Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pirates are Funny, Copyright Infringement is Not

Somali pirates aside, piracy of old isn't something people have had to deal with over the past, say, hundred or more years, and at some point during those hundred years pirates have become less something to dread and more something associated with Halloween costumes and children's games. And then along came Johnny Depp and suddenly pirates were not only funny, but also cool and sexy.

So it has occurred to me that the entertainment industry (or whoever started it -- software industry?) made a huge tactical error in calling people who infringe on copyrights pirates. Huge.

Pirates are funny. Pirates are cool. Pirates defy the big bad authorities to claim spoils and get the girls. The general public does not think "criminal" or "thief" or "immoral" when they hear the word pirate.

This has never been more evident to me as it has been during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) these past few years. TIFF has become arguably the most important festival in the world in terms of launching award winning and commercially successful films. And while most of the movies screened at TIFF are made outside of the studio systems, many come to the festival already sold to big distributors who have a huge stake in not having the films leaked before their releases. Hence, it's probably also a great festival for a criminal to attend who wants to record the films and sell the bootleg copies.

I'd say that about 5-6 years ago, TIFF started taking this very seriously. Also because that was around the time that cameras started getting smaller and better quality. And now most of the "bigger" films have burly men in uniforms with night vision glasses standing around the audience watching us watch the film...

The first year the burly men showed up, they were super aggressive at some screenings and didn't even let people take out their cameras during the introductions before the films. (Which led to my tragically blurry photo of Heath Ledger, in spite of only being less than 15 feet away from him, because a big burly man was diving at me as I took it.)

But back on topic, about five years ago they started making announcements before the films to the effect of, "as part of our anti-piracy program, night vision technology may be in use during this screening."

And what happened? Some joker one night made a pirate "Arrr" sound during this announcement. And, as so often happens, it became a tradition. (Kind of like the audience used to clap wildly and cheer for the guy who took away the podium before screenings at the Uptown. I miss the Uptown.)

This year, clearly trying to stop this tradition and probably to make the filmmakers believe that TIFF festival goers do take copyright infringement seriously, the TIFF staff stopped using the word piracy during these announcements. Instead, they started their announcement with something like, "recording the movie is a criminal offense."

But did this stop jokers from saying "Arrrr!" No, it did not. And it still got laughs from the audience. Not from me. As someone trying to earn a living from royalties, I don't think copyright infringement is funny. But after being annoyed for the first few days, I realized I just needed to have a sense of humor about the "Arrr".

Pirates are funny. Copyright infringement is not.


Eileen said...

I'm always surprised at how few people (outside authors, etc.) take this seriously. In fact, it's like they think it's their right to pirate movies, books, music, etc. I get a lot of questions about e-books and I always try to bring up the piracy issue. Love ebooks. Hate how easy they are to pirate.

Can I also make a bid for us to respect others' copyrights, though? I've had authors offer me pirated software and be surprised when I tell them that I'd rather pay for it than pirate it.

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, I think I became aware of how copyright infringement hurts earlier than some because I used to work in software development. I, too, never take free copies of software.

It's amazing to me how many people steal things casually... I was in my hairdresser's one day and this dude came in with a huge satchel of DVDs. My hairdresser bought several with giddy delight. When I explained to her that this guy was selling stolen goods and that I was someone trying to earn a living from royalties, just like the people who worked on those films, her giddy meter dropped slightly.. but she probably just made a note to ask him to come in on days when I wasn't there.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Maureen....I'm with you. It's a pretty serious issue... but I truly think the people that do this are a very small percentage of the population..

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