As soon as a moviemaker fortunate enough to score a release is finished with the high fives, one of the first things he or she will notice is the film’s “unofficial” presence online.
A somewhat frantic Google search will inevitably yield a number of sites advertising its current or upcoming availability for streaming or download, free of charge.
As if getting your labor of love into theaters isn’t enough of a challenge, moviemakers can now count on a global tribe of pick-pockets to dress their films up and take ’em to market before the ink is dry on the coveted and hard-negotiated distribution deal. That’s the brave new world we live in: If DVDs of your indie hit aren’t already being hawked on the streets of New York and Shanghai the day before the art house opening, then it’s getting prepped for a release via pirate portals across the Internet within days of the premiere. Any amount of good press or notoriety is a double-edged sword in a world where pirates stock the airwaves.
Studio blockbusters like Lionsgate’s The Expendables 3 (reportedly downloaded two million times before its August 2014 premiere) are the most prominent victims of piracy. Lower budgets and profiles won’t protect independent films, though, for whom the financial punches land even harder. “The Internet has become this insane mall where everyone is hawking something,” says writer-director Allison Burnett (Ask Me Anything, Untraceable). “The fact is, there just aren’t enough screens for indie films, so piracy is outrageous to someone who is just trying to live another day and make another movie.”
Creators have a stake in seeing their film re-coup financially, of course. But, reflects Burnett, “Deep in the lizard brain, in some sort of selfish center, the much larger stake is in having as many people see the movie as possible. Part of me says, ‘Well, if people are ripping if off, at least they’re watching it.’ But another part of me knows that I have skin in this game and this is theft.”
What can be done about this far-reaching network of off-the-grid distribution, delivering content to viewers directly without the consent of creators? Where does it all lead? Is there a way to harness that technology and that community of consumers for benefit? Has piracy led us to the edge of oblivion, or into a new era of innovation in both distribution and content?
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