Is it Okay For Critics to Pirate Movies?

Is it Okay For Critics to Pirate Movies?

Abortion is to politics as online piracy is to movies; the hot button issue that will never be resolved, the debate with two intractable sides that refuse to even consider the other’s argument, the conversation where any attempt at civil discussion inevitably devolves into name-calling and anger.  Copyright supporters believe pirates are hurting business for everyone, pirates believe they’re hurting no one.  Copyright supporters say piracy is theft; pirates say no definition of theft describes theft that doesn’t disturb the original property.  Around and around we go, in a whirlpool of torrents and tirades.

I generally align myself with anti-piracy arguments, but it’s a conversation — kind of like abortion — that I try to stay out of.  I don’t need the agita.  I follow my conscience and let others do the same.  I don’t feel good pirating movies.  If it doesn’t bother you, fine.  But it bothers me, so I don’t do it.

Despite my best efforts though, I find myself drawn into the whirlpool by Mike D’Angelo‘s recent piece on Indiewire in which he refutes the most popular arguments against piracy.  That piece was a follow-up to another pro-piracy essay D’Angelo had written a few weeks earlier as justification for his plan to download a copy of the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray of “Anatomy of a Murder” later that night:

“I don’t pirate movies out of some sorry sense of entitlement. I pirate movies because at the present moment I know of no other means of watching a high-definition copy of an older film without buying it outright. And that’s ridiculous.”

D’Angelo’s inarguably correct about one thing: if you want to watch a new Criterion Blu-ray without purchasing it, you don’t have a lot of legal options.  Netflix and Blockbuster and most other legitimate movies-by-mail businesses have stopped stocking new catalog Blu-ray titles.  Same for brick and mortar video stores, mostly because brick and mortar video stores are going the way of the dinosaur at an alarming rate.  Cinephiles like D’Angelo looking for high-res prints of classics better have a lot of disposable income or a willingness to illegally download them.

I’m not sure, though, how that attitude doesn’t qualify as a sense of entitlement.  Why should D’Angelo get to watch Criterion’s “Anatomy of a Murder” restoration if he doesn’t want to pay Criterion for it?  D’Angelo would say it’s justified by the fact that he has no interest in buying “Anatomy of a Murder” on Blu-ray (although he would rent it if he could), therefore his download has no negative impact on Criterion’s bottom line.  But someone’s paying for that digital restoration, and that someone is Criterion.  And their business is based on sales.  

D’Angelo’s download may have no short-term impact on any one title’s profitability, but if he and others persist in torrenting Criterion’s films instead of supporting their work, they won’t be in business for very long.  Every purchase is a vote for more Criterion Blu-rays.  Every download is a vote for “Why should we bother doing this if people don’t think it’s worth paying for?”  The business side of movie retail is like a whirlpool too; the Blu-ray business weakens, renters stop offering catalog Blu-rays, customers pirate them instead, distributors and retailers lose more money, have less to spend on producing and stocking more catalog titles, which encourages more piracy.

Now in this case D’Angelo sounds like he’s watching “Anatomy of a Murder” for personal curiosity, but that may — may, I said, may — raise one legitimate reason why critics like D’Angelo *should* be able to see a restoration of an old film without paying for it: critical research.  What if D’Angelo had to write an article on director Otto Preminger and he was on deadline and the only video store in his neighborhood didn’t carry “Anatomy of a Murder” (for all I know, that is exactly the situation that prompted D’Angelo to watch the film)?  Even more generally: should a critic have access to any film he wants?  A critic’s talents are directly proportional to his or her film knowledge.  But financially speaking, film criticism is in even worse shape than video retail.  Film critics can’t afford to drop $40 a pop for Criterion Blu-rays.  Does playing by the rules doom a film critic to a certain degree of ignorance?

I don’t know.  I’d be lying if I said I haven’t occasionally watched a movie on YouTube for research when I couldn’t find it on Netflix or Hulu or in my local video store.  Does the fact that I’m going to write about the film, and possibly bring some attention and maybe a few sales — or interest in a legal release — justify it?  You tell me.  But do it civilly, please.

