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Piracy: The social acceptability of theft and its effect on the movie industry

Internet piracy has been around almost as long as the internet itself. Communities exist, consisting of millions of web users, which are dedicated to sourcing, converting and sharing valuable copyrighted material. Some – The Pirate Bay – were the inspiration for political parties. Others – Megaupload – were responsible for accelerating the fortunes of a small group into the billions of dollars. But all major sites have been in the spotlight for a decade, coming and going, constantly switching web hosts from Sweden to Somalia to Costa Rica, managing to stay at least one step ahead of the authorities. The dubious legal position of these services had made it exceptionally difficult for them to be shut down, and as piracy – particularly movie piracy – is constantly increasing and evolving, the impact on the movie industry is huge and growing.

Simply put, piracy is now too big to dispose of entirely. It has been likened to the Hydra from Greek mythology; take off one head, take down one website, and two more come in to take its place. This combines with the lack of prosecution or punishment for individual consuming pirates to create a community that feels not only safe but powerful. The first generation of pirates is now growing up and is passing knowledge on to those ready to take the baton. There is a significant cost to the industry, but those who are most powerful are doing little to combat it.

Large movie studios are able to largely replace losses from piracy through sales of merchandise, while smaller independent or alternative companies struggle to generate demand for additional purchases to support their ventures. We will likely see a marked decline in alternative cinema and an increased homogenization of mainstream entertainment.

The decision to indirectly punish perpetrators through increased web surveillance and a lessening of internet freedom has had the effect of shouting at a naughty child at school. Instead authorities and major players should look to educate and offer alternatives to generate added value.

At present there is little to encourage Millennials to visit the cinema and attendance is declining steadily.