Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Pirates, Ye Be Warned

If you live in the UK and have visited the cinema recently, you may have been witness to an impassioned plea from a young, attractive lady, standing in front of a white background, asking you to not record the film.

My fellow projectionist, upon seeing this clip, enquired: "Who is that and why is she whingeing about piracy?" To which I replied, aghast, "That's Jaime Winstone! Her dad's The Daddy! You philistine!" "So why is she so bothered about piracy?" "Well, presumably because she won't get paid as much money if people keep copying films. It's a personal request, kind of like emotional blackmail. Jamie Winstone's young and pretty and seems like she might be a bit dirty, so you wouldn't want to upset her by copying a film, would you? And her Dad would fucking massacre you if he found out you'd cost his daughter a paycheque."

This straight-to-camera, honest approach is the latest in a long line of Public Service Announcements espousing the dangers of movie piracy (you may have seen Martin Freeman or Matt Horne's versions - both slightly less appealing/threatening than young Ms Winstone on many levels). This "impassioned plea" represents a change in direction from the usual "piracy is bad Mmkay?" histrionics we have become accustomed to.

Up until recently, most anti-piracy promotions preoccupied themselves, first of all, with scaremongering - trying to make piracy as dramatically intimidating as the AIDS epidemic when that first kicked off (see above) - and then with attempting to ridicule/satirise counterfeiting via the medium of comedy songs, or that one with the fat dude in his undies, watching films on his computer while a disembodied, godlike narrator asks "isn't downloading movies just a little bit... SAAAaaad?" in a voice like Dan from Alan Partridge. I was fully expecting to see one that simply announced "MOVIE PIRACY IS GAY!" Or "IF YOU DOWNLOAD FILMS, THEN YOU HATE YOUR MUM!"

According to the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT):

"The word ‘pirate’ originates from the latin ‘pirata’ meaning ‘to attack’, which reflects precisely what criminals are doing to both the film industry and their communities when they appropriate and reproduce original films for personal, and often wider, criminal gain."

Isn't it more like stealing than attacking, though? Surely, if "to attack" reflected "precisely" what pirates did, they'd be rushing at movie screens with hammers or storming film-sets with nunchucks. Calling counterfeiters Movie Pirates automatically lends them an unintentional level of cool. You might as well call them "Cinema Ninjas". They should be called something a bit less mysterious and exotic, like Film-Robbers or Flick-Nickers or summat.

But the big question is: Does piracy really have an impact on box office takings? We are currently witnessing the unstoppable onslaught of Avatar on every concievable box office record. This is of course, a film with grossly overblown ticket-prices due to the cost of hiring some 3D specs, but isn't the fact that people are still willing to pay for a purely cinematic experience evidence that piracy will always be a phantom menace?

Obviously, part of the "Avatar" experience is the breathtaking 3D effects, which are being championed by many on the business side of Hollywood as Pirate-proof, presumably because pirates all wear eye-patches, so they can't see 3D.

The example that my cinema chain always use when whispering piracy horror-stories is that of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was apparently recorded in one of our cinemas on the day of its release and was on the internet within 24 hours. That film was the second highest grossing film of 2002, behind only the behemoth that was "The Two Towers". So what impact did the fact that it was available online REALLY have?

According to FACT:

"[piracy] is also estimated to cost the British film, broadcasting and associated industries billions of pounds a year in lost revenues and jobs."

Estimated? How are these numbers worked out? Every download/counterfeit sold does not necessarily equal a lost cinema ticket. People who buy/download pirate copies are unlikely to be going to the cinema anyway. They are the parents at the market who would rather spend a fiver on a shitty copy than 30 quid on taking their kids to the pictures, they're the internet user who would rather watch films in the privacy of their own home than venture out into the real world. Or they are the person who doesn't want to spend money on every film they watch, so they choose their cinema attendance carefully and watch pirate copies of things they aren't that fussed over. This doesn't mean that, if they didn't have internet access, they would've gone to see all those films at the cinema, it just means they would've watched a lot less films.

