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Correcting the course: steering away from piracy

by Brad Nisbet

Having a conversation with my friends, family, and even my colleagues about piracy is a surreal experience. They will tell me the intimate details of what they watch, how they watch it, how much money they spend (and how much they save on legitimate services) without much prompting. I suppose it is a sign of the times that we have removed any form of responsibility or shame for our actions.

As a student at WA Screen Academy, I recently made a short video that uses analogy to encourage young people to consider how their actions affect others. I came up with the initial creative concept the same day I heard the brief and was excited to try the empathic approach. I wanted to encourage people to think and consider their own actions, their personal moral compass, and what they thought was right or wrong.

Now let me be clear, I was an incredibly prolific pirate during my teenage years and early twenties. When I say incredibly prolific I am not exaggerating. I would set up automated systems to get me every single AU, US, UK, and NZ English language show that had a regular upload schedule, and I didn’t even watch half of them.

I had all the excuses; the shows I wanted weren’t available in Australia, the services I wanted weren’t here or too expensive, I couldn’t stand the ads interrupting the show, the available quality was better online, I didn’t want to wait an extra day/week/month/year for a show. You name it, I said it in defence of piracy.

But then I started my university studies as a film-maker and discovered how incredibly selfish I was being.

We live in a world of prolific media consumption, the average person watches 17.5 hours a week of television, (which includes streaming, bingeing, live tv, and movies) and on average spend 4.5 hours watching in a single sitting. On average it comes out to 1/12th of your life consuming media (higher for those aged 14 to 30).

Yet a third of our population feels no obligation to pay for the entertainment they receive. There are many ways to pay; you can watch content on an ad supported service, you can watch it on a subscription service, on a pay per view service, or a pay to own service.

There are up-sides and down-sides to each model and there is exclusivity and annoyances that each model presents to the audience. You must decide what you consider fair, what you are willing to accept.

I am not a fan of the terrible banner ads that cover a third of the actual program, and so I refuse to support those services. I often use free trial accounts during the periods of my favourite shows that are locked away behind exclusivity deals and I maintain subscriptions to SVOD services whose practices and content I like.

I am voting with my money and my time, telling the buyers what shows I like, supporting the content I want on my screen.

Every time a person pirates a show or film, they skew the stats and move the needle and further decrease the value that the broadcasters, advertisers, distributers, and studios place on that show or film (and all shows and films from similar genre’s, actors, producers, directors, writers, etc).

The resulting lower perceived value means that the production company will have to sell off more rights (such as distributions, exclusivity, etc) for less money. This means lower budgets, lower production values, less story, less art, less content.

It also means lower wages across the board for the production team, cast and crew, people who earn between $30,000 and $60,000 a year and just want to pay their bills, and raise their kids.

I believe that 90% of the people have some kind of empathy and kindness in their hearts and want to encourage creative and passionate film-makers with a basic wage. If content can be streamed legally for less than a cup of coffee, and it could save someone’s job, I would hope that people will do the right thing. it is likely that we learned some of what makes us ‘good’ people from TV and movies growing up, and ironically this is part of what makes films valuable.

And for those who don’t care, consider that every time someone downloads something illegally they are actively encouraging the policies and attitudes that are destroying the viewing experience.

The advertisers and broadcasters are pushing back against piracy with bottom third advertisements plastered over the actual show and the devaluation of local/regional broadcast rights. This leads the production to cut costs with lower quality VFX, camera work, acting, directing, music, props, costumes, cut content/story arcs, and filler/padding episodes.

The old arguments I mentioned at the start of this article are not relevant any more. We have many broadcasters, subscription TV, VOD and IPTV services and digital distributors who deliver a high-quality service. Most shows are available in Australia at a reasonable time after the US/UK (how many people actually watch them the second they come out anyway). And we can all watch pretty much everything in its highest quality.

I know it’s a pain to manage all those subscriptions, it’s hard to part with the money when its available for free, and ads can be a pain in the butt.

But, isn’t it worth it so you can make sure that YOUR tastes are recognised?

Don’t you want to encourage more of the kind of content YOU like? Isn’t it the right thing to do, to pay for something that you love?

So, here’s my suggestions: Next season, instead of googling “game of thrones free download”, go to a site like www.justwatch.com and type in “Game of Thrones” to find an (arguably) better quality and legal way to view the content.

And for what it’s worth, I am able to maintain several subscriptions and regularly purchase content. I also love going to the movies, I go quite often; and I am a much happier person these days. And if I can afford it, when I often have to work for what comes out to less than $10 an hour, I think others can afford it as well.

Because this is what I have learned; Piracy IS wrong, it is greedy, and it is selfish.

We all have to make our own decisions and that is ok. But, just like you don’t get to complain about politicians if you can’t be bothered to vote, you also can’t complain about the state of the entertainment you are provided if you aren’t a real customer.

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Brad Nisbet is an emerging Producer from Western Australia, recently graduated from the WA Screen Academy his student film "Dark Horses" is currently making its festival run and has been an Official Selection for festivals in Perth, Los Angeles, Melbourne, and Sydney and has won several awards (including best film).

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