New Weapons Used in Pursuit of Film Pirates

Although the imagery of the article from which this post takes it’s title, is
hilarious; turn our movie theatres into war zones, with metal detectors,
pat-downs, and night-vision goggles, while security at our schools and
universities remains lax, I believe that despite the movie industry’s use
of James Bond-esque technology, this may not be the best way to combat

First, as fast as the movie industry and its hired techno-goons develop
new ways to combat pirates who have master handycam technology, pirates
will come up with ways around it. One low-tech solution would be to go so
far as to travel to another movie theatre. I, personally, have never been
run through a metal detector, strip-searched, or run through an infrared
scan (that I know of) at a movie theatre. I am not offering to tape
movies myself; I neither own a camcorder nor have the steady hands and
artistic vision required to pirate a movie. This leads me to suspect that
pirates could very effectively continue to tape movies by going from
theatre to theatre, eventually forcing the industry to give up hope; I
doubt their business model can support the kind of technology and
man-power needed to police every theatre in the land.

Second, my limited knowledge of the movie piracy juggernaught suggests
that watching movies shakily taped right off the screen, with terrible
sound, is not how most people get their fix. Just like some movie-goers
wait to rent films, people interested in watching things for free will
wait for either a DVD rip, or for a leaked copy of the film. There are
particular members of the piracy community who seem to have a Matt
Drudge-like ability to acquire copies of films and get them onto the
internet quickly, and with great quality.

Third, the changes to the Copyright Act and attempts to increase
penalties are unlikely to have the desired effect. Movie (and music)
piracy does not seem to be about profit. It is not a commercial
enterprise. Nor do those who participate in it (as tapers, distributors,
or consumers) tend to see themselves as participating in a criminal
activity. I suspect there is an element of a “hacker” mentality at play
among those who tape and distribute, probably driven by a childish
pseudo-Marxism opposition to big business and movie studios, but these are
not criminal minds. The startling numbers of people who are willing to
participate in these activities also indicates how hard it will be to
stop. Like jaywalking or marijuana, the law will not be able to stamp out
these activities.

The movie industry needs to change its tactics to try to combat piracy.
However, combatting it will not look at all like a battle between a suave
Hollywood exec in a tuxedo and an evil movie pirate issuing demands. I
think that there are two ways Hollywood can reasonably take to try to help
out it’s bottom line; moral and business.

Morally, Hollywood scored a Gigli-esque flop with the last line of
commercials I saw where gaffers, sound men, and best boys (whatever that
is) stood in front of the camera and talked about their love of movies,
and how they didn’t want to be put out of work. No one cared, and
everyone was pretty sure that movies still make a bundle. The movie
industry needs to try to deal with the ethics of piracy and downloading in
a more mature, subtle way. For example, most consumers of pirated movies
I know believe that their acts are “OK” because they would not have
bought, rented, or gone to see the movie regardless. Therefore, they
don’t think they’re costing anyone any money. If the industry can find a
way to change the paradigm around this, and other excuses for piracy, they
would help themselves; they might do something by examining efforts that
have been made to “get out the vote”, as just like voting, it is the
cumulative, not the individual, effect is that causes the industry

Business wise, the film industry should focus on improving the experience
and making “going to the movies” a destination activity. Their concern
has nothing to do with their moral rights, but everything to do with the
bottom line. If going to the movies was cheaper, and better, and easier,
the money would be there; the savings on spy technology might pay off on
their own.

  1. New technology created to thwart pirating will inevitably be overcome by potential pirates, there will always be a market for copied movies, even if they are low quality and so therefore, amendments to the Copyright Act will have little or no effect.

    Is all this new technology to prevent piracy worth it`? I whole-heartedly agree with the conclusion of this entry; there is something wrong with the way the industry is operating. The high-cost of going to the movies, combined with these military enforcement tactics will only serve to further erode the theatre-going experience.

    I think the theatre operators need to beware: after all, it is only six months later that the DVD release is made, at which time anyone with a computer and a slight bit of know-how can “rip” a perfect copy of the DVD itself.

    Theatre level enforcement costs the cinemas money, which can only be passed on to the movie-watching public. How will this affect the numbers of people at the theatre? If audience attendance is down due to the high costs of intellectual property protection measures, the individuals that will be hurt by this are the theatres and the production companies. And how will this ultimately prevent movies from being pirated? The movie industry needs to take a hard look at how and why they are enforcing their intellectual property rights. What good is protecting an intellectual property right if there is no one there to watch the show?

  2. I of course wholeheartedly echo Joanna’s positive response to my original piece, but feel I should point my many fans towards this Globe and Mail piece:

    Although I question the validity of theatre owner’s assertion that no movies sourced to Montreal have appeared online since his dramatic capture of the dastardly videotaper, point anyone who reads the article to his absolutely hilarious account of his dramatic capture, and wonder how hi-tech you need to be to nab a perpetrator using a tripod, the piece may raise an valid argument. It is possible that video pirates can be deterred by spot checks, and by reports of the NASA technology being used to wrangle them.

    I believe that this is still not something that theatre owners should pursue very far (unless, of course, they enjoy the thrill of the hunt as much as the owner in the Globe piece obviously does), however. Pirates may be deterred, and Canada may help satisfy international complainants (and, more importantly in my view, the Governator), but downloaders will still be able to get quality videos at the low, low price of free from their favoured bit torrent site, which is where theatre owners and Hollywood bigwigs alike are losing revenue (the poor Dickens).

    Thus, I renew my call for theatres to focus on “soft” measures to enhance attendance, rather than exciting, but ineffective, SWAT-style attacks.

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