Who Does Torrenting Hurt? Ctd

You can review the whole Dish debate so far here. A half-dozen readers below are pro-torrenting to some extent or another. The first:

Loving the thread on torrenting.  I was about to write my thoughts on it, but I’m lazy and this cartoon from The Oatmeal basically sums it all up anyway.

Another reader:

You seem to have had a dearth of confessed pirates who aren’t total dicks, so I thought I’d write in. Like a lot of your other readers, I’m a Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriber (and Dish subscriber from day one!), a cable subscriber, and I’m really looking forward to HBO’s standalone Go service.

Nonetheless, I pirate. But I’m an ethical pirate, in that I only pirate media that are out of print or have not been distributed in the U.S. I mainly consume foreign TV shows that are not distributed here, or have no imminent distribution planned. For example, I used to pirate Doctor Who until BBC America finally got on the stick and offered a day and date release for the last few seasons. Until then, it was a six-month wait to see it, and spoilers abounded by then. U.K. shows are increasingly getting distributed here, but there’s a ton of other quality programming produced in Europe that never gets distributed in the U.S. And some of the shows that eventually surface are exclusive to one carrier, like Black Mirror, which showed up on DirecTV two years after it aired on Channel 4.

Another zooms out:

Art is not some onerous task that nobody wants to do unless you bribe them with enough money.  There are zillions of creative people who are already longing to make art.  The relevance of money is not to motivate them to make art – as if artists are a bunch of pissy John Galts threatening to take their toys and go home – rather, it is to enable them to do what they already want to do anyway.

I saw this all the time in my days as a starving artist.

Artists who can afford to make art will do it; artists who can’t won’t.  But there’s more than one way to make an artist’s life affordable.  One is to make sure that payment and royalties find their way back to the artist, but another more effective way is simply to make art a less expensive proposition.  Technology is doing that.  Today there is more music, literature, visual art, etc, being produced and made available than ever before in history.  The reason is that you no longer need your own recording studio or printing press to make it, and you no longer need an elaborate distribution and marketing program to get it out there.

Another is on the same page:

What follows here is NOT a moral judgment, or a judgment of value. It is simply to state that, with the Internet, many things are changing dramatically and we may be incapable to stop that change, for good or bad.

Let me use a metaphor related to what the IP lawyer wrote. Let’s suppose I am an sculptor, and I make a really beautiful sculpture, and then I put said sculpture in a public park. Then, from everybody that passes by and looks at it, I say: “Hey, you DID see that sculpture, now you should pay some money for that, after all I do deserve a compensation for my work! And if you don’t pay, I’ll sue you!” Everybody would just laugh at me. Well, the fact is that now we all live in the world’s largest public park. It is called the Internet.

You don’t want your movie to be pirated? Very simple: make it in celluloid. And only make copies in celluloid. There, problem solved.

The fact of the matter is that, once you go digital, there is simply no way to keep your artwork out of the Internet. Some people are counting on Digital Rights Management (DRM) as being the savior. However, I work with DRM, and I can say from first hand experience that DRM only gives you a brief interval before a digital artwork reaches the Internet for free anyway. Major corporations are putting billions of dollars in coming up with more and more elaborate DRM schemes, and still piracy thrives.

The only thing I know for sure is that trying to put the Internet genie back in the bottle is impossible. We will just have to create a new mindset for the Internet age.

Another sorta sees both sides:

Almost indisputably, it is unethical to download and watch torrented films one didn’t pay for, while also being true that almost all torrenters wouldn’t have seen those films anyway and the artist therefore isn’t out the cash. An illegally downloaded film or music cd does not equal a lost sale. It just does not.

In the five years before I got torrent, I would see maybe five movies a year in the theaters, generally action flicks deserving of the big screen experience. After getting set up with a torrent client, I starting watching dozens of films each year at home, in addition to still going to the theater about five times. But there is no way I’d have gone to see any of those downloaded movies in the theater. The artists involved did not lose out on my money. The overriding reason I watched the films is because I could get them for free. If I couldn’t get them for free, I wouldn’t watch them. Period.

