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.
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.
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