How to morally justify illegal downloading

The entertainment companies are never, ever going to convince people they could pay for something that they could get for free in the easiest possible manner and no scare tactics are going to change that.

UPDATE: Read NZFACT's response

The fight against illegal downloading resorted to fear tactics again recently, with the New Zealand Federation Against Copyright Theft talking up a new survey that showed that more than 70% of New Zealand youth would stop accessing illegal versions of copyrighted material if they received a notice from their ISP.

The local effort against downloading is also hitting headlines again with the controversial s92 back before the cabinet by Christmas.

It’s been a common tactic for anti-downloading bodies over the past 10 years: warnings and threats of disconnection or fines. But more people are still downloading more than ever before as technology makes it easier and easier. It must be time for a new tactic.

It’s not as though nobody saw it coming. The technological revolution of the past 20 years has seen an extraordinarily fast cultural shift but it has been on the cards ever since human beings discovered the social possibilities of the internet, well over a decade ago.

Entire world just a click away ... if only
New Zealand is still geographically isolated and that is unlikely to change for a few million years, but that revolution has brought us closer to the rest of the world, especially when it comes to entertainment choices.

New Zealanders used to patiently wait months – or even years – before the latest movie releases showed up. That was easy enough when there was no outlet for the hype, but now that manufactured buzz for the latest big hit at the US box office is almost inescapable and those releases can materialise on the internet within a matter of days.

In one form or another, they are out there for people to access. New Zealand doesn’t have to be culturally isolated any more. The entire world is just a click away.

Now, Kiwis can download esoteric documentaries or impenetrable arthouse films that only appeal to a select few people. These people may not be enough to make a large release of such a movie economical, but they can be very keen to see something they have a precise interest in.

If, for some odd reason, somebody in New Zealand needed to see Guy Ritchie’s movie Revolver, the only way is to import it from overseas. Ritchie’s film took a critical kicking that was only matched by the hatred shown at Swept Away, his earlier effort with then-wife Madonna, and never got a release in New Zealand.

It is possible to purchase a copy of the movie through an international web retailer, or the Ritchie fan could wait until it showed up on television at three o’clock on a Sunday morning, or they could just download it in less than an hour.

If it’s that easy and simple to do it illegally, why is it so difficult to do legitimately?

The movie experience
Despite widespread bleating about the rise of piracy, there are still plenty of people who don’t bother downloading. If there is one glimmer of hope out of those ubiquitous warnings, it’s that cinema admissions are holding strong in the face of piracy.

Sky City Entertainment recently revealed admissions to its New Zealand cinemas for the first quarter of the year were up by 17% and the industry is looking to 3D films for further growth.

The cinema experience can be overpriced, but enough people are still choosing to see movies in a theatre to make it economically viable. They go for the experience, while budgets squeezed by economic crunching can still afford the odd night out.

The home theatre experience is getting better by the day but a pristine print screening on a giant cinema screen is still the best way to experience many movies.

At least quality is assured. Pirated new release films have a deservedly notorious habit of offering shaky camcorder footage and downloading a film that can barely be seen is just stupid.

If they can easily get to it, people are still willing to pay for new entertainment, especially if the artists involved benefits.

The entertainment business model has been shattered and the big companies aren’t an absolute gatekeeper between the creator and the audience any more. But that hasn’t stopped those companies from hiding behind the artists, using the creator’s plight justify their own continued existence.

There is no doubt that creators can be hit hard by piracy. Movies such as Sione’s Wedding have certainly suffered, as any product which became saturated in its key market would. It’s like giving everybody in Blenheim free coffee for a year on the day a new Starbucks opens in the region. It’s going to have an impact.

But many artists and creators are now using social media to have direct contact with their audience, bypassing the gatekeepers completely and leaving them high and dry.

On the TV
Television shows are also heavily downloaded on a more regular basis as consumers find it harder to wait for the eventual broadcast.

Television dramas have increasingly adopted a long-form narrative, with stories playing out over months and years and viewer enjoyment heavily dependent on plot twists.

When David Tennat finishes his successful run as the latest doctor Who this Christmas, New Zealand fans are not going to wait for the series climax to sneak out on New Zealand television screens, not when the downloading option is so ridiculously easy.

The unfortunate fact is: If a payment option as easy as illegal downloading was available, these people would pay it. They want to support their favourite television programme and don’t mind paying for it.

Some have spent thousands on Doctor Who DVDs and merchandise, they would willingly pay a few more bucks for a clean and legal broadcast as soon as possible, especially when it helps the long-term viability of the show they adore.

