Giz Guest Post: The Question Of Piracy

Working in a management position in the DVD retail/rental industry I see a lot of interesting information pass my way regarding the industry and its efforts to fight piracy. I agree with the general view that piracy is not a victimless crime, and have no doubt that it does have an effect on the industry and the individuals that rely on it for a living, myself included. However I also believe that the effect is not always a negative one.

I base this last statement on personal experience so it may or may not be completely true, but I know several of my very loyal regular customers download movies off the web, and they still buy and rent things from me. They even rent things they have already pirated so they can enjoy it in the best available quality and have even been known to buy those very same movies they have downloaded from the web because they enjoy them so much!

As said before this is not based on any scientific study but my personal experience at the retail 'front-line'.

I can already see the smiles appearing on faces of regular pirates and the looks of horror on those of movie distributors, so before anyone gets too excited let me add to the above overly simplistic statement. I have read articles and statistics that range from the view that piracy is killing the industry through to the view that without piracy the industry would already be dead. I don't think that anyone is entirely sure how much piracy is really hurting DVD sales and rentals. Indeed the old saying that you can take a statistic and bend it any way you want has never applied more fully than it does to this topic.

Don't get me wrong, I believe actors and studios who invest so much time, effort and money in their work have every right to stop the theft of their intellectual material. Indeed if I created something that cost a lot of money and I put a huge amount of effort into then I certainly would want people to be paying for it.

So just when is piracy an enemy and when is it a friend? Like I said before I know people who have downloaded media off the Internet and then proceeded to buy or rent it from me just to experience the real thing. I know at first glance what they are doing is illegal, but are these people actually hurting my industry? No, in fact the industry is probably better off for them having downloaded the material illegally, as in a lot of cases they might never have wanted it enough to pay for a legitimate copy without seeing it first.

On the other hand you have shady operators who spend all day burning discs of downloaded content to sell at the market on the weekend. These people and their customers I abhor, as they are not just 'checking it out' to see what is worthwhile, they are attempting to replace a legitimate copy on the market with an illegal one. This obviously warrants no debate over whether it is illegal as at the base it is pure theft. For every one of those copies sold at the local markets, there is demand for one less copy to be bought from my store. That is stealing from me, my distributors and the studios.

Distributors and studios hate all types of film piracy, but I believe that casual downloading is not hurting the industry as much as a lot of people would have you believe and as controversial as it is to say this, it may even be helping it. However, having said that I do stand behind anyone who wishes to stop commercial piracy as that is just plain wrong and is clearly detrimental to the industry as a whole. Someone I know regularly buys DVDs from a commercial pirate. They won’t tell me where they get them from, and probably for good reason. I have long stated my stance on this topic and at every available opportunity told them how much I despise this.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.

Most of the major distributors have now stopped giving us 'screeners' for their A list movies. Some people would say "who cares you’re going to buy them anyway". And that seems to be the studios stance as well. That may be true, but how many am I going to buy? I know my local market. I can watch a film and say "Oh I should get 20 of them" or "Hmm good movie but too long I'll only get 6" (locals here seem to have short attention spans). So telling me it’s a really, really good action movies with great actors without letting me see the thing is about as helpful as telling me you have a really good supply of mixed fruit. What happens if my customers only like apples and I buy a crate of bananas and only a handful of apples? The bananas don’t sell and they end up going off and the demand for apples outstrips the supply and potential customers go elsewhere.

This is compounded by movies that have rental to retail windows, which I might add suppliers are not ashamed to add a good 20 - 30% price premium to. You’re tempted to buy big based on the lack of retail competition, but really, once the early adopters have seen it and told their friends it’s too long or too slow, is the demand going to be there to sustain your initial buy of 20 copies? Or will you end up with a whole load of bananas you have to sell very cheaply and quickly to try and minimize the loss.

So I might be going to buy it anyway, but screeners are very helpful for working out just HOW MUCH of it I'm buying.

Their excuse for the lack of screeners is piracy from screener leaks. I think this is a load of crap, considering you can download cam recordings of movies within days, sometimes hours of it hitting the cinema or to put it more bluntly MONTHS before we get the screeners.

I think the distributors have gone about this completely the wrong way and they are just creating more piracy for themselves, as now any legitimate retailer who wants to have a look at the goods before they come out has only two options; buy your own cinema ticket, and create a time in your work/family schedule to go see it or download/borrow an illegal copy of the movie to watch at your leisure.

I work over 70 hours a week, have next to no spare time and what I do have I want to spend with people I love, not a crowd of people I don't know in a dark room. So if the distributors keep up their stance on screens guess how I am going to have to get my preview DVDs.

Well done film industry. Way to combat piracy.

It should be noted that the views expressed above are all my own, and do not represent those of any company or business i am associated with. I do not encourage or condone ANY form of piracy, and would love it if the world was perfect and everyone got there movies legally (myself included) however I am a realist and unfortunately the business world we are forced to operate in is far from perfect.

Simon Potts is the Operations Manager of a family owned DVD rental store and internet cafe. He spends his spare time reading Giz and playing with his latest tech toys.

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