April 1, 2009
April 2, 2009

Aarghh! Me harties… some thoughts on piracy

In case you missed the news yesterday, Wolverine is loose. The print is available on the Internet, and you can watch it right now. Yesterday Devin wrote about how the print got online. What interests me is why. What motivates somebody to watch a crappy print of a film on their computer monitor instead of at the cinema. There’s the obvious point that people don’t want to spend the money to see a film at the cinema. I think it’s safe to say that for most film geeks watching the movie online this isn’t the case, but I’d also argue that even the casual film viewer watching a pirated DVD on their TV isn’t really motivated by saving a few pennies. I don’t know about the US, but in the UK most people don’t download pirate films themselves, they buy dodgy DVDs, which are sold in dingy pubs or secluded corners of car parks for about £4.00($6.00) a time. The cost of a cinema ticket is usually around £7.50 ($11.00), so the saving is only a few pounds. If you then factor in the likelihood that the DVD will almost certainly be so poor quality that it’s unwatchable, or may not play at all, there isn’t really much of a saving on the price of a seeing it at the cinema. There is of course the Kudos of seeing a film before everyone else, and I’d imagine that most of the people who watched Wolverine yesterday did so for exactly this reason. The flip side of seeing it to win ‘geek-cred’ is watching it to avoid having it spoiled. Being English I have a somewhat different perspective on this to Americans. Historically we have received films a number of months after they are released in the states. And while in recent years we’ve started to get simultaneous releases of big blockbusters, but there is still a delay for most films (Coraline, for instance isn’t released here until the beginning of May). This means that frequently I have to spend months studiously avoiding spoilers. The thing is that while I will happily watch a TV show online to avoid having it spoiled between it’s US and UK airings I wouldn’t dream of watching an effects-driven film on my computer (or for that matter, streamed to my TV), and I doubt that I’m alone. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that most of the people with the technical savvy to find a half-decent copy of Wolverine would far rather see it first at the cinema. So why then? Why do people watch these pirated DVDs? Because they’re there. Sorry to conclude with such a cop-out, but it’s true. Most of the people who watch these things aren’t film geeks or penny-pinchers; they’re everyday guys. They probably don’t have any thoughts on piracy at all, and they certainly don’t seek these DVDs out. They go about their day-to-day business, and somebody offers them a copy of a film they want to see. It may be before the film is released, it may be during its run at the cinema or it may even be after the official DVD has been released. The fact is that these DVDs are bought out of convenience. Somebody offers you the chance to see a film you’re interested in and you say yes. Even if it doesn’t work, it’s only cost the change in your pocket, and it’s easier than going all the way to the cinema. That’s it ladies and gentlemen, that’s why people buy these DVDs, and short of human nature changing, it will always be the case. It may not be DVDs in the future, it might be USB keys, and 3D may end the in-theatre filming, but ultimately, as long as the balance between convenience and price remains, piracy will always exist. ]]>