Television networks are getting better at grasping this concept – programmes such as Lost come “hot off the satellite”, (which usually still somehow takes a few weeks to bounce around the world) - while the most recent Doctor Who special was repeated on Prime Television two weeks after it screened in the UK.

But two weeks is an eternity in the modern media zeitgeist and any delay will see a hardcore fanbase make their own arrangements.

Or when TV3/C4 promises new episodes of South Park or Family Guy, and it is new for a while before going back to the same old repeats after six weeks. There are too many episodes of these shows produced to keep track of it all, (especially when both are a bit too fond of non-sequiteurs) and downloading can seem a much easier option than following the whims of programme directors.

Crucially, South Park is produced at such an incredible pace that it can be incredibly timely, another factor lost in the delay.

TVNZ and TV3 does offer catch-ups for free on the net, but not for everything. And the more esoteric the show, the greater and more hardcore the fanbase gets, and the equal unlikelihood that it will even be offered in this format..

Downloading television shows may be illegal, but when the programme’s entertainment levels are directly affected, who can blame the viewers for seeking the best option?

(Also, if you legally purchase the DVD of Curb Your Enthusiasm season five and it all plays perfectly fine until the last episode comes along and it suddenly won’t run on any DVD player in creation, you shouldn’t feel too bad about downloading it.)

Listen to this
Kiwi musicians have often run into breathless fans who tell the artist they love their work so much they’ve downloaded all their songs.

There really is not excuse for this behaviour. Getting new music from the internet is cheap and easy, mainly because the exchange of music has been happening for so long, well before broadband accessibility let everybody share their video files.

There were a few fears, tears and lawsuits to get to the current stage, but it’s there now, with a variety of options.

Downloading isn’t even necessary if you want to sample free music. Just go to YouTube, and everything is there.

The traditional structure of the music business is still going through upheavals, with some artists now going after the record companies. Canadian artists have launched a $6 billion lawsuit against the local companies, saying they have been cheated out of royalties.

But other musicians have also seen the power of personal downloads and gone straight to the computer. The success of groups such as Radiohead in this arena is difficult to fully gauge, but at least they’re trying something new.

Cutting in
The endless warnings about illegal downloading – some DVDs feature four different copyright warnings –are just annoying enough to be completely ineffective.

The ease, speed and availability of downloading has attracted many who have found a new way to indulge in their favourite entertainments.

Illegal downloaders don’t ignore those warnings because they think fo themselves as criminals who would steal a handbag, they’re people who genuinely love the things they download. And no amount of fear tactics is going to change that. 

11 · Got a question about this story? Leave it in Comments & Questions below.

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11 Comments & Questions

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I will pay for content. I cannot pay for content because they tell me I should just wait. I don't want to wait, so I download it. It's easy and freely available.

I watch more TV at the moment than ever before - I find it online and I download it. I'd happily pay but nobody wants to take my money, they just want to prosecute me.

I won't wait until next year to see things I can see today - what kind of stupid model is that?!

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What does the studio actually get, per ticket, from a cinema admisssion, or per DVD for a sale? I'm guessing a few bucks?

So why can't the studios find a way to provide a legal means for accessing these products for something like that price? If I could download a film (unencumbered with insane content protection so that I can play it how and when I want to) for a few bucks, I totally would. The percentage of profit returned to the studio on that sale would be much higher.

But I am not going to pay Sky or TiVo $7-10 to watch that same movie (only to have it deleted from my device a matter of hours later).

Straight forward and simple movie downloads for a reasonable price would be great. If I want more bells and whistles (commentary, extra features) I can buy the DVD or Blu-Ray.

TV programmes the same (much more complex in NZ with various rights involved, but in theory it would be nice) - $1 an ep. Or perhaps free as ad-supported content. Download, not streaming.

At some point the rightsholders are just going to have to let go a little. Give us DRM-free content - the stuff is going to get pirated anyway. I'm not even to freaked out by the idea of 'Social DRM' - where the original purchaser's details are embedded in the file somehow. I'd be happy to watch myself, lend to friends even maybe, put on my various devices, but I'm obviously not likely to share that file with strangers online.

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On the issue of 'hot off the satellite' stuff from the US...

It is complicated by weird US TV schedules, and also the need for local promos.

Take 'Lost' for example. In the US the show sometimes takes 2-3 breaks in it's schedule for a couple of weeks at a time, breaks are just not common in NZ TV schedules. So even when they want to play the series close to air here, they have to give it a few weeks head start so that breaks in the NZ screenings don't have to be introduced to keep in step with the US (if they did we'd have a slew of painful letters in the TV Guide).