There are of course, exceptions to this (largely unfounded) theory: There are times when those audiences mentioned above collide with the major audience for a film. Director Eli Roth blamed the box-office failure of Hostel 2 on the fact that a good quality work-print was leaked online before the film even hit theatres. Being that the main audience for Roth's movies are gore-hound horror nerds - internet savvy and down with the file-share forum fun - it is plausible that the vast majority of his public had already peeped at his film by the time it was released, so nobody went to see it. Maybe this proves the debilitating potential of piracy on cinema, or maybe Eli Roth should've made a better film.

This is a good example, however, of what could be claimed to be the genuinely dangerous side of piracy: The leaking of rough edits/promo copies by people WITHIN THE INDUSTRY ITSELF. Everyone knows that the best pirate copies are not the ropey cam-jobs, but industry screeners; straight DVD rips with "Property of Universal" or whatever stamped on them. These are sent out to promote films, for review or award consideration, and (you would imagine) would only be sent to people who the studio would trust. An early cut of last years "Wolverine" film was rumoured to have been leaked by someone working at one of the special-effects companies for christ's sake! These high quality copies pose a much greater threat to the film industry than some out-of-focus, muffled effort that someone filmed on a camera phone, but the vast majority of anti-piracy measures seem to lean a lot more toward stopping the cam-job cad.

Having said that, even though the rough cut of "Wolverine" was online well in advance of the cinema release date, the film still broke $200 million at the US box office - leading Fox to greenlight a sequel - so, again, what difference did the leak make?

Of course, as the ads tell us, piracy funds terrorism and organised crime, right? Sure, it's possible the geezer on the corner with a table full of dvds kicks up to somebody bigger and badder, but how can this be claimed of online file-sharing? Anonymous, non-financial exchanges of files can't really be claimed to make money for anybody and surely only damage the film industry as much as the music industry is damaged by people taping their favourite songs off the radio, instead of buying the single.

All of this wave of copyright terror leads to an air of paranoia in the cinema industry - not always unfounded, of course - but much of it seems like overcompensating. By initiating bag-searches, sending ushers sneaking into screens wearing night-vision goggles, creeping up and down aisles, looking like cosplayers with a Splinter Cell fetish, are we not simply making things a whole lot less enjoyable for the great many people who do still come to the cinema for the "real experience"? Sure, you might catch a wrong doer one time out of a hundred, but when the "real experience" includes a cavity search at the ticket booth, even I might consider going home and firing up Utorrent.


  1. I think Graham Linehan handled the piracy ads best on The It Crowd.

    "You wouldn't steal a policeman's hat. You wouldn't kill the police man. You wouldn't go to the bathroom in the policeman's hat and then mail it to his widow."

  2. looks like you put a lot of thought into it.

  3. I kept the 3D glasses, does that make me a pirate?

  4. You wouldn't steal a car would you ?

    If i could download it, too fuckin right.

  5. TS: "...and then steal it again!" I was going to use that clip from IT crowd at the end of this post, but all the youtube videos wouldn't allow embedding for some reason.

    Jeff: Piracy is foremost on the cinema's mind these days, so we are made to think about it!

    Tony: Next time you go to see a 3D film, ask them why the tickets are more expensive and, if they say "to cover the cost of the glasses", just produce your own pair and ask for a discount. Probably won't work, but it'd be funny.

    Anon: I always thought that ad makes a lot of assumptions on the character of the viewer. I mean, there were probably people watching that going "Steal a car? I once killed a man for his Reeboks!". Which would kind of defeat their point.

  6. Jaime Winstone kind of scares me. She looms like if she wasn't famous she'd be stealing your wallet and I like my wallet.

    Kate x

  7. She "looms"? Jaime Winstone "looms"? I assume that's a typo and you aren't saying she hangs over you like an impending sense of dread?

  8. Capital tool industries is a long established company producing quality Gear Cutting Tools