A reader writes:
I’m a former IP attorney and thought I’d respond to the reader who wrote:
I torrented a bunch of movies last year. 9/10 were terrible. Like really fucking terrible. (Planet of the Apes, I’m looking at you). I’m glad I didn’t pay for them. And I don’t feel bad. Because I wouldn’t have paid to see them otherwise … and certainly not in a movie theater, arguably the worst experience in the Western world apart from commercial air travel.
I’ve heard this argument before, and while I understand the reader’s point, he does miss the larger issue: he DID see the movies, and the people who created them deserve to be compensated as a result. His claim that he wouldn’t otherwise have paid to see them isn’t a particularly good one – like arguing that he would never have bought an SUV so it’s OK that he stole one. That you might regret paying to see the movie is part of the consumption of art.
The generally corollary to this argument is “I didn’t really steal anything since it’s digital and the artist/record company still has possession of it afterwards.” But that’s also true when you swipe a CD from Tower Records; the master recordings are still owned by the same people afterwards. The fact that no physical object has changed hands doesn’t change the fundamental nature of it. You’re still taking something that isn’t yours to take. The only thing that’s changed is the likelihood of being caught.
Ethics is what you do when nobody is watching. Make no mistake – this kind of thing substantially injures artists.
One artist is piiiissed:
As an independent filmmaker who has had most of his films illegally shared on torrent sites, I have heard every excuse you can imagine, including the usual “I wasn’t going to pay for it anyway” bullshit from your “Fuck Hollywood” reader. These people sound like 5-year-olds trying to justify behavior that they know is wrong. It’s stealing, period.
To the torrent apologists, try this:
Get busted for shoplifting, and then tell the police you weren’t going to pay for that stuff anyway. See how that goes over. Or steal cable TV for a while, and when you get caught, complain that you weren’t enjoying most of the shows. I’m sure they’ll let it slide. Or the next time you need plumbing work, tell the guy when he’s done that you won’t pay for it, but you’ll give him “promotion” for his company. See how much he appreciates that.
99% of the people your reader refers to in his “Fuck Hollywood” rant are independent, far-from-rich filmmakers like me, who are just scraping by from film to film. Directors like me, and a whole bunch of blue-collar and middle-class production crew members, ARE “Hollywood.” The less I make on my latest film, the less I can put into the next one, and the less I can pay the people who work on them. I spend YEARS making just one film, and when it comes out, self-entitled pricks are ripping it online for free within days, with a nice “Fuck you” for my efforts.
I’m sorry you had to wait a few months until it was released in exactly your preferred format; were the millions of other download options available then not enough to hold you over? And let’s not pretend the only films getting stolen are the ones that are currently in theaters. I have one film that has been out for years; you can buy it for just $5 in any format you want, any place you want, from Walmart to Amazon. And yet I see torrent users still begging to have it uploaded for them for free. Here’s a crazy notion: If you don’t want to pay for something, then you don’t get to see it. Please stop stealing my work.
As for the question of why the movie/music industry still exists if artists can just sell their stuff directly, a question: and market it how? Do you know how many films, albums, and books are released every single year? Self-distribution and marketing becomes another full-time job, with another huge investment for marketing costs. Most artists can’t do that, and they put time and money into their next film – especially when, you know, people are stealing it.
We asked that reader to plug some of his work:
Sure, you can link to my films:
The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter: America’s Most Horrific Serial Killer
(That’s the older one that I self-distributed at first and found uploaded to torrent sites within days of its release. You can get it for $4 now!)
The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat
Another reader quotes another:
And if you know of an “Industry” exec who would like to make an argument for his continued existence, please let him make his case. I’m listening.
I’m not an industry exec. But I am extremely fond of a British company called Big Finish Productions. They produce audio stories (think of olde time radio plays for modern audiences), based around various properties; most notably Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Dark Shadows and the like. They’re expensive to produce (about 25,000 pounds for a two-hour story, from what I’ve heard), and usually have six to eight actors, plus sound effects, plus original music, plus behind-the-scenes materials.
I’ve talked with several people who work for them. One revealed to me that due to torrenting of Big Finish audios, this person hadn’t received even a single royalty check in fifteen years. Another told me that for every thousand copies or so sold, at least three or four thousand are downloaded. This is a company that has razor-thin profit margins, and had to stop production of at least one series, Sapphire and Steel, because it was being torrented and not purchased.
So while it might not hurt larger companies (which still doesn’t excuse stealing from them), it certainly hurts smaller ones. Bottom line: if you want creative people to produce their products, pay for them.
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