Similarly the material for the show has to be received at the station in time for local staff to produce promos for the upcoming episode.

Otherwise we tend to do pretty well, occasionally even getting ahead (we had Flashpoint episodes before they screened in the US at one point - although we've long since fallen behind now).

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There are some cool new stores and services for buying and enjoying music in NZ.

Check out the "Learn About > Online Music Services" drop down menu at for them. and are a few great services I'm enjoying legitimately and legally at the moment.

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I'm a big downloader, but I'm also a big buyer. I used to work in a music store, and if you'd told me then that I'd one day buy most of my stuff online, I would've laughed... but as my taste for finding more and more interesting music has grown, I honestly don't have the time to find things in music stores any more. Especially after I walk into somewhere like Real Groovy - a store that absorbed 97% of my 'Course Related Costs' while at Uni - and get served by some snoody greater-than-thou assistant who doesn't have what I'm looking for, and isn't even willing to offer to try and find/order it. I'll take my money somewhere else, thanks very much.

If I download an album, 95% of the time it's in a preview sense, as nearly every album on torrents is only 192KB anyway, which simply isn't good enough - I'll rarely settle for anything less than an iTunes Plus quality track. I do firmly believe in giving the artist some money, and my research has shown that digital downloads gives them that little bit more. In a perfect world, every time I wanted an album, I'd download a free, high quality version, then email the artist and get they're bank details to make a deposit. Not to say the record company didn't do any work, but they've been getting too fat for too long and I'm quite enjoying the lesson that they're hopefully learning here.

Hell I even paid just over $NZ28 for Radiohead's 'In Rainbows' because it was a great album, and they were getting nearly every cent.

There's a fantastic article written by Courtney Love (of all people) where amidst some who-knows-what influenced ranting, she makes some fantastic points. And she sums up her position as a musician in a simple, perfect paragraph:

"I know my place. I’m a waiter. I’m in the service industry. I live on tips. Occasionally, I’m going to get stiffed, but that’s OK. If I work hard and I’m doing good work, I believe that the people who enjoy it are going to want to come directly to me and get my music because it sounds better, since it’s mastered and packaged by me personally. I’m providing an honest, real experience. Period."

The full article can be read here:

And as for TV, I used to be the watch-it-every-week kind of guy, until I'd start to watch shows like [EMMY AWARD WINNING, 4 SEASON RUNNING] 30 Rock, only to find TV3 cancel it after the 4th episode. As more shows like this dropped off the radar (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia was another example) and more crap like Wife Swap Who-Cares-Where made it on to TV, I wasn't prepared to wait around for a DVD in a years time, seen as I can't watch it legally online due to legal restrictions. If I ever meet Tina Fey, I'll be sure to hand her the $300 odd that I probably now owe her... shortly after I get down on one knee and propose.

Since the floppy disk, games on computers have been able to be copied with relative ease, despite all the moves forward in technology. And yet how much money was spent on a) making Halo 3 and b) selling it? It's not an exact metaphor I know, but the gaming industry has gone from strength to strength since it's inception. There will always be people who'll play the system - doing it the illegal way - but there will always be people who'll play by the rules too, and hopefully the system will work in a way that it can survive this.

And you know what, I personally think if these industries really take a hit, it's the GOOD stuff that will survive, because there'll be people willing to pay for the 30 Rock's and the Radiohead's and the Coffee & Cigarettes' of this world. And with any luck it might just result in a few less Lady Gaga's and Basshunters instead. And I look forward to it.

Gosh, what a rant! :-P

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If we as taxpayers have funded certain NZ artists through Creative NZ, etc., then haven't we already paid for the music? Some of these uneducated & 2nd rate 'musicians' have unashamedly been on the bludge since they left school. They've been stealing from society so I don't think they are in any position start casting stones - Don McGlashan springs to mind.

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I think most people download things because they cannot get them to new zealand any other way.
if they actually showed good series and shows on tv and if they brought a more extensive selection of music and movies to nz shops people may stop downloading illegally.

Moreover, nz has some of the highest prices in the world although the average salary is relatively low in comparison to other civilized countries.

The bottom line is that illegal downloads are driven by this country being too backwards.

I guess the idea is that everyone lives as primitively as possible with no interest in anything except for mediocre shows as Shortland Street or whatever else tvnz decided to broadcast.

This is ridiculous.

