Tell me why… Internet Piracy Is Such a Bad Thing?

In the first of a new series of articles exploring alternative views on established ideas within the TV & film industries, Decky Donohoe takes a look at online piracy and the curious potential it has for a positive effect on the future of film and filmmakers. 

By Decky Donohoe

The age of internet downloads, like anything else worth talking about, has a seedy underbelly. The culture of illegally pirating media dawned with peer-to-peer file sharing (effectively giving your computer cancer; we’re looking at you, LimeWire) and came to media attention with the public crucifixion of Napster. This can, however be viewed as a valuable resource for artists and consumers alike. Before you shoot me, let’s consider a few things.

When the lid blew off the industry in the 2000s, music labels panicked. Haemorrhaging cash and losing ground to the pirates, they found it viable, in their infinite wisdom to sell rights to the Apple overlords. Good going.

What Steve Jobs offered was a faucet to trickle studio created music to the masses through iTunes – for a price. This effectively turned a crippled, global conglomerate into a money making monolith. Again.

A good run down of the happenings can be found here.

But what happened to the artists? They hit the road. They toured. More opportunities were created for fans to see their favourite bands doing what they do best; playing music. And not just some fifteenth studio album perfunctory stage events. If you go to see Metallica, The Rolling Stones (for some reason) or Radiohead you could find them playing (if off the aforementioned tours) a sort of best-of compilation of their hits you used to only find in your uncle’s tape collection. Why? Because touring has become the only (semi) guaranteed means of securing an income.

I’m not saying these artists, producers, developers et al. should not be paid their dues. They should. I think they are paid enough, they do not need to be millionaires nor do they need to be sitting back and living off the royalties of that one Christmas song they forced me to endure to listen on loop in my years working in retail (cheers, Mariah). They should be under pressure to keep going, keep on producing and keep us staring into our own souls (ah, Thom Yorke) and wondering what we could achieve were we in their shoes. And if they can’t? Go do something else. Move over, it’s our turn. Just because you’re Britney Spears and once made a lot of people rich should not entitle you to be the soundtrack to everyone’s morning commute, spewing out whatever your producers think will be in fashion for cheaply produced, trending tabloid-trash music.

So what about our beloved movies? Instead of watching them circling the drain, we are actually seeing them create more exposure for themselves. Just look at Tangerine-shot entirely using an iPhone or Blue Ruin, produced through securing crowd funding. These movies make the rounds through film festivals, mostly to negotiate the terms of wider release. Remember waiting a year and a frickin’ half for Taika Waititi’s vampire mockumentary What We Do in The Shadows? We do. Louis Theroux’s Scientology movie is holding for a wider release date but not before it gathers acclaim, attention (ahem, profit) and, eventually enough momentum to make an impact in box office tickets. Once such movies are released into the wild, they’re up for grabs so anyone with a Wi-Fi enabled device and at least £9 a month for line rental. Keep in mind this is just a theory but please don’t slow me down if I’m going too fast.

So, this is not us heading for oblivion. My argument is that so much media being available adds to our ever expanding pool of knowledge. Hands up if you can comfortably afford to buy every song, movie and television episode ever committed to the web. If not, how do you decide which ones to buy? By cherry-picking, would you be overlooking those gems that could change your life completely? What about Miss Violence, Take Shelter or Hana-Bi? These could be easily overlooked, possibly making it into the gazillion ‘must watch‘ movie lists buried amongst the internet dung, considering that their low key covers (yes, people still judge movies by their covers) do not catch your eye.

You may know director’s first forays into film, such as Nolan’s Following or Arnofsky’s Pi but only because of who they are now. Unlimited access to all previously published works can arguably give anyone looking for a bite of the industry apple – sparking inspiration at an alarming rate. In the age of information, how soon is now? You could ride the crest of an emerging wave or plunge to the depths of the long overlooked in order to shape your own work and thus the future of cinema. Ultimately, it could be you who reaches out to touch an audience with an infinitely more knowledgeable, better researched and keenly rounded piece of work. After all, Tarantino drew from a pool of (unpaid for) VHS tapes in the video shop he worked for.

Sitting around the campfire and telling stories is what brought our civilisation to here, so could the internet pirates be bringing us the campfire of our times? Cinephiles unite! Take arms, write your screenplays on pirated software (don’t, it’s illegal) and shoot your masterpieces on iPhones (don’t buy Apple products). The pool of knowledge is for all to bathe, so sup from it (drink the bath water?) and go do something amazing.

Or don’t, because of legal reasons.

Agree? Disagree? Thanks for reading and comment below!

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