This Article is related to: Blogs and tagged ,


Comments

Dano

Good article, and some decent arguments….but I think we all need to stop talking about this issue as though it is a pure black and white, 0-sum game. I just read D'Angelo's piece before coming over here, and he made every point I wanted to see, but it doesn't look like you picked up on them. He says he'd like an online option to rent the high quality stuff he wants to see, but it's not there, so he downloads it. He claims he'd never buy it, so there's really no loss in this situation, except for the lost chance on the side of the studio/film company that is cutting off vital parts of the market (online rentals). I'm in a similar position to D'Angelo, where I just simply do not have the money to watch everything that I hear is good and want to watch. I'm not even a movie critic, but there's a lot of stuff that sounds good. My deal is, though, that I don't really pirate: I personally don't like watching TV shows or movies on my computer screen….I have a Roku for Hulu and Netflix. So in the cases where the outlets I have access to, don't have access to something I want to watch….I actually just plain don't watch it. That's what the studio's want, right? They'd rather me not watch than download it, wouldn't they? Well, good for them, except they clearly don't think it through, because anything that I can't see through my legal channels, I talk trash about. Everything that I can't get to legally, comes from a crappy, greedy company that I wouldn't want to do business with in the first place, and I tell ALL Of my friends how I feel, while recommending to them that they don't bother to watch stuff from backwards thinking companies. I even emailed HBO and Showtime about their online, on-demand offerings, because you need a cable subscription for them, and I long ago cancelled my cable subscription, mostly because the price tag was just far too high for the little extra value over my Hulu+/Netflix set up currently offers.

We need to talk less about the black and white of the issue, and more about the shades of gray. Two of which are clearly that people either download and stay reasonably happy consumers, and another of which is that they don't but they become vocal opposers…….which would be more beneficial to the company? And then, think about if they offered a reasonably priced online offering, that didn't require a cable subscription, they could reach both of those shades of gray and bring them right back into the white, while making money off the same groups of people that are, right now, actively looking for ways to avoid paying because of the perceived greed of the content company.

gordon

People have both forgotten and learned that video and music piracy has broadened the horizon and opened up viewers to new material they would have never found in the first place. These film producers put out very low quality rediculous films that we need to rent or buy to watch to find out how much of a waiste of film it was. How about they let us buy it and if we like it keep it or give us a refund because it SUCKED!!
I am sick and tirred of buying movies and video games to find out how awful they are. I have purchased 50% of anything I have ever downloaded for free and mostly because it is an item I never would have found in the first place. Look at the movie THE TUNNEL.. They released the film on torrent sites!!! I love that movie and cannot wait to find it on blu-ray.
I have purchased 15 games due to trying them first at least.

How do they just assume that just because someone pirates anything that they won't pay for it if they like it?? I have read hundreds of comments from piraters that" this is definatly worth a purchase" and lots of people agree and do the same. Also WORD OF MOUTH lets not forget that!!!
I tell you the bottom line. These companies need to stop thinking that they can dictate prices for movies and rentals. They are too high. Raising these prices because of piracy? I think it makes more sense to blame it on the economy. How many people can buy the movies they used to? New movies used to be $12 now they are $20 on a frig gen DVD. $5.99 for an HD rental? wtf!! RIDICULOUS!!!!

Cody

When you start your argument with what is either a lie or a failure to do the tiniest bit of research, you lose the argument flat out. Anatomy of a Murder is available from Netflix on DVD and Blu-ray, as are these alleged "catalog titles" that you claim they don't carry. Here's the damn link, which took me less than a minute to find:
http://movies.netflix.com/Movie/Anatomy_of_a_Murder/60001625?trkid=2361637

nicholas

Here are just two films that were unavailable in any format up until recently when the Criterion Collection rescued them and returned them to wide availability. The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Secret Honor. And here is a film that has yet to be released in any format and probably never will be released because of impossible rights issues. Los Angeles Plays Itself.

If one wasn't around to see The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Secret Honor back when they played theaters (as I wasn't) but read the intriguing reviews from Kael, Ebert, etc. then one felt a great inspiration to track these films down in whatever form we could find them instead of waiting around for the lawyers to sort out the details (as we still are for Orson Welles final film The Other Side Of The Wind).

Fortunately I lived in Seattle at the time and had access to Scarecrow Video which has every movie of every kind every made (just about) and I was able to rent a VHS copy of Secret Honor but had to put down a deposit of $150 because the tape was such a rare and precious artifact and there was no certainty that another copy could be tracked down if this one were damaged. As for The Friends of Eddie Coyle, well, not even the mighty Scarecrow had a version of that film. Not in VHS, laser-disc, Beta, or any other format. If I had been hip to internet pirating at the time I would have certainly sought it out online.

