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.






I wanted to hate this song…

I really did.  The first few times I heard it, I recall thinking that the beginning sounded similar to “Carry on Wayward Son” by Kansas.  The chorus sounds like “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel.  Both songs are classics in their own right and it’s annoying to have audible expectations only to be disappointed.  Furthermore, I thought the band performing the song was One Direction.  With all of this going through my head, my disgust rose with each time I heard the new mishmash of this song.

One day the song was stuck in my head so I began searching Google for the lyrics to find the song and then play it on youtube  in an effort to get it out of my head. Google.  “but i still wake up” lyrics.  Enter.  Ok, here we go.  Let’s try this one.  I get to this video (below) and I watch it.  (con’t after video).

A few things happened the first time that I viewed this: I realized that it wasn’t by One Direction; The video has totally decent production value; and it’s telling a story – a good one.

Confronted with these self evident facts, I was forced to re-evaluate my perception of this song.   I liked it.  After watching the video for a second time, I found that it tells a timeless story in a meaningful way and maybe the homage to the two classic songs is part of the whole theme of the song and video.

Let me explain: The video opens following two men.  One young and one old.  The younger guy is spending time with his presumed girlfriend and the older guy is doing chores and tending to his homestead.  This bit is filmed in a way that shows the older guy’s enjoyment and respect for the land.  We see the older man also cleaning his rifle and bayonet. Both men go off to fight in the American Civil War, but on different sides; young guy on the Union, the older guy on the Confederacy.

Here’s where this gets interesting.  This song was written in 2010 – 2011 and the video was filmed probably in late 2011/early 2012 (the official video was released on YouTube in June of 2012 and the album dropped in February 2012, so I am making an educated guess here).   The time around when the song was written was the height of the Occupy movement.  In addition to humanizing the ‘other side’, the lyrics repeatedly ask “What do I stand for?  What do I stand for?”  The chumbolones of the Occupy movement  avoided any central leadership and failed to answer the question of what they stood for in a unifying and meaningful way and the movement fizzled out.

aaaaand it's gone

Occupy what?

That is the understated theme  that I picked up from this video.  More overtly the song and video are about losing oneself and compromising one’s values in the face of war, but I took away from it an equally enduring conflict of young vs. old and the two different ideologies as it related to the Occupy movement.  When the veneer of war and overt conflict is stripped away from the rift between the 99% and the 1%, the Occupiers and whomever it is they were occupying against, it’s just about people fighting for their way of life, just like the two men in the video (and the Civil War itself).  

It would seem that this song is a call to action for young people in general to make a definitive stance on what they stand for, and to fight for it. In the video the older guy knew what he was fighting for.  He was fighting for his farm, his horse, his land, his way of life.  It seemed that the younger guy was going off to war as part of his duty.  He was with his girlfriend and didn’t want to leave her, but had to.  As it turns out, he was just a slightly better fighter and was able to win the struggle, but he didn’t have the motivations for fighting that his opponent did, thus leaving him lost and conflicted and asking the question over and over again, “What do I stand for?  What do I stand for?” 

“But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for, oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights I don’t know anymore…”

Read more: Fun. – Some Nights Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

An aimless struggle, a directionless movement will not result in any meaningful change, as was evidenced by the whole Occupy movement.  This calls to mind the old adage, “Stand for something or you will fall for anything.” As young people, it is important to make a thought out and intelligent decision on what you stand for and why, and then defend that with everything you have.  Also, if there is another sort of movement, it must be united by a common cause or ideal.  If the Occupy movement focused on the issue of income inequality and only focused on that issue, the the potential to achieve success in reform was well within their grasp.  Without clear issues, without clear direction, without knowing what you stand for, all the ‘victories’ will be hollow. 

I’m interested in hearing about your interpretations on this little movie.  It’s pretty awesome and I’ve enjoyed watching it something like 15 – 20 times.  Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments.