by Anupam Sharma
We hear a lot of noise about why government intervention on piracy somehow amounts to censoring the internet. That argument is as absurd as saying that prosecuting criminals amounts to violation of their individual liberty.
Let’s be clear - there is no connection between measures to curb piracy and censorship.
Let us not fall for the trivialisation of having someone compare a court order to block overseas piracy websites run by criminals raking in illegal profits, to an assault on free speech.
There has been, for decades now, an unfettered erosion of our content industries, facilitated by easy access to free illegal content, both on large scales and small. I was appalled when I went to my local supermarket and was offered a free pirated DVD because I’d spent over $50 and I am appalled when I hear of a new release film available as an illegal download.
Abdicating all responsibility and making strawman arguments about censorship is no way to solve this problem; a problem which threatens to fatally destabilize the long term sustainability of the Australian content industries.
In our 24/7 cyber world, overdosing on arguments and opinions, we frequently lose sight of the human aspect. For example, I am a producer/director/writer. I work hard at my job. Combining my passion and profession means I don’t look at the clock. I don’t get long service leave or public holiday pay. I don’t get paid overtime or for working on weekends. In fact, I get few of the benefits many workers take for granted. Not complaining … just stating the facts. I choose to develop and make films and television. But I don’t choose to have my revenue source from this work hijacked by content infringing websites make my films available to millions for free. These criminal organisations boast profit margins of around 95% - not surprising given that they pay nothing for the content while making obscene amounts of money from advertising illicit drugs, pornography and offshore gambling.
Contrary to public perception the journey of creating content is not glamorous. In fact, a great deal of it is grueling with no guarantees of success – financial or professional. Every single person working on my productions works hard – very hard. We all trained for years in our vocations to be able to make content we hope people are going to watch and enjoy, and that will make them think.
People in the creative industries regularly work long hours for many weeks or months – and sometimes years – with limited or no funds. Every on-screen frame involves “sweat and blood” - thousands of hours of hard work. Payment for this work is frequently deferred to enable the film to be made. Deferred means they don’t get paid if the product – the film or television show - does not make money. That can easily and often happen if the production cannot find an audience who will pay to watch it.
Filmmakers – from caterers to composers, actors to animal wranglers - have families and bills and responsibilities, just like you. They need to work for their living, just like you. And they deserve to be paid, just like you.
There is a ripple effect to every dollar I lose when a pirate site offers my content to millions of people without returning a single cent to me. Artists don’t get their deferred payment and service providers like post-production facilities or equipment hirers cannot continue to offer economical services to other productions. Most importantly, out-of-pocket investors will be unlikely to finance more screen content.
Nothing is 100% effective but each step counts. I support any initiative which deters piracy. Are we ever going to stop a small minority from finding a technical solution to undermine a court order? It’s unlikely. Will we ever change the minds of people who believe that piracy has no negative impact on the creative industry? Probably not. But we can try our best to shine a light on the groundless suggestion that stronger copyright protections are intended to destroy the ‘freedoms’ of the internet.
Please look beyond the hype and the propaganda. If you love films and television, pay for it when payment is required. It’s not a difficult thing to do. And you may find that it feels good to do the right thing. Making this stuff isn’t free, and it isn’t easy. We love to tell Australian stories, stories that are important to us. But we can’t sustain our industry on minimal returns.
Legislation and lobbying aside, in the end, for me, it is just about fairness.
Anupam Sharma is an Australian of Indian origin. He is a film director, actor, producer, and author. He directed the Australian feature film UnIndian, starring Australian cricketer Brett Lee, released in 2015.
In 2013 Anupam was appointed head of the Australian India Film Fund. He has been an Australia Day Ambassador and was named by Encore Magazine as one of the fifty most influential professionals in the Australian film industry.