If you queried a random sampling of people, my guess is that most of them would say they were generally honest and law-abiding. Likely they would never think of walking into a Best Buy or Walmart and stuffing a Blu-ray or DVD into their jacket pocket and leaving without paying, even if they knew they would get away with it. However, that is essentially what millions of people do every year when it comes to pirating audio and video content.
An anti-piracy advertisement from the Motion Picture Association
A recent email from the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) featured a link to a story posted on the Variety website, with the title, “Piracy Survey: 39% of U.S. Consumers Don’t Care That Studios Lose Money From Illegal Sharing.”
Granted, with only 1,190 responses from U.S. adults over 18, the survey was small, but it was weighted to be representative “of all American adult consumers.” The study found that while most people know that piracy is illegal—with 74 percent of people acknowledging that producing or sharing pirated content is illegal and 69 percent agreeing that streaming or downloading pirated content is illegal—many just don’t care. Nearly a third (32 percent) of those surveyed said they watch pirated content. More disturbing (and as the title to the piece alluded), 39 percent said they didn’t care if pirating caused studios to lose money and hurt their ability to create new content.
I think it’s safe to say that the modern age of piracy started with Napster, when it somehow became not only OK to steal music (and then movies) in a way stealing other things was never tolerated, but it actually became cool, with people bragging about the hundreds and even thousands of things that they had downloaded. And it doesn’t matter how easy it is to find a version online and download/stream it or if you don’t think it’s hurting anyone, or that it’s somehow your right because you bought something in the past, or that Hollywood is making enough money, or whatever other excuse people like to use to justify it.
But at the end of the day, pirating content is stealing.
Much like the proliferation of pornography in the internet age, where a person who would never dream of actually walking into one of those creepy, windowless, neon-lit “XXX MOVIES!” stores and buying a disc or magazine can now sit in the privacy of their home and search “barely legal teens” or “lusty matures” without anyone knowing, grabbing Hollywood’s latest content is frequently just a few clicks away. Who would ever know? And what’s the harm?
In the past when a film was actually film, pirating a movie generally involved using a video camera and VCR duplicating machine, with distribution limited to shady transactions on street corners. But in the digital age, where the content is just sitting on hard drives in bits and bytes of data, it is far easier to steal, distribute, and consume.
And now instead of shaky handheld versions, copies are often studio files or high-quality copies of screeners. Add in out-of-country, offshore hosting sites, the proliferation of high-speed internet, and the low price of terabytes worth of storage, and you have a perfect incubator for piracy to thrive.
As home technology professionals, we deal with people from time to time who openly boast about how they’ve downloaded the latest blockbuster straight from the internet, or ask us to incorporate some jail-broken device or hard drive with terabytes of illicit content into their systems. I had a brief encounter with the shady side of streaming when reviewing the RipWave Media Server for Resi a few years back. This device wholeheartedly embraced aggressive streaming and included streaming services called High Tide, Low Tide, and Rip Tide that scoured the internet to locate a huge source of movie and TV content, including many things that felt questionably legal at best. For example, I watched Lone Survivor two weeks before its official home release, and the Desolation of Smaug days after its theatrical release. Because this content streams from outside the country and isn’t downloaded to your drive, the company claimed it was technically not illegal, but it felt a dark shade of gray and kind of icky.
Personally, I chose to either rent my movies via disc through Netflix, or buy them, either on disc or a bit-accurate version from Kaleidescape. Why? Three reasons.
First, it’s the right thing to do. To me this is a high road issue, and renting/buying a movie is a small price to pay. As a creative person who fancies himself a writer that sells content for actual cash money, I wouldn’t want people stealing from me. And I don’t think that $1 to $2 for a rental or $20 for buying a $100,000,000 to $200,000,000 movie is too much to ask. Plus, when I purchase from Kaleidescape’s store, I feel like I am directly supporting the company, which is a bonus win for me.
Second, I have invested quite a bit of money into my home theater system, and I want to enjoy movies in the very best quality possible. Some downloads are pretty awful. Others come loaded with viruses. Even legal streaming from companies like Netflix doesn’t cut it for me. When I sit down to watch a movie in my theater, I want to watch in high def (preferably Ultra HD), with the best lossless audio track I can. This is definitely something we should impress on our clients: that getting the most out of the systems we install requires feeding it quality content.
Third, I love movies and want Hollywood to keep making them. I’m not saying a few thousand illegal downloads is going to prevent a sequel or put a company out of business, but it’s possible that lower budget, independent films could have a tougher time getting made if there’s no revenue stream. Also, I don’t mind “rewarding” the director, actors, screenwriters, studios, key grips, etc. for a good movie by buying it. I’ve purchased Star Wars over and over, and I don’t begrudge George Lucas one single cent of that money.
Many people seem to take the viewpoint that piracy is only wrong if you are the one copying, uploading, hosting, or distributing the content. However, the 50-plus-million downloads of a mainstream film certainly leaves a pretty significant hole in a studio’s bottom line. And that’s something that should concern movie lovers everywhere.