Another sees a lot of gray area:

I just wanted to push back a bit on the idea put forth by some of your commenters who say torrenting The Godfather is no different than going into Best Buy and walking out with a DVD of The Godfather under your jacket.  That’s nuts, and I don’t think anyone actually thinks that, at least not in any consistent way.  Consider some hypotheticals.

1.  I rent The Godfather on Blu-Ray from the local library.  When I get home, I find the disc is scratched and it won’t play.  I download it instead.  Stealing?

2.  I buy the premium cable TV package, but I’m usually working when the shows I watch are airing, so I download the shows after they air.  Stealing?

3.  My girlfriend buys all the Game of Thrones DVDs and invites me over to watch them with her.  But I have a larger TV, so I want to watch them at my house.  I download the first few episodes.  Stealing?

4.  I go out and buy Rubber Soul on vinyl.  But I want to listen to it on my iPod, so I also download Rubber Soul in mp3 form.  Stealing?

5.  I see 12 Years A Slave in theaters three times.  I buy the DVD for my aunt and for my grandfather.  Ten years from now, I haven’t seen it in awhile, so I download it.  Stealing?

6.  I buy a hardcover copy of The Cider House Rules.  I leave it on the train accidentally, losing it before I started it.  So I download an e-book copy.  Stealing?

None of these is intended as some “nyah-nyah” rhetorical gotcha, and none is a slam dunk one way or the other in my view.  And I’m obviously not claiming, because it would be ludicrous to do so, that everyone who torrents the latest album by The Arcade Fire only did so because they were out of money from buying copies for everyone in their immediate family.  But I think most people would at least see some ambiguity in the rightness or wrongness of each of the above actions, whereas nobody would see any ambiguity if I had just gone into a store and stolen hard copies of all the items in question instead.  If that’s true, I think that gives lie to the idea that torrenting is the same as theft.

One more reader:

On the bright side for musicians, many may not have had the audience they do now without file sharing, meaning they can gain more in your revenue. Unfortunately, for some that means constantly touring and many (like Grizzly Bear) still couldn’t afford health insurance when they had broken fairly big pre-Obamacare.  Under major labels (and I’m guessing many minor), stealing music tends to hurt the label more than the band since bands rarely make much of anything off of album sales. Similarly, bands rarely hold the rights to their masters so bad you stolen Beatles music for a long time you would’ve been stealing from Michael Jackson.

I’m all for a system that continues to employ the sound engineers, production assistants, etc., but let’s not pretend that what existed pre-Napster was great for artists.  The recent Black Swan lawsuit showed just how exploitative the film industry is of (unpaid) interns. I think another reader’s question about executives stands and I’ll alter it: why do they get to make millions when some people work for nothing?

Who Does Torrenting Hurt? Ctd

Everything is Free from Rain Perry on Vimeo.

Gillian Welch’s lovely 2001 lament is as relevant now as ever. Released at the height of Napster, Welch saw the plug pulled on musicians’ ability to make a living, and correctly predicted what’s happening now – the music business is circling the drain. The single is available for purchase at CDBaby (cdbaby.com/cd/rainperrymarkhallman). (iTunes is coming.)

A former freeloader writes:

Here I was, having just done my little trick to get around The Dish’s pay-meter, only to read the piiiissed artist’s argument … and now I’m a subscriber.

You can join him and 30,462 others here! Another subscriber:

I used to torrent a ton. I used to download 17 TV shows a week, plus movies, plus an artist’s entire discography at once. I don’t anymore. I have Hulu, which has freed me from my physical TV and even my cable package. I have Pandora and Spotify for my music needs. I have Netflix for on-demand movies and DVD rentals. So I don’t need to pirate anymore. I pay less for all of that than I did for cable (which I had to offset my pirate guilt). And the Industries are still getting screwed! It’s a win/win for me!

Another former pirate:

Forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for the music and film industries; they brought this on themselves. Like the rest of the Napster generation, growing up I pirated everything – music, movies, sofware, you name it.  The thing is, now that I’m older, with a job, I’d rather just pay and get something legit. I can afford it, and in theory it should be less hassle. The ease of buying music on iTunes was the main reason I started paying money for things.

