Whilst the ruling today by a judge that BT must block the pirate site Newzbin was perhaps an inevitable one, the announcement certainly marks a sad day for internet freedom and also a hollow victory for the film industry.
The decision comes following claims by movie studios such as Warner, Disney and Fox that piracy is destroying their industry, and that livelihoods are going to suffer as a result.
In my opinion, this is perhaps a laughable cry for help from an industry that has happily milked consumers since the birth of Hollywood as we now know it in the early 1900’s. Whilst our appetite for films is still strong, the good old days of the cash-cow film business are being threatened and the movie industry has decided to paint itself as a poor innocent victim of internet piracy, a practice they claim is slowly putting them out of business.
Now I wouldn’t for one minute want to accuse industry bosses of bending the truth – I’m sure they are virtually paupers – but I find it hard to find compassion for them based on the price of the cinema admissions, DVDs and Blu-Rays. Yes, I know that the movie companies need to make money back on their investment in actors etc and as businesses with shareholders, they are required to turn a profit, but if it concentrated more on films with decent plots rather than special effects, perhaps they would be able to give us more value for money?
As for the internet piracy, is it really costing the industry that much? Research in June this year shows that film companies are losing £170 million thanks to illegal movie downloads in the UK. Compare this to what they continue to make however and the sympathy soon disappears.
2009 saw a record year at the box office, with cinema-goers generating a healthy £944m in the UK alone. Put this alongside the $20bn that Hollywood makes every year in Worldwide DVD sales, and it’s clear that any well-run studio shouldn’t need to worry about a visit from the bailiffs just yet.
The arguments are well publicised when it comes to piracy and you can’t visit a cinema or watch a DVD without the advert accusing people who download of stealing. As an artist however, whether you paint, make music, or create films, surely the satisfaction of your efforts is the appreciation of as many people as possible for your creative work? I understand that people have to make money to live, but it just seems that because film companies have seen how much money people are willing to pay they resent now giving away any of this potential profit. It’s not enough to just want to show people your work, you have to now make as much money as possible from it.
Now, whilst I don’t condone the actions of people who download or stream movies illegally, perhaps today’s legal action shows how behind the times these companies really are? The internet revolution caught everyone out over a decade ago, with very few people in either the music or film industries understanding properly the potential damage to their incomes. Even after industry bosses realised what was happening, it was too late, and by that time their pants were well and truly round their ankles.
Legal online ventures have been slow in production, clunky, and also costly to users. But instead of learning from these failures and continuing to embrace the internet and offer viable alternatives to piracy, the movie studies are refusing to adapt, putting their heads in the sand again and trying to block websites.
This latest attempt to stop people downloading illegally will no doubt be in vain, as if you stop one set of internet pirates there will inevitably be thousands ready to take their place. Going through the courts is slow and expensive and in the case of Newzbin I’m sure their content will simply move on to another site. Putting pressure on internet providers has not worked either, with the companies reluctant to impose restrictions on their users. A PR campaign that says ‘thank you for paying for this film’ just sounds ridiculous.
All industries, be it film, music, or booksellers, need to wake up from this idea that if they complain enough the good days will return. Sadly, they are deluded and the internet and it’s legion of pirates are here to stay.