As a new 'pro-copyright' campaign launches in the UK, Gary Collinson wonders if the industry is fighting a losing battle...
The UK film and television industry launched a new anti-copyright campaign today aiming to educate the hearts and minds of the public and help address the continued challenges posed by copyright infringement. Entitled 'Moments Worth Paying For', the £5m campaign is funded by the Industry Trust for IP Awareness and includes a series of cinematic trailers celebrating "the intense emotional payback of great viewing experiences". The trailers, which have been directed by filmmaker Olly Blackburn (Donkey Punch), will also point audiences to the movie gateway site FindAnyFilm and begin their run in UK cinemas from today.
Reading through the campaign's press release (which includes quotes from industry giants such as Disney and Sky) got me thinking about piracy, and more specifically, whether the industry is fighting an unwinnable war. According to independent statistics, previous similar educational campaigns have stemmed the growth of copyright infringement by 5% between 2007 and 2009, while raising the percentage of people who think it's wrong from 34% to 54%. On the face of it those are impressive numbers, but thinking about them - and piracy in general - raises a couple of questions.
I suppose this would be as good a time as any to chip in with my opinions on piracy. I can't pretend to have been a saint... back when I was a young 'un in the dark days of the 80s I had a stack of VHS tapes packed with films recorded off the telly (some of them, I'd even removed the ad breaks to cram more on) and a boat load of C90 cassettes carrying 20+ ZX Spectrum games apiece or the latest album by some band that I've either long since forgotten or am too ashamed to recall. But, getting a bit older and with aspirations of one day writing that best-seller or making the next Star Wars, I started thinking how I'd feel if some kid somewhere was stealing my shit and quite frankly, I was pissed.
Since that moment of realisation I've avoided piracy and every movie, game and album that I own I've stumped up the cash. And not to some dodgy bloke in the high-street peddling his wares from a suitcase while his mate watches out for the police. Basically I enjoy collecting movies and I like to have the originals because a cheap photocopied cover would look crap on my shelf. However, I've been like this since before the 'digital explosion', back when a poor-quality copied DVD would set you back £3 or you could stump up a tenner for the original. But that's all changed now...
Nowadays of course you can watch or download pretty much anything you want, any time you want, with the whole distribution network at the tip of your fingers. The rise of Web2.0 and social networking means that piracy is rampant and however you want to look at it must be at an all-time high. Blogger's poor spam detector works overtime blocking comments that sound like they've been written by barely literate buffoons with creative names like "FreeMovieDownloads" or "DownloadFreeMovies", and I can't log into Facebook without a host of status updates about the latest downloads of Little Fockers, Tangled or Yogi Bear. It's rife, and obviously it's a problem on a global scale.
Getting back to those questions about piracy, then. Firstly, the statistics suggest anti-piracy campaigns have helped to stem the growth by 5%. That sounds like a good job, but what percentage is 'the growth'? Stemming it by 5% isn't much if 'the growth' is 100%, is it? Now I have no idea what this figure is, but if it is something in that range then 5% is really little more than a fart in a hurricane. Secondly, the research states that 54% now think digital copyright infringement is wrong, while 67% of people think it's "nothing to be proud of". Again, all well and good, but just of the 54% that know it's wrong, how many actually give a toss? I'd wager not that many, and it really isn't down to a lack of education.
You can't tell me that a large proportion - if not the majority - of the general public don't understand that movies actually cost money to make and are there to make a profit? That they've never once took the time to read a copyright notice out of curiosity, or sat through one of those "you wouldn't steal a car" ads from FACT? Be serious. They just don't care. Why pay for something when you can have it for free? And besides, the big Hollywood studios can afford it, right? I mean, take a look at the ten most pirated films of 2010 and their global box office receipts...
Shutter Island ($294m)
Iron Man 2 ($621m)
Clash of the Titans ($493m)
Green Zone ($94m)
Sherlock Holmes ($523m)
The Hurt Locker ($48m)
Out of those listed only Kick-Ass, Green Zone and The Hurt Locker failed to hit $100m, and that's without taking into account rentals, home-video sales and other merchandise. Perhaps it serves the studios right for repeatedly churning out money-grabbing garbage, or for insisting on releasing films and then cashing in a few months down the line with a special edition (see Watchmen and Avatar for recent examples, along with the decision to hold back on the extended Blu-rays of The Lord of the Rings until fans had a chance to fork out for the theatrical cuts). But what about the lesser-known independent features? What about movies that can't rely on big A-list attractions like Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie to get bums on seats? And what about the honest film fan, made to suffer increased prices all because someone decides to save themselves a few quid by stealing a film off the internet? What about the little guy, huh?
Sadly, I'm not convinced that throwing £5m into a 'pro-copyright' campaign is going to make the slightest bit of difference in the fight against digital piracy. Fact is, the majority of pirates aren't going to be sitting in the cinema watching the trailers, they're going to be at home downloading the latest movies or viewing them via streams. So if that's not the answer, then what is? Better films? New distribution models? Capital punishment? It beats me, but if you have any thoughts then please feel free to sound off...