ability to make a living. I don't believe criminalization is the answer any more than you do and never have. I just get tetchy when people act as though I should thank them for taking something I worked for years on without paying anything for it.

My wife and I went and saw Alex Winter's Downloaded at HotDocs last night - great film, btw - and were talking about this quite a lot and I thoroughly believe that a full paradigm shift is needed within film distribution - one that ultimately leads to day and date releasing of all titles across all platforms worldwide. The gap between theatrical and home video doesn't - and cannot - work any more. Regional holdbacks REALLY don't work any more. You can't have an American distributor spend millions of dollars on an ad campaign convincing people they need to see something RIGHT NOW and then expect the rest of the world outside North America to happily sit and wait six - nine months for it to become available where they are. The consequences of that are predictable and obvious. Outmoded distribution models are CLEARLY contributing to the problem and there's really no practical reason why that can't be fixed right now other than stubborn resistance to change and the shrieking that comes from the theatrical exhibitors every time someone dares suggest changing the current system. Really, we may simply need to accept the fact that online distribution has ended theatrical distribution as a viable model outside of a niche market for the greater health of the overall industry. That exhibitor insisted upon gap between theatrical and video / VOD is an absolute KILLER and given that the real money on pretty much everything actual comes from those video numbers it's past time to flip the system from its current priorities.

Companies like Magnolia figured this out a while ago with the VOD services releasing things prior to theatrical and it's a system that works. Make it available as widely as possible and a much higher percentage of interested people will actually get it legitimately. That's been proven. Problem is the company's that are experimenting with this stuff are purely regional players while the companies that have the ability to enact this sort of change globally - i.e. the major studios - are the ones most resistant to the change.

It's a complex multi-faceted issue, where there is plenty of culpability to go around. While I wouldn't say that the studios have created the situation - I'm not ever going to lay the blame for a theft on the victim's feet - they clearly have refused to acknowledge the basic and far reaching changes in reality and have created a system where it is far, far more enticing to pirate than it needs to be. And to those who say it has no impact I just laugh and say yes it does. That future behavior is a hypothetical that can't really be quantified and therefore it's impossible to put a really definitive number on how much of an impact it has is no basis for saying it has no impact at all. The lack of firm data doesn't negate the fact that the video rental industry completely collapsed as available bandwidth rose. And it doesn't negate the fact that VOD is nowhere close to replacing those numbers. I tend to think that - our Raid experience notwithstanding - the rental market is where piracy has had the biggest impact - people who want to own long term are less likely to be satisfied with a download, while people who just want to watch and dispose are far more likely to simply take it than spend five bucks on a rental that they're just going to return anyway - but the loss of that market alone has had an ENORMOUS impact both in terms of lost jobs as all the big renters went under and also in terms of the sales you could make simply providing the rental shops with product. That's why the indie scene is so hard up right now ... the real money for everyone ranging from Miramax to Troma was in the rental market and that's just OVER.

davebaxterApril 28, 2013 7:38 PM

Definitely everything is anecdotal on both sides, though it has been easier to demonstrate the positive impacts of piracy (I'll refrain from any music comparisons since I agree that the music model w/ live performances is a different beast), most notably in publishing where books like "Go the F*ck to Sleep" become breakout hits due to illegal file sharing. With film, it's more tenuous as there's little difference between the digital file and the DVD/streaming version. Owning a physical book makes a difference to reading a digital file. Owning a DVD...not so much. And so the value exchange for not pirating becomes more problematical.

So the focus for film needs to be shifted from "how can we stop people from pirating the movie?" to "what will make people buy/financially support the movie?"

Brief responses to your numbered points:

1) I don't doubt this at all - piracy can't help but have a deep effect on the market, and I agree that the negative impact will be felt mostly on the low to mid budget film range, those movies where any purchase is a greater risk or at least a greater question to the buyer as to whether they'll be satisfied. Big budget fare may not be "satisfying" in one sense, but you always know what you're buying. Indie work is a bigger crap shoot, and it hasn't helped matters that distributors and even occasionally self-distributors have spent the last 20-25 years marketing their indie films in a shamelessly mainstream way, trying to make every film look like a bigger budget counterpart. We've all watched an overabundance of low-budget fare that turned out to be nothing like the DVD cover, poster, or trailer made it out to be. Which only increases the "I'm not going to buy it until I know what I'd actually be buying" stance. Yet Catch-22: once we have the illicit copy, why buy the approved version, as the illicit digital file is the same as the approved file (or close enough)?

