Modern Movies and Piracy

What’s the big deal with piracy?

The Expendables 3 has leaked online, and it’s sending a shockwave throughout the industry. From the business executive to the lighting technician, everybody is affected by the leak. It’s been reported that about 189,000 copies of the film have been downloaded in the first 24 hours. Needless to say, a lot of people are worried about the impact this leak will have on the film and everyone that worked on it.

I’ve seen both sides of the argument for how much the leak will impact individuals, and I think it’s time we cleared some things up. In order to do this, I’m going to sit down and answer some of the most common questions about piracy and who it affects.

Why do people pirate movies?

Let’s go ahead and get the big question out of the way. There are a number of different reasons why people pirate films. For the most part, the reason for piracy can be broken down into a few categories.

Cost– Times are tough. The economy has been shaky and people don’t have as much to spend. This usually means that hobbies are the first to get the axe. That being said, I don’t think it’s as big of a factor as people think. There are plenty of theaters that offer discounts for matinee showings or run a special on certain days. Sure, some people pirate to save money, but it’s not the majority.

To Make a Statement– Other people seem to think that individuals pirate movies to take a stand and “stick it to the man” in the process. Again, I think this is misleading because it would require a huge group effort. I have never heard of any instance where people pirated a film specifically to take revenue from a film. The people that tell you this are most likely looking for enticing headlines to pull in more readers.

Accessibility – Ah, now we get the meat of the issue. I think that the major reason why people pirate films is linked to accessibility. This can mean different things for different people. For some, it’s finding a rare film that they can’t get a physical copy of. For others, they download movies because the version that was released in their territory was edited. Still, there are people that want a portable version to watch on a long trip or slow day. Lastly, there are many people out there that want to watch the film as soon as possible. This is the “now” generation, and people don’t want to wait for something that others are already enjoying.

I get why people download movies, but what’s the benefit for the initial source or uploader?

That’s a tough question that I don’t have an answer to. Some of the people are twisted enough to load files with viruses and hack people’s computers, but it’s a relatively small percentage. Honestly, there is no benefit to uploading film. You can’t make any money off of it, so you’ll only build a reputation for consistent uploads. Even then, those that are trusted will have to rely on donations from the community to keep going. It’s a big risk that can even lead to jail time with very little reward.

How do people get copies of a movie in the first place? How does it leak?

Specifically talking about movies, there are 4 basic ways that a movie can be obtained.

  1. Cam Vids – A cam video is something that is recorded in an actual theater. It may be with a phone or actual camcorder, but the quality is usually the lowest.
  2. International Releases – Some films release earlier in territories than others. While the film is the same, it may have a different language track or subtitles on it.
  3. Retail Releases – When retailers are shipped movies for sale, some people will grab a copy and upload it early. The quality of these movies will resemble what’s sold in the stores because that is the source.
  4. Screeners – Screeners are special copies of a film that are sent out to reviewers. The quality of these movies can vary, but most studios put a watermark or timer on the film to deter uploading.

Can piracy be stopped?

Of course not. There are always people that are finding ways around the system. However, that doesn’t mean that it has to run rampant like it does today. It’s unrealistic to think that piracy will vanish, but that’s not justification for people to keep doing it.

Okay, I think I get the basic idea. Why do movie studios hate piracy?

Money. Downloaded movies lead to fewer people in the theaters or purchasing the home releases. That’s lost revenue and companies want to protect their assets and see their hard work pay off.

Is it really that big of a deal? These movies make millions of dollars, anyways, right?

Technically, but those numbers that we see for box office results are about direct sales and gross revenue. They don’t typically cover how much it costs to make a quality movie. Everyone has to be paid for their work. From actors and directors to the special effects team and stunt guys. It’s these other layers that really feel the impact of a leak. Their pay is usually linked to royalties that the film earns. In other words, their paycheck is at the mercy of box office and they can risk life and limb for your entertainment and get nothing in return.

I don’t want to sound negative, but watching a leaked movie doesn’t mean that I would have paid to watch it.

While you make a valid point, remember that studio execs only care about numbers. If they see what 190,000 people downloaded a film, that’s a big loss on their end. Even if a small percentage of those that pirated the film would have seen the movie in theaters, that money is gone for good. By downloading the movie, you are sending a message the producers that you don’t care about the movie and have no interest in it.

Even if they make less money, it’s not like the films are going to fail because of piracy. More people see the movie and it gets a bigger audience. No harm done, right?

Wrong. While you might not see the direct implications of pirating a movie, it greatly affects the people behind the scenes. One good example of this is Undisputed 3. The movies have helped create one of the most iconic characters and some of the best action on screen, yet high rates of pirating the film have practically killed the idea of a sequel. It wasn’t until several years later that a fourth installment was even approved. This was all because of the fact that there was no physical proof that people enjoyed the film.

Whoa. So a movie can be a success and a failure at the same time?

Yeah. Imagine that a movie had a limited release and sold 20,000 tickets in one night, but it leaks online and there are one million downloads for the same movie. Fans love the film and want more, but studio execs only see a big loss. Even if the story and action is the best ever, there’s no way a company will approve a sequel to a film that lost money the first time around. To put it bluntly, you could be killing the very franchise you are a fan of.

That’s a skewed example. The same thing won’t happen to big-budget films like the Expendables. They are too big to fail.

Oh really? What if this movie has the lowest opening for the franchise? What if the execs think that director Patrick Hughes or fight choreographer J.J. Perry didn’t get the desired result? It all comes down to numbers and money, not spectacle and experience. This can kill off the idea of any sequel or future release entirely.

That sucks, what can I do to help?

That’s easy. Wait to see the movie in theaters or buy the retail release of the film. Even digital downloads help out studios track numbers and increase their revenue. While it may be hard to wait to see a film or spend money at the moment, you know that the hardworking individuals get the recognition they deserve. Your actions do the talking, so downloading the movie and not paying for it sends a message to studios, even if you don’t feel like you are taking action.

Hopefully this clears up a lot of the mystery that surrounds piracy and why people make a big deal about it. If you love a movie and the stars that are in it, be sure to show your support in one way or another. Wait for the actual release of a film and the payoff will be more than worth it. Nothing is more rewarding than knowing you are keeping the industry you love alive so that it doesn’t fade away forever.