Now, a movie like Los Angeles Plays Itself is essential viewing for film buffs and/or Los Angeles buffs (don't call it L.A.!). But because it uses so very many film clips from so very many studios it will likely never get permission from everyone necessary in order to be released except in a pirated version. That is unless you attend Thom Andersen's film seminar. So I say pirate the thing and immerse yourself in one of the most engaging and informative documentaries you will ever see. It will turn you on to dozens of films that you can then pay to see.

It's not that I want everything at my fingertips and I want it now and I don't want to pay for anything ever again. It's just that there are certain films that are still floating around in the ether held hostage in a vault while the studios and their lawyers (or Orson Welles daughter apparently) play the numbers game or whatever they are doing behind the scenes that keeps these films out of circulation.

It is more and more likely that these particular films will see the light of day sooner rather than later. And this is largely to due to the efforts of the people at Criterion who have rescued and lovingly restored more films than anyone even (and maybe especially) the studios that originally made the films in the first place.

And you can find most all of the entire Criterion Collection in your local library system which you can check out for free (providing you return it on time and don't accrue any fines). They might not have it available in the latest ultra-super-duper-perfect-clean format. But please. Every film I've seen from Criterion in their standard format has been beautifully restored and the images sparkle. Refusing to watch something unless it is in Blue-Ray is quite silly. Film scholarship and criticism is very much still possible in the standard DVD format.

DumbAndy

It's not against your human rights. Just because you want something, it doesn't allow you to have access to commerce that you don't own.

Michael Mohan

Guys, this conversation is fascinating. I think there's a larger issue though – beyond piracy – and it's that in 2012 we expect everything to be instantly at our fingertips, and we expect it to be cheap. This conversation didn't even exist 10 years ago. It probably didn't even exist 5 years ago. 5 years ago we wouldn't be for or against Mike's illegal activity… Mike just wouldn't be writing the article. Right?

So hold on. Let's stop for one second. Take a deep breath, guys. Think about it – how amazing is it that so many movies are available via netflix or hulu or amazon or thru all the different vod platforms? There are seriously tens if not hundreds of thousands of movies that we can get legally Right This Second for hardly any money. I know, old news. But I feel like we have taken this for granted. When really guys – this is crazy!

And if the one film you want to see isn't there – whatever – it's not "ridiculous" as he says – it's just not there. I remember being put on the wait list for the VHS of Back to the Future 2 at my local video store. I had to wait 2 weeks before it was available. Even though I saw it in the theatre, I was so excited. Or being in college and having to plan a trip to drive 3 hours in order to see the film Happiness again because it was no longer playing anywhere nearby.

So here's my point – I would go so far as to say that my experience with those films were far more awesome than thinking-about-watching-it-and-then-watching-it-right-then-and-there-with-no-wait-in-between-and-then-consuming-the-next-thing.

You critics are nerds like me too, right? Like c'mon guys. If Mike can't get it legally right that second – put that article on hold – and write about one of the tens of thousands of films that are available legally. I just bet the process of figuring out how to get the blu ray – thinking about the film – getting the film – driving home with the blu ray on the seat next to you – THEN watching it… I dunno – call me cheesy – but it's more meaningful. I'm nostalgic for that.

We're already losing the joy of anticipation, piracy's just making it worse.

According to Mike's wikipedia page – he lives in Los Angeles. Mike. Dude. If you're looking at this – here's an idea – GO TO THE LIBRARY: http://catalog.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/FullRecord?databaseID=965&record=4&controlNumber=1892898

BOOM. There's your movie. For free too! Plus, it's cool (and totally legal) to go to the library.

Separate note – someone earlier (Jukka Lattu) tried to make the argument that piracy didn't hurt the music industry. He's right – piracy didn't hurt the music industry, piracy KILLED the music industry. I got laid off from my job at a record label a few years ago because sales are plummeting exponentially. It's really really really bad. With internet speeds going up and compression rates going down – we're not that far away from being able to attach a HD mov of a feature length film to an email in the same way we do with MP3's. It is going to happen, this is inevitable, and I do think we need to work together to prolong it + inspire people to have a more meaningful interaction with their media.

Mark F.

Making a copy of something is not stealing, since the owner still has the original. It's as simple as that. It's not like you are walking off with someone's television set and depriving them of its use.

As for the notion that the creator of a movie has a god given "right" to earn money off of it no matter what, that's just nonsense. Most art is created for love , not money, and it always has been that way.

tomzorthian

I failed to mention in my previous post that I watched the films before selling them, but I rushed through the comment, ignoring my grammar as I did so.

tomzorthian

I would suggest there is another model for watching Criterion Blu-Rays that I have used. I purchased a couple of titles (Charade and Diabolique) during Barnes and Nobles half-price sale and then sold them through Amazon. I ended up paying the equivalent of a rental charge.

