The Wars to Come

Holy crap, did you just watch that episode of Game of Thrones?!

If the answer is yes, here’s another question – how did you get it?

For years now, even before your parents recorded off the radio, and taped movies on the home VCR, there has been a battle. A battle between the rights holders, and the illegal consumers. You all know that little ad at the beginning of DVDs. The one that asks you if you would steal a car, or a TV, or a movie by buying a copy off some shady looking guy from what looks to be a backstreet in Newtown. I’m of course talking about piracy. Not so much about the bloody violence at sea (unless you’re downloading Pirates of the Caribbean), but the content piracy that has in recent years reached record highs.

Piracy annually costs the film industry alone roughly $20billion. That’s billion, with a ‘b’. Most of this illegal content is obtained through torrent sites. In May 2014, the two top online torrent sites had close to 2.8million visitors, just from Australia. That’s over 11% of the population. Now this number may sound high, but it does not even begin to count repeat visitors. Another recent stat is that the leaked S05E1-4 of Game of Thrones broke piracy records, with a reported 32million downloads within the first week. That adds up to an apparent loss of $44million in the US alone, just from the first episode leaking.

Communications Minister, Malcom Turnbull, and his iMessage obsessed Attorney General, George Brandis, recently struck a deal between Hollywood and the Australian Internet service providers. This deal includes sending out a few warnings in a 3 strike structure to those who are downloading content that is seen as ‘illegally obtained’. It’s a question of ethics, but what is fair? Professor of Sociology, Andrew Jakubowicz, poses a similar question: is illegal downloading ethically acceptable because you can get away with it?

There is a big discrepancy between the availability, and the price of media here in Australia when compared to the US. For example: when you buy content through iTunes; prices differ, and Apple automatically skims a nice 30% off the top of all sales. So yes, when I buy stuff on iTunes I DO feel as if I’m funding the creation of Vader’s third Death Star. But also in doing so I feel like I’m supporting the content creators; the architects, tradesmen, and women who just want to do what they love.

Whilst holding some rights, the creator often doesn’t hold distribution rights or have the final say. With this there’s also the issue of artistic integrity. Sometimes the creator only made the creation to make money. We call these people Gene Simmons, or more simply sell-outs. Apparently instead of writing cheques when he owed money, Pablo Picasso drew sketches and sent them instead. They ended up being worth much more than his debt was. Is that the same as someone creating something for a non-artistic, solely wealth-accruing purpose? Though we instead call Picasso’s act ‘genius’, and the other creator ‘Metallica’.

Apart from being a Media Arts and Production student here at UTS for over the past year, I’m also a cinema usher. And I dig it. I really like my job there, and I’ve developed a loyalty to the cinema. So when I see people sneaking into a cinema without a ticket, I do get passionate. It too, is pirating.

Maybe you’ve ignored that little ad at the start of the DVDs, the one with the Australian film industry burning. I don’t blame you, but there’s a problem here, especially in the world of communications and law students. Law students, aren’t you kind of breaking the law (cue Judas Priest)? Communication students, don’t a large proportion of you want to become creators in the field you want to go into? Makers of art, music, television, and film.

Now, whilst you’re saving money by downloading the latest episode, movie or album, in the long run, whatever field you’re going into – aren’t you stealing from yourself?

By Cameron McCormack