Having said that, trying to be a good citizen with TV and movies is the worst. Three brief anecdotes:

  1. At Christmas I discovered my girlfriend has never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, and decided to remedy that.  So I loaded up iTunes on my laptop, paid for a rental copy, then went to beam it onto our TV.  Only “You cannot play this movie as your TV does not support Copy Protection”.  Great work fellas.  You know what movie can be played on my TV? The pirated version I downloaded 10 minutes later.
  2. The very same girlfriend, it also turned out, hadn’t seen Wall-E.  Well that won’t do; a day or so later I went to rent a copy.  Unfortunately, Wall-E is only available for purchase – at three times the cost of a rental – which is hardly worth it when we only want to watch it once.
  3. A year or so ago a friend recommended I check out Battlestar Galactica; so I went to buy it online.  The cheapest digital version I could find was £50.  The same thing on DVD was £19 from Amazon. In what universe is the digital copy of a TV series significantly more expensive than a physical copy requiring warehouse space and shipping costs?

Three times there, I was at the brink of spending some money and was thwarted by the stupidity and greed of the TV industry.  Legit copies of things cost more than they should, are burdened with horseshit copy protection and other restrictions, or aren’t available at all.  The only way to beat piracy is to offer a superior product, and right now, that isn’t happening.

Another reader on how people are willing to pay for content as long as the industries can get with the times:

When I think about buying data, I want it to be mine. If I want to store backups, that shouldn’t be technically illegal. If I want to compress a movie so it fits on my portable drive, I should be able to. Ditto if I want to, for example, add a subtitle track, delete an audio track I don’t need, or even just trim a movie down to a selection of favorite clips. I have been stopped from doing all these things, with data that I paid to own, by Digital Rights Management. And then there are horror stories about purchased content simply disappearing from your devices one day, or becoming inaccessible because that old DRM format is no longer supported.

I recently paid a high price for an indie film because it was available online in a DRM-free format (independent distributor). Felt great. And kudos to the music industry for already caving on this one.

Another looks back to the early days:

I think it is worth looking back at how torrenting started.  Namely Napster.  At that point in time you did not have an option to buy a song.  It just didn’t exist.  I could go out and buy a shitty CD with one good single for $18.99 (while the much more expensive to make cassette only cost $9.99) or I could do without.  So I had pricing that didn’t make sense and the inability to buy the product I wanted.  You bet I stole a lot of music.

Eventually Apple started the iTunes store.  I could buy at a reasonable price what I wanted and I did.  Furthermore, there seemed to be an explosion of smaller labels (probably always existed but I just wasn’t aware) that put out albums that played solid from beginning to end.  I bought lots of those.  Most the people I know who stole music went legit once there was a decent way to do so.  Today I subscribe to Spotify, buy music on iTunes if it isn’t on Spotify, and occasional buy a physical album if I love it or want to support the artist.  Also, I go to shows, which I think is still the best form of revenue for an artist.

I do, however, torrent (okay, steal) TV shows, live sports, and occasionally movies.  I always look to buy first but sometimes it just isn’t an option. Want to watch ESPN? Subscribe to cable.  Want to watch Game Of Thrones? Subscribe to cable and HBO.  Want to watch Battle Star Galactica?  Go buy physical copies of the seasons.

Napster put pressure on the record industry to change their model, and now torrenting is putting pressure on the television and the movie industry to do the same.  I subscribe to Netflix and I’m an Amazon Prime member.  You can bet if HBO is offered at a reasonable price I would buy that as well.  With the football playoff I would probably pay to watch ESPN as a standalone (cheaper than a bar tab I’m sure). I would buy lots of things if I did not have to maintain a cable subscription or go to movie theater to get them.

Follow the whole thread here. More of your emails soon.

Who Does Torrenting Hurt? Ctd

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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!)

Lost Airmen of Buchenwald

The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat

Thanks again.

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.

On that note, subscribe to the Dish here!  More of your emails to come; follow the thread here.