David Poland

Wow. Without paragraphs, I seem to be writing on a meth binge. (Maybe with graphs too)

David Poland

Riddle me this… does anyone think that any producer or distributor of any film would not like to have their film available in every possible way that maximizes both the Home Entertainment value (financial) as well as the experience of the home viewer (artistic)?

it's not a game to them. It's a financial transaction… the kind that is necessary to keep being in the business of making films. Often, the choices made are wrong-headed. So much international product, as well as indie product, goes without distribution because the copyright holder overplays their hand (mostly meaning they want too much money or specific distribution targets). And distributors often fail to get it.

Look at B-13, the Pierre Morel film opened commercially in France in Nov 2004. The US distributors passed. (Luc Besson exec'ed, so you know they were all asked.) So they took it on the festival circuit and it got so hot (and perhaps the price dropped) that Magnolia picked it up and released it in June 2006.

It made over $1 million in 4 weekends before being completely eaten by the summer competition. But a solid number for Magnolia… their #2 theatrical grosser that year.

When was it okay to steal here?

The film had great word of mouth, thanks to the fest circuit (especially Seattle) for a year before it was available in the US. So would it have been right for a critic to download it illegally? (I actually purchased the DVD via Amazon.fr and showed it to a lot of people in my home.)

A similar story with OSS 117, Michel Hazanavicius' first feature. It was just under 2 years from release in France and release in the US by Music Box. (Harvey Weinstein passed on the film during Cannes in 2006.)

When was it okay to steal here?

I HATE the region coding and I haven't been willing to spend another few hundred dollars on a universal Blu-ray player. But the purpose of region coding is not to keep me from watching those movies. It's to keep my market (when it's not Region 1) available as a revenue producer.

For instance, you can be sure that those with rights to Jean Dujardin movies not released in the US have been working on selling US rights, for DVD, streaming, and cable/satellite, for months. They sold all those rights in France (perhaps not streaming), so who should get the benefits of a higher Dujardin profile in the US be… the copyright owners or whoever they sold those rights to in the other territories who can run off English cover versions for US wholesalers?

It is the right of those copyright holders to not have the film in legal distribution in the United States until they have a compelling financial interest in doing so.

Would I prefer to be able to log onto iTunes Worldwide and buy music, video, books or whatever I like from any country in the world at any time I like? Yes. Would, logically, it benefit the owner of copyright for the American market to be open to their non-American product? Of course.

I've gone to DVD stores in every country I've visited since DVD started, looking for things I can't get here. I pay for them and watch them on the region-free player (or don't). Am I incredibly frustrated that 32 years of The South Bank Show, a great outlet of short documentaries about artists as well as a place where innovative ideas in doc production were often allowed a lot of rope, is not on DVD at all… not running consistently, as it used to, on Bravo or any US cable channel? Yes. Would I pay $50 a year – easily – for access to their library of 1000s of shows? Absolutely.

Do I feel compelled to steal it because the show's owners haven't seen fit to offer it on digital streaming or DVD? Compelled? Yes. Compelled enough to even look for them on the web? No.

Eventually, someone smart, like SnagFilms, will acquire US digital rights to that massive and amazing library.

But in the meanwhile, when Ken Russell died, one of the things he left behind were some amazing episodes of The South Bank Show. Professionally, I would love to have watched those again when he passed as examples of his work beyond the films we all know.

In the first season alone, 1978, it was Ingmar Bergman, Freddie Young, Satyajit Ray, Harold Pinter, and Dennis Potter. How valuable to an understanding of film would those 5 hours be? So much so that The Telluride Film Festival has tributed the series, showing 20 – 30 episodes on local cable the weekend of the Show that year.

But the only RIGHT I have is to ask that they be made available somehow. It is not my right to find some kind of copy of them and then "free them" via YouTube or some such conveyance.

And I consider access to that material many times more valuable than seeing a Blu-ray version of an important film than a DVD or VHS version.

Glenn Kenny

Yeah, that IS a bad analogy, but hell, if he wants to own it, he's entitled. I will say that if my band didn't already have a name I might actually wanna call it "Bad Abortion Analogy," or, better still, "Matt Singer's Bad Abortion Analogy."

Peter Debruge

By the way, as much as I enjoyed this article and the ensuing comment discussion, is no one going to call Matt Singer on his bad abortion analogy? If anything, these petty arguments about when it's acceptable to break the law sound more like the "legalize marijuana" debate.

