I was told I should be ashamed of downloading absolutely every movie I watch because I was financing international drug and prostitution rings (and worse terror networks), and had very low moral standards by a relative who works in marketing and distribution at Hollywood. I laughed at Hollywood complaining about moral standards, I mean, sure, they would rather I spend my money on their movies so they in turn can spend it on drugs and prostitution at leisure, than putting it directly in the criminal networks’ pockets, but then I download my movies on peer-2-peer networks involving no financial transaction.
Anyway, what should he expect from a guy his college buddies called King Bootleg for buying everything on the block across from Concourse Plaza in the Bronx?
However wadded in industry morality my relative might be, he does have a point, but it goes way beyond streaming Les Miserables or cutting into Metallica’s profits.
Most First World online pirates such as myself, are not champion hackers such as Aaron Schwartz, on, in my opinion, a perfectly justified crusade against intellectual monopolies, but people who don’t wanna wait for the DVD to tell us how Ted met his wife, and are not interested in paying full price for another Final Destination (if you read this and you happen to own the Final Destination franchise, please don’t take it personal I love your movies, I do, I really, really do), or yet another clone of Matrix, Gladiator, or Lord of the Rings.
It helped that said relative argued against more quality in Hollywood productions, because as long as people pay to see Battleship, they will keep making Battleships. Thanks I know exactly what to do now.
Again, most of us are benign pirates, the Pirate Bay kind rather than the Sword-in-tooth kind, but there is a truth to the drug and prostitution (and terror) network connection, but it has more to do with global poverty than online piracy.
A- The phenomenon is neither new, nor a First World problem
Drug and prostitution networks’ financial growth in relation to piracy, has much less to do with First World illegal downloading, than commercialization of bootleg DVDs in developing countries, mostly in Asia and Africa.
The impression you are given is that this is a new phenomenon, it would appear that way because television networks and radios are likely to advertise it more since they also suffer a loss in relation to the duplication of products they pay to commercialize and distribute, but drug and prostitution networks also run or are involved in the industry of counterfeit products ranging from fake polo sweaters, to Louis Vuitton bags, to fake Addidas socks sold across the street from the Addidas shoe store. Bootleg DVDs and CDs are only a new outlet for illegal networks to benefit from, but this benefit is not in the cloud, it is connected to very real development preconditions that allow the networks to flourish, and force people to purchase counterfeit products rather than originals. Which leads us to the next point.
B- The high cost of commodities
Pursuing from point A is very straightforward, the street markets in Asia and Africa are often the only means for the vast majority of the population to purchase goods that are equivalent in quality, or close enough, to products enjoyed matter-of-factly in the West, which they cannot afford from super market chains in their own cities. To make it simple: if people can’t afford a pair of socks how likely are they to go see the third rendition of the same Avatar movie at 15$ a ticket with a family of six not including popcorn? Bootleg DVDs are the only access they have to entertainment we take for granted, and even at our level, are unwilling to pay for.
That’s if there is a movie theater in their country to begin with. And even these poor people, who are unwittingly funding terror networks (which is naïve, everybody knows who is who in small communities, and they know exactly where the money is going) are not purchasing mass quantities of DVDs but one that they watch with ten of their friends around the one DVD player they own. It is a booming commercial sector, or criminal networks wouldn’t benefit from it, but they would benefit less if films cost less, and if the infrastructure were available locally.
C-Competition and markets
Criminal markets focusing on counterfeit products have it easy in Asia and Africa because intellectual property laws, or lack thereof give them free rein to run their business as they see fit. However, these countries, China notoriously, have booming cinematographic industries of their own (I am of the opinion that South Korean cinema is the best in the world today), and could do without Hollywood’s predominance. It is unlikely they are going to change intellectual property laws anytime soon, especially since it allows them to use, and produce generic alternatives to products owned, labeled and patented by foreign companies. If medicine were more equitably distributed maybe Hollywood wouldn’t lose out so much, who knows?
In the meantime Indian movies and Chinese movies enjoy priority access to their own markets, gain international visibility, end up pirated by guys like me, but ultimately, they will have made a return on their investment and penetrated western markets with movies that are a welcome change from yet another Battleship.
If you look at African cinema and the lack of access to distribution networks and infrastructure allowing promoting films across the continent; African films, unless they win a contest and are showcased as the African Tarantino (Viva Riva) you’ll never see them, except at a festival. It is telling that the first runner-up to Viva Riva was a Ghanaian film about domestic violence in Africa, you can only order it online; it isn’t sold in major outlets, and if it is at twice the price of a regular DVD (Virgin Megastore-I live in Europe Virgin still goes ok over here, sickly but ok), and is of course unavailable at extratorrents.com. I will never see it, and neither will you, it’s probably the first time you’ve heard of it.
So while it is true that online piracy affects Hollywood and the music industry, it is not the moral downward spiral that you are sold on TV, you are not the person targeted when in a movie shot in Cambodia, a father searching for his kidnapped wife thrashes a bootleg DVD stand calling the guy a criminal (Trade of Innocents with Mira Sorvino, later on they show the same guy, indeed in cahoots with the trafficking gang).
There is a reality to the problem, but it will not end with criminalizing Aaron Schwartz, it will not end with criminalizing Kim DotCom rather than banking on his business model. If Hollywood wants to stay relevant it is, as an industry, gonna have to realize that their monopoly days are over, that technology doesn’t trump quality, and that unless they change their business model from a luxury oriented, exclusive product to an affordable, accessible commodity, they have lost the fight. It’s gonna mean less astronomical budgets, less high flying salaries, and, yes, less drugs and prostitution at Hollywood’s notorious extravaganzas, but what is all that in the name of better, cheaper art?