Who Does Torrenting Hurt? Ctd

Several readers respond to the question:

While I’m not about to defend torrenting per se – of course people should pay for the content they consume – I think it’s important to question the facts underlying Freddie De Boer’s argument. His idea seems to be that the arts and entertainment industry is being destroyed by torrent sites, yet the hard data doesn’t show an industry in the midst of a torrent-soaked crisis. Sales of movie tickets have been stable for 20 years now while revenue has doubled, US book publishers are showing healthy revenue and profits and, while music industry profits have declined (to a mere $15bn I might add), sales of vinyl are soaring, making a mockery of the idea that people won’t pay for a physical product anymore.

It should also be pointed out that torrenting can’t be solely blamed for any declines in revenue or artist’s income.

Amazon has been selling secondhand DVDs and books for years while the rise of Spotify and Netflix have clearly bitten deep into revenue streams. Add that to the fact that the US and Europe are still trying to shrug off an ugly economic slump and it’s not hard to see why creativity isn’t paying as well as it used to.

Finally, of course, it should be acknowledged that the idea of lots of people earning a healthy income through art is a very recent one. Shakespeare and DaVinci were wholly dependent on rich benefactors. Literary giants like Joyce, Tolkien and Orwell all had full-time jobs outside of their writing. Sadly, some of our greatest geniuses – Schubert, Poe, Van Gogh – died in penury. I’d love to see a world where novelists and musicians can earn a living wage through their art, but it’s hard to argue that it’s the norm in the wide span of human history.

Another builds on the reader’s point that “torrenting can’t be solely blamed”:

Mr. deBoer makes the same mistake I often see regarding this issue: the assumption that the decline in music revenues must solely be driven by the rise of file-sharing. In the 20 or so years since file-sharing started en masse, we’ve seen:

  • a major move from priced-to-rent VHS movies to priced-to-own DVDs, eating into the typical person’s entertainment budget;
  • an explosion in the use of gaming consoles, also eating into the typical person’s entertainment budget;
  • because of these two factors, a drop in the amount of time that people spend listening to music;
  • also because of these first two factors, a drop in the amount of shelf space that record stores devoted to music, as they brought more DVDs and games onto the floor;
  • the consolidation of the radio airwaves by companies such as ClearChannel (now iHeartMedia) with central programming that lowers the impact of local artists on the airwaves;
  • probably spurred by these last two factors, a drop in the number of artists that a record label is willing to gamble on, since they see fewer avenues to sell into;
  • the move of music-advertising channels like MTV and VH1 from videos and into original content creation;
  • and of course, a new sales model (iTunes) that emphasizes the single and dampens interest in purchasing an entire album.

Given all of these structural changes in the industry, how could music sales not be expected to drop? Certainly file-sharing has had an impact (and a larger one than the torrent supporters admit), but it often gets blamed for the entire drop in sales, while the industry’s sea-change is ignored.

Another reader doesn’t pull punches:

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.

That may change when Alamo Drafthouse opens in Brooklyn later this year. They take film seriously (they will eject you from the theater for merely looking at your phone during the film) and offer a variety of freshly prepared, wholesome food. And beer. BEER!

You know what I didn’t torrent? The Interview. Cuz I didn’t have to wait to pay Google to watch it in the private movie theater that is my living room.

Fuck Hollywood.

Another makes that point more delicately:

The author of this article misses the real question. In these days of easier and easier production and distribution, why do we need a “Music Industry”? If everyone in the “Industry” disappeared tomorrow how would the world be diminished?  Music would still be performed, recorded and distributed, listened to and loved. The only thing that would change is that a completely unneeded middle man would be tossed into the rubbish heap of history. An even cursory review of the history of the “Music Industry” would show that there are many more causes more deserving of our sympathy and support.

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.

Who Does Torrenting Hurt?

Freddie identifies “pro-torrenting cliches that need to die.” At the top of his list:

Studies say pirates pay for more content than people who don’t pirate. Those studies are old, small, and of dubious methodology, involving self-reported data. Of course, none of the people who constantly invokes them cares to look at them too closely. They are believed because they tell people what they want to hear. But even if this claim is true, it doesn’t prove what the people who say it think it proves. The question is, do these pirates pay enough to replace the revenues that are lost to the system, as a whole, from piracy? And given the way that the music industry’s revenues have cratered, and the ongoing slowdown in the movie industry, the answer appears to be no.