Why online piracy could be the film industry’s biggest opportunity

2nd May 2012

In the UK, the film industry may well be high-fiving itself all the way back to Tinseltown, after the British legal system handed it its latest ‘triumph' over copyright infringement this week.  

The High Court ruled that ISPs must block their users from the Swedish content download site The Pirate Bay. So the likes of Sky, Virgin Media, Talk Talk and O2 must now actively prevent their subscribers from accessing the Pirate Bay, which provides bit torrent files used to search across the web for sites hosting copyrighted software, games, films and music.

The ruling sets in legal stone what the British recorded music industry body BPI requested ISPs to carry out voluntarily in November last year.

Major player BT though, is seeking "more time" to consider its position on the ruling. And the Internet Service Providers Association, while having no choice beyond compliance or appeal, really sees the essential role of re-education of society away from a tendency to assume that all online content should be available free of charge as belonging to schools, parents and government.

ISPA spokesman Nicholas Lansman told the BBC that while ISPs have a role to play in this, "it is not the job of ISPs to police all of this content." Despite this position, most ISPs already offer ‘opt-in' filtering services to customers with which to block nominated content from entering households. 

Time will tell as to how solid – or hollow – a victory this ruling is for the content proprietors.  But open discussions about the need for the film industry, for example, to do something more than stick its finger in the proverbial piracy dam seem rather thin on the ground.

Lessons Learned

We've seen this kind of industrial-scale complacency before – in the not too distant past. The music industry – facing near-annihilation from online piracy and copyright infringement aided by the likes of peer-to-peer disruptors Napster and Kazaa at the turn of the last century – seems alone in having made relative progress to influence online consumption, replacing its collective head in the sand with income-generating alternatives to selling high-margin CD albums.  And it took the best part of a decade and regular court appearances to realise that technology will pretty much always either outrun or circumvent legislation.

Tom Cheradar at VentureBeat is calls the Court's decision "an unofficial challenge to the hacker community." The truth is, the determined downloader is thrilled by the quest of bypassing any legal and technological obstacles between them and their desired content, employing everything from proxy servers to hacking directly into the proprietors' firewalls.

Known Knowns

In many ways the Hollywood-led film industry personifies the country from which it dominates the globe at its most hawkish – as it was during the early days of the U.S.'s adventures in Iraq – with its entrenched ‘you are either with us or against us' attitude.

And just as the history books will show that a U.S exit strategy did not begin to materialise until its forces began dialogue with the local Sunni groups it initially deemed as ‘terrorists', so will the content proprietors remain in the piracy mire until they start to present new ways of thinking about what they have and how best to trade with it in the digital age.

For the more enlightened investors in content – already conversant with the changing digital landscape that content proprietors are yet to cotton on to – they could do much worse than start to apply some pressure on the C-suite to ‘think different' come AGM day, rather than perpetuate a climate of internet censorship that rarely has the desired effect on piracy and "simply turns criminals into heroes."

Flipping the Script: Ideas for a new ‘film industry'

Perhaps its time the film industry had a close look at what actually constitutes the value chain of a film's production – what it sells as the final product to the public (the film) and what it either discards or gives away for free (inside track on the production process, in the form of ‘the making of' content; interviews with the cast, etc.) It could introduce and charge for public visits to the film sets, open days and workshops with the cast members and crew respectively- in effect bottle and sell that intangible  ‘razzamatazz' around the film along with box office tickets and give the online downloads up for free.

The music industry has done the equivalent, whereby CDs and MP3 files are now considered the commodity in the value chain and live concerts, festivals, public appearances and merchandise are considered the premium goods. The U.K.'s Guardian Newspaper has a similar model at work. Perhaps it's time that the film industry got a little more creative with their business model.


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