Piracy by Jay Harrold

The movie industry, which originally found its origins in film reels with no recorded sound to be synchronised with while also being a luxury for only a few, has now turned into a global-wide industry using countless other components such as special effects and animation, other than simply using video footage and sound. As the movie industry progressed throughout the course of over a century, it has been at war with a nemesis that has been walking hand in hand with film production and distribution from the very start. That nemesis, is video piracy.


Video piracy is not a recent occurrence constricted to the digital age of film and the internet age, but it also has its roots firmly embedded into film distribution when in the early stages of the film industry. During the silent film era, the process which video pirates would use included using positive prints to produces countless copies. Another process would include “bicycling” which is when an exhibitor would screen a film for longer than agreed upon by the distributors and would also screen said film at various other exhibitions which breached various terms and conditions set by the distributers.


As the film industry evolved so did the methods used to pirate film? From reproducing duped film reels and bicycling pirates turned to using hand held cameras and smuggle them into screenings, even though the pirated version would be of much lower quality, it was a cheaper alternative to those wishing to obtain a copy than purchasing an official copy. This was a popular method throughout the 1960’s. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s video pirates made a substantial amount of profit without even having to leave their homes by using home recording to burn copies onto a V/H/S tape. The film industry retaliated by producing V/H/S tapes bearing a red spine with the logo “if it isn’t red, it isn’t real”


All of these pirating techniques would later become obsolete as film entered into the digital age. File sharing and torrenting meant that copies of any film could be downloaded or streamed onto anyone’s computer at any given time across the globe. Modern video piracy is now currently the biggest cause for concern for the industry as any film is only a click away and can now be illegally downloaded for free, meaning those who wish can get the latest blockbusters without needing to pay for an official or bootlegged hard-copy.


Video piracy is a victimless crime? From the outside looking in, not really as the public is constantly reminded of how rich movie stars are. However, video piracy affects the film industry on multiple levels. Artists, studios and distributers are greatly affected by piracy as a large amount of money and time which gets invested into the production and distribution of any given film needs to be earned back through people purchasing tickets. In order for the movie industry, and those who work in it, are to continue to progress and thrive as it has done for many years it needs to earn back revenue in order to accumulate a profit to continue to make more movies.


Major studios now seek alternative ways to earn additional profits to counter losses due to video piracy such as merchandising, which is easier when the movie is targeted at children (toys etc.) or a part of an action franchise. Investing more into the advertisement is a method which requires more focus, as that is what is needed to keep the movie in the public eye before its release. One example of this is the recent emphasis on teaser trailers released up to a year before the official release such as the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A single teaser is enough to build up a “buzz” or “hype” from fans. This way people will be talking about the film for a long period of time before its release and can even go as far as to guarantee ticket sales.


What is more affected by video is the independent cinema market as they rely solely on kick-starters in order to fund the production for a film. Jean Prewitt, US senior government and former lobbyist, made a point by stating that the impact of piracy tends to play out differently and arguably more immediately on the independent sector than it does on the studios. As the independent movie sector cannot rely on merchandising and heavy advertisement like studios can, they rely solely on revenue. Nowadays the majority of films screened in all the major cinema chains tend to mostly be major Hollywood studios which nowadays are commonly reboots, star studded action movies, romantic comedies and superhero films which are already established as being part of a franchise. For example, the movies which have been constantly in the spot light have been those produced by Marvel and all fitting into the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The studios can easily distribute merchandise and build up excitement for the fans as they already have a well-grounded fan base of loyal viewers. Since their initial release in 2016 Deadpool has grossed $761.2 billion, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice grossed $862.9 billion and Zootopia grossed $923.8 billion. Where does that leave independent movies who cannot rely on merchandising and do not already have fans?


Independent movies struggle to earn back any revenue as the majority of the public who regularly attend cinema screenings usually attend big budget Hollywood productions due to the heavy advertisement on TV and social media, among many others. One example of this would be before and during the release of Deadpool during 2016. Independent movies are now commonly shown in independent cinemas which screen indie flicks and Avant Garde films, as the cinema chains do not risk the loss in revenue for films which are not already popular among cinema goers.


In 2004, it was estimated that the video piracy industry would be worth $1 billion in the three following years. Which means that more money goes to the pirates, and not those who it should. Meaning there is an imbalance in the economy, especially in America. In 2011, it was recorded that 71,060 jobs were lost each year as a result of online piracy, including those in the music industry. In fact, 95% of music downloaded via the internet is illegal. The worst part about all of this? 70% of online users do not see the harm in internet piracy.


Video piracy is a cancer on the movie industry, and it is growing rapidly. If no change is made soon, the movie industry will crumble upon itself, and fade into history.






Posted on and written by Copyright Management Services ltd. Posted 18th March, 2015



Box Office Charts on Box Office Mojo



Tim Dams, 13th December 2004, Screen Daily



‘Kofi Outlaw’, Why Movie Piracy and What to Do About it, 24th November 2009, Screen Rant



Diana Lodderhose, Movie Piracy: threat to the future of films intensifies, 17th July 2014



Jeanine Poggi, Inside the Over-the-top Marketing strategy for Deadpool, 17th February 2016



Go-Gulf blog post, Online piracy in numbers, 1st November 2011








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