Movies, Money, Pirates, and People

In March, a little opensource software program hit the web for one week and was taken down by it’s creators.  In just one week, Popcorn Time changed the face of movie piracy.  It challenged the very nature of the movie industry and the existing form of piracy on the web.  What Popcorn Time does is allow users to search and stream torrents.  It is Netflix for pirated material.  The user does not have to download the illegal copy of the movie they want to see to their computer, they can simply view it at their leisure and be done with it.  This allows for only a handful of people to actually ‘host’ the content, but many users to have access to the content.  If the movie industry wanted to bust you for downloading illegal movies, the authorities would have to prove that you have a bunch of illegal movies on your hard-drive.  Popcorn Time avoids the step of actual possession of the illegal content and restricts it to people who are comfortable sharing the content (likely because they are over seas).

After being taken down one week after it went live, Popcorn Time got a new home.  Popcorn Time’s original incarnation was never intended to stay up for an extended period of time.  It was created as more of a statement that something was broken with Hollywood.  Take a moment and read what the guys have to say here.  They eloquently articulate their grievances with the movie industry.  And they hit the nail on the head.

…the movie industry has way too many ridiculous restrictions on way too many markets. Take Argentina for example: streaming providers seem to believe that “There’s Something About Mary” is a recent movie. That movie would be old enough to vote here.”

They go on to say:

Piracy is not a people problem. It’s a service problem. A problem created by an industry that portrays innovation as a threat to their antique recipe to collect value. It seems to everyone that they just don’t care.”

As stated previously, Popcorn Time now has new home.  Due to the nature of the opensource software, it is likely here to stay.

This ushers in a new section for the debate. For years Hollywood has claimed that it was being hurt by piracy, yet they posted record profits in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  As it turns out, 2013 was a record breaking year for the movie industry – in spite of prolific piracy of top films.  Over the past couple of years multiple studies have shown that piracy has not hurt Hollywood.  Yet most of the people inside Hollywood cling to the notion that they are being hurt by Piracy*, despite evidence to the contrary.  They carry with them this ‘us versus them‘ worldview that represents a distance between the people producing the art and the audience that consumes it.  This is the same audience that drives the innovation of consumption.   As pointed out by Popcorn Time, Hollywood’s negative view of innovation actually hurts them (and is more harmful in general).  It robs Hollywood of creative opportunities to capitalize on their content in a productive and lucrative way.  Without Napster exposing the music industry’s lack of innovation, you don’t get iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify.  Popcorn Time, much like Napster, has just exposed a way to make a major avenue of content consumption more easily and readily available.

In reality, copying doesn’t hurt anybody.

The major problem that I have with the entire visual media industry is their desire to cling to antiquated notions of the industry’s business model.  It’s great that HBO was among the first networks to offer their content online within their control (HBO GO), but why remain tethered to the cable netwoks?  Cut the cable out of the equation and offer it like Hulu or Netflix.  (It seems logical that this is tied to contracts and relationships with TimeWarner, etc.)  If HBO offered GO as a stand alone service for, say $20 a month, but only $15 through cable, their subscription base would increase greatly.  They could take advantage of the millions of people downloading Game of Thrones and other shows.  According to that article, GoT is downloaded nearly twice as much as the other top pirated shows. That is a major market from which HBO could make tons of money (for new awesome shows!) if they open up HBO GO as an a la carte option.  To be fair, I’m sure they have their financial reasons for only going through cable, but as the internet climate changes, we can hope that maybe HBO will adjust their business model as well.

On a larger scale (and a tangent), it would be ideal if you could pick and choose your cable channels (I want AMC, HBO, Comedy Central, but no Bravo!, no O!, no MTV, etc.) and pay for only those channels.  That’s another derivative of the industry that is holding on to an outdated business model instead of giving people what they want.  But that’s where the web is trending anyway with this concept of digital piracy.  Effectively, people are saying, ‘Why pay for all this crap that I don’t watch when I only want these 11 shows?’  Now people can and are cutting out Cable.  The problem is that both Cable and the Movie Industry want to control what you – the paying consumer – get.  The democratization of the internet is gradually putting a stop to this.  People know what they want and want control over what they get.  If Hollywood relaxes their bogus restrictions on what gets released where and when and what people in other countries can and cannot watch, piracy drops some.  If cable provides more legal ways for people to get to the content that they want, (like iTunes did with music), piracy drops again.  We – the consumers – want to support our shows and movies and musicians.  We are ferociously passionate about our culture because we use it to identify ourselves.  This passion of culture is deeply human, and the passion of our individual identity is embedded within our American beliefs and individualistic way of life.  Restricting it will only result in people finding ‘nefarious’ ways of obtaining it, and it’s the industry that looses the potential money and, as a reaction, creates enemies out of it’s lifeblood.



*Suggested reading: First this then the reply

To date, one of the best arguments for copying being used to to create new things is the little well done movie below.  It clearly illustrates the hypocrisy of some major copyright holders and shows how copyrights can sometimes hurt our culture as a whole.  Sit back and enjoy.