Andrew Robinson

I guess I'm getting old, because more and more (while I have a few arguements for piracy as it relates to the users/owners rights to material and how it's handled (DRM)) I'm becoming anti-piracy. The more arguements I hear for piracy is the more I can tell that these are people just seeking validation of their own crimes. These people aren't content with what they're doing and are looking for me to give them a nod to say "it's ok", which I refuse to do.

I agree with Mark Bell's comment where if you're writing about a film and your outlet can't provide you with a way of doing so then that's the equivalent of me being at work and being asked to do a task without any of the tools that I need to get that done (PC, paper, licenses) because they feel it should be your own expense.

So DRM arguements aside, piracy has no place in a film critics discussion. other than "people are doing it so let's talk about it" which should truly boil down to it's wrong and you shouldn't do it.

Mark Bell

If my only option for reviewing something is to pirate it, I'll pass on reviewing it. If I am REQUIRED to review it, as in my outlet or boss demands that I do so, and it's only available via cost, then I would expect my outlet to cover it in some way (review-copy or reimbursement of sale). As for the Criterion argument, while I love the restoration process, I'm a big fan of Criterion extras and commentaries because the film is usually well-established (and has been written about by people far more talented and intelligent than I am); are the extras pirated too, or just the film? Not that it changes my thoughts on the matter, but I do agree with Rocchi that "you're just writing about plot, story, theme and meaning, well, you can do that from a VHS." For me, Criterion is about the entire package (including the actual packaging).

I guess I don't see the argument from a job-related perspective, because there are ways to work that out without resorting to piracy. If you do not have a way of contacting publicity departments for review material, or do not work for any outlet capable of getting you legally in front of a film, or vice versa, than you're just trying to justify piracy. To argue about whether your actions or occupation affects the financial bottom-line of the film's distribution doesn't feel like any different an argument than "the music industry screws the artists, so they wouldn't get anything from me downloading this album anyway" / "I'm a critic, I wouldn't have paid anyway so my piracy shouldn't make a difference."

Brian Tallerico

In response to the insult to my reading comprehension: Perhaps the word "free" was incorrect. I actually didn't mean to imply that it was an issue based primarily on money. It's not. It's entitlement. I should have said "isn't legally available so he's taking it." So, taking your Bill Gates assertion at face value, let's take money out of it and reduce it to availability — someone lives in a small town where an art film isn't opening but they can illegally download it while it's still in theaters. Should they do so? Should a critic do so? How far does your principle extend? Should you be able to download a film still in theaters because of your principle because you couldn't get to a theater to see it and can't wait for DVD? Or just ones that have been released on Criterion Blu-rays? Why is there a distinction? And let's be clear — this is an issue of waiting. Like a lot of Criterion movies, an HD Anatomy may be available on Hulu Plus in the future or through some other On Demand rental stream. But you didn't want to but it or wait for it….out of principle…money-related or not, that's entitlement. Plain and simple.

James Rocchi

The people discussed here, in many cases, are friends, so let me say this as generally as possible: 1) The whole "I didn't diminished the nature or number of the original through digital copying download" is one of those things that, as Orwell said of Stalinist Communism, is so foolish you have to be very intelligent to believe in it. 2) While I believe in the primacy of image and seeing a film in the best possible presentation, I also think that a film's true merits are almost wholly disconnected from its resolution rate — no amount of high-def is going to make Clash of the Titans good, showing the film on a bedsheet hung in the backyard isn't going to make Rio Bravo bad. If you're reviewing a Blu-Ray for a reputable outlet and have to go into details on grain or bit rate or color-matching — conversations that, to me, verge on the Rainman-esque — then you can probably get a copy of it, if you're at all good at your job; if you're just writing about plot, story, theme and meaning, well, you can do that from a VHS.

J.

Mike D'Angelo

Folks, I have no further interest in pursuing this matter, because the inability of people to demonstrate basic reading comprehension is mind-boggling. When I see an angry response that includes the phrase "Something he wants isn't free and so he's taking it" (Brian Tallerico below), I can only throw up my hands. It has nothing WHATSOEVER to do with money. I really don't know how to make that any clearer than I already have. If I were Bill Gates, I would still refuse to purchase movies I only want to view one time, on general principle. But I will happily pay (and do happily pay) any remotely fair rental price. Astonishing how people just ignore every word that doesn't conform to their predetermined viewpoint.

artfrankmiami

TCM was showing Anatomy of a Murder on their VOD channel all last month. They also aired the HD version during their regular schedule on their HD channel.

