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Arr, There Be Pirates!

June 23, 2012

I’ve been meaning to write a post on downloads, piracy and media business-type stuff but have avoided the topic like a friday night burger van because the chance of coming off as a twat is too high.

The issue is that so much media now is consumed via computer or computer-type devices with internet connections (iPhone, PS3, ipTV etc) that the opportunities for acquiring it through less than official or legal ways are easily taken advantage of. If you work in a media industry- music, film, TV, print- there’s always the concern that while lots of people are seeing/listening/reading your work, you won’t be earning a penny for it. This leads to many of us whining about how people are ripping us off- a sentiment that doesn’t endear us to the average consumer. Especially because they believe all media types earn enough money as it is (as a side note, we don’t…) but also because they know the media industry is led and controlled by billionaires like Rupert Murdoch- which apparently makes content theft okay. The idea that piracy is acceptable because your money is lining the pockets of some conveniently-evil (and undoubtedly puppy-kicking) cigar-chomping fat-cat is quite frankly bollocks because while they’ll miss their large cut of the profits, the poor sods whose hard graft actually made the product will miss it a whole lot more.

Although, if you start pointing that shit out, you’re usually on the receiving end of disbelief/doubt/non-sympathy and look like the aforementioned twat. As such, I’ve always avoided throwing my small change on the matter into the fountain of debate (til thirty seconds ago obviously…).

And then I saw this little article (http://techcrunch.com/2012/06/09/meet-the-filmmaker-who-talked-back-to-the-pirate-bay/) and felt that the man had a point. For those too lazy to read the article, Tom Lowe is a filmmaker who found his (quite excellent) Koyaanisqatsi-esque film “Timescapes” available on a torrent site and rather than bitch and moan about it, posted a comment along the lines of “If you like the film, please consider buying a copy from our website.” Hats off and fair play to the man. In the interview he says that piracy and illegal downloads are a reality filmmakers now have to face but if you alter your business model and preconceptions, you can still earn from your film and audiences still see your work.

It’s a refreshing, down-to-earth and, frankly, mature outlook on the state of the industry and I for one applaud him for it. Filmmakers, production companies and studios need to adjust their business model to reflect the world and the way audiences want to experience their work.

Take music downloads as an example. Ten years ago, the music industry was panic-stricken about illegal downloads- people ripping their CDs and sharing the files via P2P services. It was only when the likes of iTunes store came along with their not-free-but-cheap-enough-to-be-painless brand of legal download did the worry about shareware disappear. Lets face it, who’s used any torrent service to download music any time recently? Most people just fire up iTunes, pay their 79p and don’t worry about it. In fact, more people buy tracks from iTunes than they do CDs from HMV.

The film and TV industry really needs to take a leaf out of the music industry to combat piracy by making legal downloads a viable cost option for punters and yet still turn a profit. The music industry still has a way to go with regard to sharing out those profit pie slices (many musicians find they’re not getting much out of the downloads system) and I suppose a lot of that is to do with the cost of downloads. It just goes to show that it’s a new market environment out there and the old methods just don’t apply anymore, but as long as there are people like Tom Lowe willing to see things in a progressive and mature light, we should be able to create an industry where customers get their stuff and the artist gets a living wage.

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