The following is an essay written for my History of Motion Pictures class.
Ever since the birth of the Internet, piracy of media has continued to rampage and severely damage the profits of many media sources despite heavy opposition. This can be seen the strongest in the music industry. Annual music profits are the lowest in history, and while the film industry hasn’t been hit as hard at the music industry, Hollywood has taken a bit of a beating in the age of the Internet. Filmmakers are very aware that their films will be pirated, and because they accept this they have found ways to try to lessen the impact that piracy has on the industry. While the industries having their work pirated try to pass legislation, there is an ethical debate about the morality of piracy and how badly it actually hurts those who make it. Piracy is nothing new, but ever since the coming of the Internet it has spiraled to the point where it could very well ruin industries. While the debates about piracy and the legislation designed to contain it continue to rage on it remains fact that piracy, whether you are for it or against it, could very well be the end of the media industries (or at least how they are currently structured) that entertain us from day-to-day.
Through legislation and a reworking of the release system, Hollywood has been able to hold back piracy to a degree, but it has in no way stopped it from happening. Currently, there is a bill in the House of Representatives called Stop Online Piracy Act, which is similar to the Senates Protect IP act. In effect it would “make it a felony for any website to stream copyrighted material, and essentially allow the blacklisting of entire domains.” Now this bill isn’t specific to the film industry, it is just one of the latest attempts to stop Internet piracy, but there have been ones aimed specifically at the film industry. In 2007 Hollywood released a document that showed that fifty-percent of film piracy happens in Canada, and quickly Hollywood began lobbying for a bill of legislation to be written to correct this. They got their wish and the CMPDA was written. This bill gave a maximum of five years in jail for any person who “any person who knowingly operates the audiovisual recording function of any device in a public place while a cinematographic work is being exhibited.” The film industry also sought maximum penalties of one million per recording in this bill. Legislation is not the only way the film industry has defended itself against piracy. Many studios have sued piracy websites like The Pirate Bay for having their films ready for download via torrents. Studios have also moved to releasing films on the same day, or within a few days of each other, to lower the chance of the film being leaked online before it is released somewhere else. In 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine was leaked to the Internet before the film was even finished. The film industry is doing all it can to keep itself from losing itself to piracy like the music industry through laws and lawsuits. Up until now it hasn’t been doing as good as it might have hoped, but that may all change if the Stop Online Piracy Act is to be passed.
Laws like the Stop Piracy Online Act will continue to be made as long as piracy is an issue, but while all that is happening there is an ethical debate about piracy. There are many people in the world do not see it as a bad thing at all. Over the years there have been studies that have come out claiming that people who pirate songs buy up to ten times more music then they steal. Claims like this support piracy by saying that it makes people more likely to buy a song or CD if they know that they like the song or album. Others justify piracy buy saying that it gives people who could normally never afford to see these films or listen to this music to be able to enjoy them. In this way piracy increases the potential mass audience of the media being pirated. Then there are those who completely oppose piracy. The argument for this side is almost always that it hurts the artist. “If I make a film or an album and all that is going to happen is that people steal it, why would I continue to make films or music?” The debate about whether it is ethical to pirate media is ongoing and will most likely continue as long as piracy continues to be a problem. What many of these people who pirate songs and movies need to be conscious of is that by illegally downloading this media they are in turn hurting the studios that make it. The artist may not be hurt as much as the studio, however it is the studio that provides these artists the means with which they make their art. If we hurt the studios by taking away they make their money they will, being the business that they are, stop doing business in their industry. If the studio can no longer make money by putting out films or albums, then they will either shut down or go to another business model. Since piracy is not likely to stop any time soon, studios will more than likely have to reorganize themselves in a way that will allow them to make money in the new market created by piracy.
The debate about piracy goes on, as does the legislation being announced to try to fight it. However, piracy will never stop as long as there is a way for it to continue to live on. Rather then trying to save a dying system with legislation and lawsuits, perhaps studios should reorganize themselves to better fit the times. How this would be done is up to the studios themselves, but it is a much better option than going bankrupt.