As you may or may not have noticed, swashbuckling is at an all-time low these days; splintery wooden legs and rusty iron hooks, too, have fallen out of fashion with society as of late. But don’t let that deter you from thinking pirating isn’t alive and well.
True, it may not be the “shiver me timbers” and “walk me plank” variety, but it’s an even more harmful pirate in the eyes of the movie industry: the insidious treasure takers of intellectual property. And together they’ve come to steal the industry’s booty. Of course, no one can argue copyright infringement doesn’t damage the film industry.
Less money from the buying public means fewer movies — or at the very least, less money for actors, studios and the countless producers, writers, camera operators and others who work in film.
It can inhibit the movie theaters, attracting fewer moviegoers and decreasing sales. And it can affect the moviegoers themselves, often forced to pony up more money for movie tickets to make up for the lost profit from movie pirating. But some problems exist in the estimation of damages caused by pirating.
For the film industry itself, the number of films illegally downloaded is difficult to quantify, so the amount of damages is largely speculatory. The Motion Pictures Association of America has done its best, however, performing a study in 2006 estimating an annual loss of $6.1 billion dollars. Most of these damages — more than 90 percent, according to the MPAA — come as a result of audience members recording films in movie theaters and posting the bootlegged film copies online.
Critics have accused the MPAA and the government of prosecuting movie pirating too harshly. The Copyright Act allows for a maximum of $150,000 to be sought for each copyright infringement. So-called mitigation measures have recently been taken as a strategy against pirating, reducing internet speeds for those guilty of pirating films, or even — gasp — redirecting subscribers to an educational page about infringement.
Other critics have pointed to unrealistic assumptions by the MPAA, including an unfounded statistic that claimed 44 percent of unauthorized file sharing came from universities. Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight for movie pirating. The Internet isn’t going anywhere. And “free” is a price many Americans are eager to pay, especially in comparison to the increasing ticket prices at movie theaters nationwide. But the film industry isn’t going anywhere either.
The act of going to a movie is an activity thoroughly embedded in the American psyche. It’s something all of us have grown up with, from the age of the Disney movie, to the cheesy romance you saw with your high school fling, to the edgy, modern film featuring Leonardo DiCaprio you saw last week.
The movie industry will do what any industry must do when it’s faced with oblivion: adapt. Whether that adaptation means providing something illegal online streaming can’t provide, such as 3-D movies, giveaways or even cushier theater seats remains to be seen. But it can be enough to revive a dying, but socially beloved, industry.
—Chris Pocock is a journalism senior.