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NBR op-ed - response to Robert Smith’s “How to morally justify illegal downloading” 23 December 2009

Anyone prepared to delve even an inch beyond the pat little rationalisation contained in Robert Smith’s opinion piece on the justification for illegal downloading will know that it’s far from the truth.
Every illegal download of a movie deprives a filmmaker of payment for their work. And that has flow on effects to what is literally a cast of thousands involved in that project.
Moviemaking, after all, is an expensive – and risky – business. In taking the plunge to make a movie, the filmmaker is taking a huge punt that the story they’re seeking to tell will appeal to large enough audiences to make a profit two or three years down the road.
That’s the nature of the game, but rampant piracy is an additional risk that they shouldn’t have to absorb.
Make no mistake – this is a business, one that needs to generate a return in order to keep going. Otherwise it becomes a very expensive hobby limited to just a privileged few, or a cottage industry supported by talented amateurs who all hold day jobs to survive.
Lest you think this a tad dramatic, consider this: Piracy affects the smaller film industries like New Zealand’s just as much – if not more – than the big Hollywood studios.
Search any peer-to-peer filesharing site and you’ll see New Zealand films ranging from classics like Once Were Warriors to recent hits like Black Sheep nestled alongside the major Hollywood blockbusters.
And it’s the smaller industries like New Zealand’s that feel the effects of piracy the most.
A report by independent research company LEK Consulting found online copyright infringement cost the New Zealand film industry $70.8 million in 2005 – an estimated 25 per cent of the potential market. Of the total loss, just $27.1 million was sustained by the six major Hollywood studios.
The remaining $43.7 million – 60 per cent of the total loss – was picked up by local film and television makers.
Movies, at times, can be quite marginal products. And piracy can sometimes make the difference between whether a movie makes money or suffers a loss. And even when it does make money, the loss in earnings has knock on effects for future projects.
Projects get scaled back or dropped altogether. Some new writers, actors and filmmakers won’t get discovered. The opportunities become quite limited for everyone involved in the sector, from the artists, writers and directors, through to the make-up artists, set designers and camera operators.
This can have a huge consequence for a small industry like New Zealand’s, which, despite its size contributes an immense $2.5 billion to the New Zealand economy and creates nearly 22,000 jobs, as a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers has found.
Those who download illegally often justify their actions by citing the length of time it takes for certain releases to reach New Zealand. And I acknowledge that we, as an industry, must give audiences fast, easy and affordable legal access to the movies we produce.
The creative sector already has four online retailing sites specifically for the New Zealand market, with one more due to start in the new year. That’s not including all the other online retail outlets catering to a global audience.
And let’s not forget that the same “esoteric documentaries or impenetrable arthouse films” that Robert cites are difficult to source in New Zealand can be obtained simply by going to the filmmaker’s website.
But filmmakers simply cannot compete with products that are free. No one can. Like 99% of Kiwis, they need to see financial return for their efforts. No one after all works for nothing. If it were a rival product that significantly undercuts their offering on price, well, then it’s simply market forces at work. But how can anyone realistically compete with something that is stolen from them and then given away for free?
The internet is not something to be feared. And we recognise the opportunities it offers for us as an industry.
In supporting the Government’s moves to introduce a workable legislative process for rights holders to protect their copyright online, we as an industry are not talking about state-imposed preservation of the status quo – merely asking for support for legislative proposals that target those that persistently share copyrighted content.
I don’t believe everyone who shares copyrighted material knowingly considers the impacts of what they’re doing, and the process outlined under the Cabinet Paper proposal released by the Government last week for Section 92a of the Copyright Act provides opportunities to alert them of this, without penalty.
Like any new frontier, the Internet remains a Wild West. All we want is to be able to ensure that filmmakers – along with the rest of the thousands of people involved in the industry - get a fair go in being able to earn a living from their hard work.

Tony Eaton is executive director of NZFACT, which was established in 2005 by the Motion Picture Association to protect the film industry in New Zealand from the adverse impacts of copyright theft.

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I only download TV due to the fact most shows just get pulled of timeslots with no warning. Also shows just keep getting repeated (2 and a half men) up to 3 nights a week. I have asked if they were going to show the new seasons and got the response of "NO" from TVNZ, so what choice is left?

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How do i know if the site is illeagal

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I think the industry has to recongnise the change that internet has brought to the world. Instead of holding grauge on the money lost due to piracy and hoping users will learn their lessons and be scard by the fines, why not find ways to market them in more ways that are more cheaply and readily available online?

Simply asking the law to support will not go a long way, the creative industry also needs to change some strategies and out-smart users. No one wants to do stuff illegally after all.

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