The issues surrounding online copyright infringement aren't going to go away any time soon, but the arguments around access, positive PR spin and punishment continue to circle around in depressingly repetitive patterns. Over the weekend, three different stories illustrated these factors neatly.
Village Roadshow’s open letter on piracy
Village Roadshow won't take part in the upcoming copyright forum, citing fear of "crazies". Instead, it's penned an open letter than ran in this weekend's newspapers.
You know. Newspapers, where all that illegal downloading takes place between people folding up the newsprint to fold their pirated VCDs of The Matrix around before sending them flying down the street to the next pirate in the paper-plane-torrent world.
Oh, wait. That's not a thing that happens at all, is it?
The letter, headlined "TO AN AUSTRALIA THAT CARES" — clearly nobody's told Graham Burke about not shouting — revolves around the imminent release of Joel Edgerton's Felony, and how "All of this wonderful Australian creativity and excellence is in real jeopardy of being lost if the problem of piracy or copyright theft isn't solved"
Then again, as Televised Revolution points out, this isn't about actually facing pirates who operate online but not in newsprint, or indeed the reasons why a single given film might fly or tank.
It's about framing the wider media debate across print, radio and TV in a way that feels favourable to Village Roadshow and its business interests in an effort to drive up positive spin for its efforts to drive the costs of copyright compliance onto ISPs.
The letter itself uses the same terribly rubbery figures around the actual number of Australians employed in the movie business. There aren't, in actual real world fact, 900,000 people directly employed by the tv and movie businesses in Australia. With a hat tip to @Stilgherrian for the analysis, those figures conflate everyone even remotely associated with an industry that might serve movie interests as well as other ones.
Or in other words, in part of a debate that's awash with rubbery figures, whether they're torrent counts or industry "losses", these are just another set of highly dubious "statistics". As Homer Simpson once put it, "you can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forfty percent of all people know that."
Still, it's very clear that Village Roadshow isn't going to change its tune or tack any time soon.
The Doctor Is In
Meanwhile, over at the ABC, I was up early on Sunday morning at 4:50am to rewatch the first episode of the new season of Doctor Who.
Rewatch in my case because I was fortunate enough to be invited to the press screening of the episode a couple of weeks ago, but I was still keen to see it at the proper airing time.
Yeah, I'm that obsessive. It's my version of staying up all night to watch sportsball, or something.
The relevant factor here in the piracy debate, however, is that this was a show where there was absolutely no excuse for piracy, given that not only did the ABC show it concurrently with the BBC, but they also immediately made it available on iView during the day before a repeat showing last night as well. You really couldn't have it better than that without having Jenna Coleman or Peter Capaldi come and sit in your lap while you watch. I don't think that's likely just yet, but still, you couldn't ask for more timely Doctor Who delivery.
Except in a way, you could.
A work print of the episode leaked weeks ago and was widely torrented, which meant that those with very little patience could watch the episode ahead of time, albeit with incomplete visuals. I didn't do that, because I'm something of a purist, although I would be fascinated to watch the workprint afterwards as an exercise in examining television production methodology.
That's an aside, however. I do wonder what overall effect the early leak of the episode would have on the audience. A taster to view the full colour, full effects version, or enough of a meal to mean that they didn't tune in?
If you watched Doctor Who yesterday, how did you do it — and why?
The Fast And The Furious Way To Prison
One of the big challenges to the copyright holders is that it's clearly as much a battle of perceptions as it is profits. They're repeatedly said that they don't want to chase down individual pirates per se because it's a PR nightmare waiting to happen on an individual level when the clichéd single mother on benefits is sent down for years for downloading a single Justin Bieber track. Many would say she's suffered enough, for a start.
That doesn't mean, however, that this never happens, or that the results aren't punitive. In the UK over the weekend, The Guardian reports that Philip Danks has been sentenced to 33 months in prison for camcorder recording Fast and Furious Six and offering it up for sale via Facebook for £1.50.
Let's just recap what Mr Danks is spending more than two years behind bars for, shall we?
An ordinary movie to go to the big house for, but still Mr Danks doesn't seem like a terribly sympathetic character, given he was openly profiting from his piracy, and, according to the Guardian report, continued to sell copies of the film after his arrest.
Still, 33 months is a very long time to spend behind bars for what is essentially a civil matter rather than a straight up criminal one. UK movie sources were reportedly pleased with the result, with chief executive of the Cinema Exhibitors' Association Phil Clapp quoted as saying it "gives an important message on the increasing seriousness with which our courts rightly view film theft."
I've written before about how there's no easy solution to the issues facing content creators and the way that they can make money from their content as the models evolve. But what we've had over the weekend has been one instance of old market modelling with a fresh coat of very specifically targeted PR spin, an instance of content being delivered to the market as fast as feasible but still potentially stymied by even earlier instances of piracy, and the full and rather hefty weight of the law being brought down on one pirate.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, we need some kind of reasonable middle ground.