The Simpsons re-ran an earlier episode on piracy the night of the Oscars which perfectly articulated my blog. Enjoy quotes from the episode liberally sprinkled throughout.
Bart: “Homer, you don't need a theater to watch the movie. You just have to illegally download it.”
Homer: “Illegally download it...? Is that legal?”
Bart: “Who knows? But it sure is easy. I'll walk you through…”
Homer: “Wow! That was easy! All I had to do was click on…” -The Simpsons, “Steal This Episode”
If you have a movie-loving bone in your body, then you know that the Academy Awards was broadcast this past Sunday night. Sure, I could take this space to talk about how fun and quirky Jennifer Lawrence is, or how much better Tina Fey would have been than Ellen, or that of the 86 films that have been awarded Best Picture, 62 have also been awarded Best Director (sorry, Gravity). But instead I want to pose an interesting question… Do the Academy Awards actually encourage movie piracy?
It's a crazy proposition, I know, but hear me out…
Of the nine films up for best picture this year, only five of them were available for “legal”-buy or rent the disc, buy or rent the download via iTunes, Vudu, etc.-at-home viewing. If you wanted to watch American Hustle, Her, Philomena, or The Wolf of Wall Street prior to the Academy Awards, you had to turn to some form of questionably legal website with even more questionable picture and sound quality.
Homer: “Theaters? Ha! All I need to see this movie is a laptop and a website based in a country that is really just an offshore oil platform!”
Like many people, I subscribe to Netflix (Blu-ray disc program, represent!) and I am more than happy to pay my monthly dues in exchange for watching the movie in the best manner possible. I have a terrific home theater, with a 115-inch, 2.35 aspect screen and Panamorph DC-1 lens that looks stunning. And I made that investment because I enjoy movie watching and want it to be in the best quality possible.
The best movies and actors have the ability to connect with and impact us greatly, and when you've seen the nominated films, it's easy to feel a connection with them. I can remember a few years ago literally sitting on the edge of my seat and then jumping up and cheering when Robin Williams won for Best Actor for Good Will Hunting. I loved the film, I loved the writing, and I especially loved Williams' interpretation of Sean Maguire. But, more and more, the disc release dates are lagging, and when the movie is unavailable legally-and there is so much hype around an event like the Oscars where people want to watch the films before the awards-people are increasingly turning to online streaming pirated content.
Many people who would blanch at the thought of stealing a pack of gum are more than happy to visit sites like Pirate Bay to find virtually any movie they might want. Because if it's readily available on the internet and can be yours with just a couple of anonymous clicks, it's not really stealing to watch it, right? I mean, it's not like they are the ones that copied the work print or Academy screener…
Marge: “Your country doesn't think illegally downloading movies is wrong?”
Lisa: “The people of Sweden believe all movies should be shared freely.”
Marge: “How is that not stealing?”
Swedish Ambassador: “Rah! Your Hollywood studios are the real thieves! Claiming all of their hit movies have lost money. I spit on their bookkeeping.”
Homer: “Yeah! And why don't they make a sequel to Taken where the Hangover guys get taken and the only ones that can rescue them is Fast & Furious?!”
Bart: “Man, I would love to pirate that!”
Swedish Ambassador: “As would the proud people of Sweden.”
Leading up to the Oscars, I saw many people on Twitter talking about how they were going to be spending their weekends downloading and binge watching all of the best picture nominated movies. I spoke with one user on Twitter who commented that they had downloaded all of the best picture films weeks before the Awards. According to this person, “I don't really worry about viruses; I've never gotten one from [Pirate Bay] before. There are people who upload frequently that will have a symbol next to their name that tells you they're trusted. There are also usually comments by other people who have downloaded that torrent that lets you know that it's good and what the quality is like.”
This isn't the first year where the best pic films haven't been made available for “legal” viewing. In fact, last year was even worse, as there were only TWO of the nine films available, with Argo being released barely a week before the awards.
Lenny: “That was so much better than the cinema. It mixes the wonder of movie going with the rush of stealing.”
Carl: “All we want is brand-new, big-budget entertainment in our homes for nothin'. Why doesn't Hollywood get that?”
I recently reviewed a movie server from RipWave Media in the March 2014 issue of Residential Systems (review to appear shortly online) that-among many other features - facilitated online movie watching in the simplest manner possible by automatically aggregating an immense selection of films. With this, I watched the movie Lone Survivor two weeks before its theatrical release. I also watched Captain Phillips and Catching Fire weeks before their video releases and started — but didn't finish — The Desolation of Smaug just days after it came out in the theater. (The quality was just atrocious. Think “guy-in-a-movie-theater-with-a-camcorder.”) The system skates on the thinnest of legal and moral high ground by streaming the content from servers outside the country. Because the content is never downloaded to your computer and you aren't hosting/seeding the title, the system is obeying the letter of the law.
Homer (at a movie theater): “Hey, they tricked us! That's a commercial! If I wanted to pay for commercials I can't skip, I'd sign up for Hulu Plus! You're shushing me? This guy's on his cell phone, she's texting, he's sexting, and that guy brought a baby to a 9 o'clock movie. What happened to the movies?! First they got worse than TV and now this!”
The fact is, more and more people want to stay at home and watch movies. With the price of a movie ticket and concessions, the hassle of arranging a movie night out (if you have kids, you'll understand) and then the questionable quality of the theatrical experience once you get there, it isn't difficult to see why the home experience is preferable for so many people.
Maybe by next year's Oscars, we will have the option to watch all the films at home legally and in the highest quality possible before the gold statues are handed out.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.