Which goes back to needing to answer the question: How do we get people to buy it? Part of the answer is quality and originality and/or unique spectacle: low-budget film is going to be held to a higher and higher standard to compete. THE RAID, for all the problems it suffered in the domestic box office (I'll hit this below), does seem to have been supported worldwide, on the whole. With stronger than expected BO in the US, seemingly strong DVD/VOD sales (I don't have stats on this) a remake in the works, and a larger budget sequel in the works. That's a success in the current market, even if it could have/should have been bigger sans piracy.

Since piracy is likely to always be an option, there now needs to be a direct appeal to the audience to financially support any given project - such support is no longer a given simply because something is copyrighted and released. And I do think the general public is slowly but surely coming around to this understanding and new responsibility Crowdsource funding is a great example of this burgeoning new mindset - we're beginning to understand that we can (and should) financially support something if we ever want to see it, or if we want to see more of it. And I think indie filmmakers are going to need to become more savvy about this direct approach to convince their audience. The concept that distributors will simply make things happen and give your movie the best shot it can have is now outdated. Here's where I think books and film do align: much like how publishers no longer market on their own steam, and authors are expected to go MAKE their book succeed once it's on shelves, I think it's fair to say this is the same new expectation for low-budget filmmakers. And unfortunately, exposure isn't everything. Because the choice will remain for film: okay, now I know about it, but why am I paying for it? What makes it worth that?

2) Regarding THE RAID experience, that is indeed sad, and I'm sure frustrating. I don't know what the Indonesian economy is like right now, and specifically why the local populace would be so keen to watch a film on a computer for free vs. in the theater for money. But the fact that so many did choose this suggests that either the theater experience there isn't superior to watching at home, or that many people are desperate to not spend the money (even if they would have spent it and then been in the hole afterward - if there's one thing piracy has shown us, it's that people worldwide can't stop consuming entertainment, no matter what, we seem to have crossed some sort of Rubicon as a global culture and it's now sheer compulsion).

So next time maybe even in Indonesia make certain there's a digital, official alternative when it hits theaters. I'm sure that will come with its own big fat dilemmas, but probably better than just repeating the experience.

I think you're dead on with the distribution models - the need for a single release, across all platforms, and worldwide, is definitely where it's all going. There's the recent examples of ARBITRAGE and MARGIN CALL having found great success releasing on VOD first, and I think we'll eventually figure out what this "middle road" and/or "low budget" type film is that requires this approach. Tentpoles can do theatrical first. But everything else may need to prove itself on VOD and then have a theatrical run only after it's been popularized a bit. Like a second run after an Academy Award nod.

And I think that this is the actual "positive" impact of piracy. It's not the impossible-to-substantiate connection between piracy and increased revenue, but the fact that it is single handedly driving a total shift in the industry model. And I do think it's one that will usher in a new market that will be a golden age for indie film, much like VHS did back in the day. That's an argument that is twice as long as my last comment, so maybe another day, but I'm sure you can imagine the gist of that possibility.

There's still the question of perspective: you say "I'm not ever going to lay the blame for a theft at the victim's feet", but that's assuming the studios are the victims and it's not the victims themselves that are finally acting independently of the studios wishes. It's the problem with calling piracy "piracy" and "theft" or "stealing" because it naturally associates the act with a crime, and creates a victim out of one side and not the other. And yet much law-breaking and "theft" has been done by the "victims" throughout history. Studios have locked down and controlled, to a debilitating degree, the entire distribution and consumption chain. By doing so, they've made it impossible to have the buyer - the person who in fact financially supports their entire existence - have any say in the system. And without piracy, this would have continued indefinitely. The question as to whether the studios distributors/industry was victimizing the fimmakers themselves more so than any pirates, is also a question. In my eyes, piracy is leveling things in a way we've never seen before. The despair on the creative side comes from the fact that now creators have to contend with the audience as well as the industry - because now both sides are equally pushing their weight around, when in the past you only have to contend with the industry side.

I should also point out that there has been a very distinct connection made between piracy and the death of the rental market, yes. That's pretty much the only place that everyone agrees has died due to the rise of piracy, and which researchers have found plenty of convincing evidence on. Even that Anime DVD report I linked to that said piracy was helping DVD sales, specifically stated that Anime rentals on the other hand were toast.

Anyway, I'll be putting my money where my mouth is, eventually, as I'm in the process of producing and putting together the financing for a number of low-budget features, including some MA films by a particular indie stunt group that Twitch has covered a few times before, and who want to start working on better financed projects. There's a lot to navigate, but the opportunities are almost mind-boggling.