Ilegal downloading never 'morally justifiable' - NZFACT

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.

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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