The system is failing

When I was in university in Galway, over a decade ago, there were two DVD rental stores in town that were absolutely fantastic; one was 2001: A Video Odyssey, the other was Shantalla Movie House.

Both were like a treasure chest of films I had yet to discover, independent films that were often delegated side-on displays on the bottom shelf of some corporate rental outlet, with many not even available. Both opened my mind to the world of independent film, and both made me the film lover and, in turn, the film writer I am today. Both are now closed. They followed the trend experienced by hundreds of small, independent film-loving rental stores around the country. In fact you will scarcely find anywhere to rent a film these days, especially outside Dublin.

This is one symptom of a rapidly changing system. Before, it was simple. Money is spent, films are made, people pay to watch the films, and thus more films are made.  But the system has changed, fundamentally. Ever since the first person plugged one VCR machine into another VCR machine there has been film piracy, however in the last 10 years things have accelerated rapidly from the physical act of piracy to a more ambiguous and practically anonymous form. It is short-sighted to think that as technology advances exponentially, people will not utilise this technology to their own advantage, and  thus as we head into 2015 it is possible to watch the latest cinema releases in full HD, in your own home, on your big screen TV, with surround sound, and, most importantly, for free. It can be said that this is a great time to be a film lover. In fact downloading is so simple that with modern broadband speeds it is possible to download a Blu-Ray quality film in the same time it takes to make a cup of tea and turn off the lights.

 

Telling people that this is wrong and what they are doing is illegal is not going to cut it as the anonymity of the internet insulates and protects the downloader.

 

Telling people that they are destroying the industry they love has not had the effect it should, considering it is often film lovers who download the most. But it is a hard sell trying to explain to someone that by downloading the latest Hollywood blockbuster, rather than paying €20 at the cinema to see it, you might be costing some Irish boom operator his job. In 2009 Avatar was released and has made $3 Billion dollars alone, so how could downloading this film possibly dent an industry that makes that much money? The cinema is the spectacle, the escape, the experience that all film fans love, but as the cost of going to the cinema continues to grow in the face of decreasing revenue, people feel less and less inclined to part with their money when there is an easy, fast and cheap alternative. This alternative will never go away, for every illegal downloading site that is shut down, another 10 open in its place and the job of policing this is even more difficult, if not completely impossible. Prosecuting individuals who download films in their home will only force the piracy back into the hands of criminals, from which it has effectively been pried.

People will not stop illegally downloading films from the internet. It has grown progressively year on year and will continue to grow unless there is a paradigm shift in how the distribution of film is done. As the cost of watching film legally increases and the ease of downloading films illegally increases, it is certain that the system is terribly flawed. There must be a solution that can benefit both the industry and the consumers of this industry because there are victims and it’s not the producers of Avatar or The Avengers or Transformers.

 

It was a sad day when my beloved film stores in Galway shut down having sold off their back catalogue of rare DVDs. Where would I find those rare gems, those films that you watch and tell everyone you know about?

 

Those films recommended to you by the film nerd behind the counter, who knows more about the films of Andrei Tarkovsky than Michael Bay. We all love film and whether you believe in paying for everything you watch or not is beside the point, the system is failing and it is us, the film lovers, who lose in the end.

Peter H. Morris
Film Editor
Headstuff.org

 

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