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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Digital piracy debate

There is no debate over whether piracy, rendered easy by the process of digitisation (light years away from the pre-web reality; each physical copy of a VHS tape lost image quality until you end up with a viewing experience comparable to watching a TV set outside in the middle of a snow blizzard).
What actual effect this has, the consequences, and the reasons (ease of access is just one aspect to consider) for the growing ubiquity of digital piracy, especially web downloads from illegal sources (eg BitTorrent); this is very much up for debate.
I'll add further links over time, but I'll start this post not with an article but one of the user comments on an article, an often invaluable source its worth skimming through when reading a story through a newspaper's website, in this case the Grauniad (the odd nickname often applied to The Gdn). It raises some useful questions very specifically focussed on the British cinema/film industry:
  • filmchap

    13 March 2011 3:22AM
    Er, no, I really don't think so! Liz Bales, who the hell are you? This 'Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness?', one things for sure you really have no clue about British cinema. I bet you couldn't even name one film by Mike Leigh could you? You know as little about British cinema as my mum. But I love her, so I put up with it. As for ITIPA? I don't have too.

    "Threatening the future of British film market"? No. I think you will find the conservatives did more damage when they axed the UK Film Council earlier this year. As for being given the opportunity to EVEN watch a British film on the big screen in this country, of course I would relish this but the multiplexes are more concerned with mainstream ticket sales and the studio pictures from Hollywood.

    At the beginning of this year I went to Curzon On Demand and downloaded 'In Our Name' (an excellent example of British film-making) starring Joanne Froggatt, did this film go on general release, no, of course it didn't, films like this are barely shown outside of London on the big screen. And Piraters are about as interested in pirating a British film as the industry is in screening them. Aside from The Kings Speech (thanks to a fat wallet of dollars from Weinstein) Piraters, like studio execs, go for numbers, and also like studios go for "bums on seats" After all, to download a film in under five minutes would require many people to be sharing the film. Hence, it would have to be popular and well publicised.

    The films that get pirated and downloaded illegally are mainly the ones with 50 million dollars spent in promoting them, ones with screener copies floating about, and very rarely are these British films, but almost always US productions.

    Its a sad state of affairs that British film is neglected in this country and I for one will look at every opportunity available to me in seeing a British film upon its release. I know will be visiting Curzon On Demand again to watch Ken Loach's Route Irish. And as I don't live in London any more, will this film come down to cinemas in Torbay, Devon? Not on your nelly! Nor do I think this film will suddenly become available to download illegally (in under five minutes? No try five months and by that time I would have bought it on Blu-ray.
    So thank heavens for Curzon on Demand!

    After reading this article its Liz Bales who poses more of a threat to British cinema simply because of her blatant misunderstanding OF British cinema. Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness? You send shivers down my spine. Imbeciles.
Many of the other comments are equally disparaging about the level of journalistic quality, which I'd largely agree with, although some are a bit harsh. Rewriting press releases is what, if you graduate beyond fetching cups of tea, you might find yourself doing if you ever got some work experience at a local paper - investigative journalism is time-consuming and therefore expensive. This is something I did at my local paper as a teenager many moons ago; it seems reasonable to expect better from a 'quality' broadsheet! Now here's the article referred to:
Illegal movie downloads 'threaten the future of British film market'
Moments Worth Paying For campaign launched to make legal viewing easier for online audiences
  • The Observer,
  • Article history
  • The Social Network - 2010
    The Social Network has been one of the most popular illegal downloads
     
    Illegal downloading is threatening the film industry's ability to operate in Britain, a leading expert in digital copyright has warned. As watching illicit copies of new films becomes increasingly commonplace, Liz Bales, director-general of the Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness, is pinning her hopes on new technology which will make legal viewing easier and help to stem commercial losses estimated to be running at about £500m a year. "It is a global issue," said Bales. "In some countries it has reached the point where it is not possible to offer competitive legal services. In Spain, for example, the market has been decimated by digital infringement." Bales believes there is room for optimism in the prospect of "cloud-based" internet services – virtual storage technology that will allow individual film fans to set up a "digital rights locker" through which they can watch legally selected films on a domestic device of their choice. Research has shown that many copyright criminals go to illegal sites simply because they are easy to use, allowing films to be downloaded in high-quality formats and watched in widescreen on domestic television sets. News last week that Warner Bros and Facebook are to join forces to distribute films directly over the internet – just as websites such as LoveFilm, Netflix and Apple TV already do – is likely to add to confusion in the marketplace about the legitimacy of different film sites. Many older viewers are unclear about the legality of sites such as Blinkbox, SeeSaw and IceFilms. As a result, broadcasters, film studios and distributors are increasingly worried that their audience of users who are prepared to pay to download their films legally will continue to shrink, destroying the domestic market. For most film fans, the choice between waiting months to pay or becoming a copyright pirate is not too appealing, so the entertainment business is trying to help. Bales's organisation, which was set up in 2004 to represent the film and television sector, launched a £5m campaign last month to help make their point. The campaign, called Moments Worth Paying For, is fronted by the comedian and writer Reece Shearsmith, of The League of Gentlemen, and was prompted by research that found that one in three users regularly visit illegal sites first. At the centre of the strategy is "findanyfilm.com", a site set up last year by the UK Film Council and funded by the National Lottery. Supported by advertising revenue, it offers a free service that tells users where to find the film they want on TV, on DVD, on a download site, on Blu-ray and even in the cinema. It will be a hard battle to win, however, especially with users such as 25-year-old law student Steve, who has illegally downloaded films for a decade. "It has got much easier now," he admitted. "You can download in less then 10 minutes now – in less than five minutes sometimes. Ninety per cent of my collection comes from my friends. You could call me a cheapskate, but I still go to the cinemas and I still buy DVDs." When Steve wants to see a blockbuster – such as Inception, Toy Story 3 or Avatar – he waits for the British cinema release, but he has recently downloaded The Social Network and The King's Speech. "The King's Speech was poor quality and quite pixilated and a banner kept coming up saying the film was intended for review purposes only. Most of the stuff is good quality now and if you wait till it has actually come out on DVD, then you know the copy you download will be good quality." Last month the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, asked industry regulator Ofcom to develop techniques for blocking websites that infringe copyright law. The minister said he had "no problem" with blocking access to websites, despite online censorship concerns from critics, but he added: "Before we consider introducing site-blocking, we need to know whether these measures are possible." Ofcom is expected to report back in the spring.

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