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Samuel Reed - “An Essay on Film Piracy” by Stevee Taylor lyrics

In 1927, the first sound movie, called The Jazz Singer, was made. After years of silence on film, finally someone had successfully combined talking and music with what was happening on screen. This was the first of many cinematic milestones achieved through advancing technology. Since then there have been several introductions: Technicolour, Cinemascope, 3D, and even a brief trial with Aromascope...all of these opportunities used to try make cinema-going a more involving experience. However, advancing technology has also had a negative effect on the film industry. Since videos have become a form of watching a movie, film piracy has slowly become a huge problem, but even more so since the internet has become more powerful.

Internet film piracy has become a global epidemic. As internet usage has expanded and there is now a lot more space to download and share files, pirates have been using this to their advantage. In January 2011, Envisional was commissioned by NBC Universal to analyse the amount of internet usage dedicated to copyright infringement, particularly in the area of film. One of the areas they looked at was the content on BitTorrent, which is the most used file sharing protocol worldwide. It was shown that 35.2% of what they found on BitTorrent was film content, and all but one of the 10,000 files they tested offered copyrighted and illegal content. They also found that video streaming is the fastest growing sector of the internet, accounting for over one quarter of internet traffic. 5.3% of that is illegitimately streamed content, a number which is set to rise as video streaming continues to grow at a fast speed. Envisonal states that 23.76% of global internet traffic is used for infringing content. With the internet's continual rapid growth, these numbers are set to get bigger – eventuating in a criminal act such as piracy becoming the biggest user of the internet.

People are under the impression that downloading/watching a pirated film on the internet is harmless, when it is really theft. What these people fail to realise is that film-making accounts for over 2.4 million jobs in the US, and is a major contributor to the global economy. The film industry isn't the only one that loses money to piracy, as the Department for Professional Employees says the government loses tax revenue “that would have been generated by the sale of non-pirated goods.” The Motion Picture Association of America says that an estimated “$58 billion in economic output is lost to the US economy annually due to copyright theft.” This has a resounding effect on the jobs needed to make films. Most of the workers in Hollywood are on average wages – even though their services such as costume making, food preparing or assisting directors are all vital. If their films fail to earn their budget back, their wages are cut, or even worse, they lose their job. Films aren't just about the rich actors and lavish sets that appear on screen. Hundreds of people work on one film, and if you download that film instead of paying to see it, there is a chance that you are robbing one of those people of a job.
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Film piracy is also a business that doesn't realise what kinds of people they are stealing from. Most of the downloads available on the internet are for what is doing well at the box-office, but one of the worst cases of piracy was for a war film called The Hurt Locker, which was only given a small release. The Hurt Locker is a cinematic milestone in itself: its director, Kathryn Bigelow, became the first woman in the Academy Awards' 82 year history to win for directing. It was also the lowest grossing film to win Best Picture, surprisingly beating the highest-grossing film in the world, Avatar, to the award. However, even though the film had many accolades to its name and was met with universal critical acclaim, the film failed at the box-office. This doesn't mean that the film wasn't widely seen, though. Most of its audience will remember seeing this film with a hazy picture and out-of-sync sound, through a leaked copy that was released on the internet five months before the films initial release. The Motion Picture Association of America says that the film only had six million viewers in US theatres, but seven million illegally downloaded it through BitTorrent in 2010. In America, the film grossed a weak $16,000,000, which was barely enough to cover its budget. This prompted production company Voltage Pictures to retaliate, suing 24,583 BitTorrent users who illegally downloaded it, in court – making it the largest lawsuit of its kind. Unfortunately, instead of being remembered as the multi-Academy Award winning epic war tale, The Hurt Locker will be known as the film that unfairly had to get its budget back by suing the people who downloaded it.

The main reason why people download movies these days because going to the cinema is a ridiculously expensive task. It costs $12 for an adult ticket, and the refreshments cost an average of $10. So really, watching a movie from the internet saves a lot of money, doesn't it? In saying that, the box office is enjoying high theatre attendance numbers at the moment. Most of these high-grossing films, like Michael Bay's latest directorial effort Transformers: Dark of the Moon, are the same: they have huge budgets which are used to fight piracy numbers. Because it's impossible to pirate a 3D movie...for now. Also, these producers don't want to pour a huge budget into a movie if they don't know whether it will work or not, hence the significant amount of sequels and ‘reboots' being released. Unfortunately, independent film-makers are the only ones who dare to try something new, but they don't have the money, or the industry backing to fight piracy. In fact, one of the most unique movies to come out in the past decade, independent film The Tree of Life, probably won't get its budget back, thanks to its more powerful competitors. Thus, piracy leaves discerning cinephiles scratching their heads, seeing their beloved film industry suffering at the wrath of someone like Michael Bay's hands. All of this because cinema-going is an expensive hobby and the only way to stop people from downloading a movie illegally is to convert a film to 3D and put far too many explosions on it.

Not only does film piracy lose a fair amount of money for the global economy, it has introduced criminal activity to the biggest part of modern life: the internet. Advancing technology has been good to the cinematic world on the surface, but what people think is a harmless activity is really hurting the film industry and tarnishing the art form that it is. When it comes down to it, if someone like Michael Bay can fight piracy with money, and an independent film-maker can't because they don't have enough, then cinema-loving might as well just die.

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