Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Big Brother FIND and piracy

I got an email yesterday from FIND about how I could watch screeners of the Spirit Award nominees through Netflix. Great, I thought, and saved it to follow-up on later. Then I got this draconian email from them (see below) making extra sure that I know not to pirate any of these DVDs. My main beef is with the erroneous claim: "As you are aware, piracy is a threat to the entire industry."
Oh really? I guess that FIND and IFP are now in bed a little too often with the MPAA if they are buying this garbage. The MPAA (and Netflix, etc) are trying to protect a certain business model, but its more about making sure they control distribution than it is about protecting any indie filmmakers rights. Several serious studies have shown that the statistical effect of illegal downloading on the industry is....a lot, a little...actually, nil. The one linked here is just one of many regarding the music industry - as Harvard's website puts it: "Professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee and co-author Koleman Strumpf floored the disbelieving music industry with their findings that illegal music downloads don’t hurt CD sales. Oberholzer discusses what the industry should do next." You can read the whole article, but what he suggests is that online trading actually helps push sales, and that the industry should develop new models.

I won't go on and on, like most of my posts, but I do suggest that film people read Oberholzer-Gee's study and think about what it means for independent film instead of just echoing the MPAA's BS. In fact, a long time ago, we would have expected film orgs like these to do it for us, and help us think about new possibilities afforded by new technologies instead of pushing for old, tired ones. As I've heard someone else say - If these filmmakers haven't gotten distribution or are no longer screening in theatres, then they have bigger worries than piracy - try obscurity.

In all fairness to FIND, they are probably just protecting their asses, but the letter is a bit too much:

Dear Film Independent and IFP members:

The Spirit Awards and Netflix are pleased to be able to send you DVDs of the 2007 Spirit Award nominated films. (By now, you should have received the email from Netflix with your special offer code.) Please read this letter carefully—it contains important information about your screeners.

As you are aware, piracy is a threat to the entire industry. Netflix and the Spirit Awards have special permission to provide screener copies of nominated films for your personal viewing. Many of these DVDs are individually coded with invisible, unique watermarks that identify the screener and any copies of the screener. If any unauthorized copies (including internet uploads) of the film are traced back to your screener, you risk civil and criminal penalties. We ask you to be especially careful while the screener is in your possession, and do not circulate, transfer, distribute, loan, sell, reproduce, or give the screener to anyone else.

This special site created by Netflix solely for the Spirit Awards voters is a privilege for members that is invaluable to the nominees and to the voting process. Many of the nominated films have not had distribution or are no longer screening in theaters. The Neflix site ensures that these films can be seen by our voting members. Any abuse of this privilege may result in criminal penalties against you and the discontinuation of this program.

Thank you in advance for helping us all protect the rights of filmmakers in our fight against piracy.


Anonymous said...

while i side with brian on these issues in spirit and as a colleague... i disagree with him on this particular post. like it or not, a FIND or IFP member copying someone else's DVD's (in this case those rented from Netflix) is against the law.

BNewmanSBoard said...

Actually, I agree with anonymous. I should have been more clear that I am not saying someone should pirate films, or that it isn't against the law. I just think the language is overbearing, and that they could have easily said something like "Support filmmakers, don't pirate these - and they are watermarked" instead of sending a second email just about piracy.