Katy Kern

This was my comment on the facebook post: "As a reviewer, I have never watched pirated versions of any film. I pay for the movie ticket, have a monthly fee for Netflix, and I pay for ITunes downloaded movies. Once in a while I obtain a free screener directly from the production company or filmmaker. Or I have joined a service where I get notices of free screenings at movie theatres."

I love movies. I love that people create art for others to see and it sickens me to hear about all the piracy going on. Some of my reviews have been plagiarized and I consider it that same thing on other blogs and they even removed my links with their own in order to make money. Movies aren't that expensive to pay for and reviewers shouldn't think they are above the rest of the world because they talk about the movies – that may or may not inspire others to see the film.
Right now I am not getting paid for my reviews, maybe someday I will – working on that, so I pay for nearly every movie I review and I AM HAPPY TO DO IT! :-)

Ryan M.

Piracy of the arts is tricky. Because if you ask most directors with a respectable body of work, you may get an even 50/50 of wether or not they approve of their work being pirated (I suspect it's more on the support of piracy side). The ones who are for it are for it because it's more eyeballs on their work, and the more eyeballs on their work, the more wallets they have on their side that they can count on in the future. It's the studios showing less interest good movies and more interest in commerce that are the whiners. The cynic would say that if someone could pirate, why would they bother purchasing? The truth is people feel good about paying for work they respect, and not so bad about the rest. Especially after a decade of shitty trailers from major studios that made you think a movie was going to be good, and half the time it turned out to be shit. People respect when a filmmaker makes good on his promise. The upper hand used to be with the studio who only needed you to buy a ticket, they didn't need you to like the thing. Now, the consumer is back in control. "You duped us, so from now on we will watch your movies for free, and pay for what we like." Especially these days, when people are on tight budgets. You can't drop 20 bucks on a DVD to find out it sucks. There's no trust these days between major studios and the consumer. You can't sell a black banana wrapped in a perfectly yellow peel half the time and expect the audience to trust you, especially when they find a way to look inside the peel from the comfort of their homes. At the end of the day, it's "legally" wrong, probably "morally" wrong. But it's morally wrong to promise something, take the money, and then leave the consumer out of luck. Eye for an eye. That's how it's playing out.

Mithil Bhoras

I believe that Critics to should have unlimited access to films… That's a good point this article makes…

Declan

That the film industry is angered and baffled by those using technology to do what the industry should have done itself amuses me. You can adjust your distribution method to match demand and technology, or have it adjusted for you by the market and consumers, legal or illegal. The price for sticking with a broken distribution method is piracy.

Actually, no…it really isn't piracy; if I download something illegally and don't pay for it, it's theft of services, not piracy. If I get caught sneaking into a movie theater, I would be charged with theft of services, not burglary.

Brian Tallerico

Assuming that D'Angelo was writing a piece on Preminger or, even better, Criterion's restoration, it would have taken ONE EMAIL to the right publicist to get his own copy. Publicists love, you know, publicity. Trust me. I got a copy. It seems to me that, at it's best interpretation (that he wanted to write a piece related to it) that this is an excuse for nothing but pure laziness.

If it was pure personal curiosity, it's nothing but spoiled entitlement. "I know of no other means of watching a high-definition copy of an older film without buying it outright. And that's ridiculous." I know of no other way to get a 4-star meal without dining and dashing. And that's ridiculous. And I know of no other of way of not paying $5 a gallon for gas without pumping and driving. And that's ridiculous. Something he wants isn't free and so he's taking it and writing that off with a five-year-old's "because I want it" argument. It's indefensible and obnoxious.

hsg

It's so weird that you begin this post saying 'I'm against piracy and I don't do it', and then end by saying 'Oh actually, I do do it, but I don't think of it as piracy so I guess it doesn't count'. Streaming a film on youtube IS downloading a pirated film; the fact that you didn't store a copy on your computer as you downloaded it is irrelevant. I think you should consider what this means to your argument. The fact that almost everyone consumes pirated content these days – even the people who tell themselves they don't pirate! – is fascinating, and yes, very similar to abortion. Did you know that, not infrequently, even women who angrily picket abortion clinics get abortions? It's true. And they tell themselves that it doesn't count – that in their case it's different – and the next week they are back out the front of the clinic screaming at the staff arriving for work.

Liisa L.

As a publicist with several years of experience on doing publicity on movies both in theatrical and home video distribution, I find this discussion rather absurd. If a film critic has a need to see a film that's recently been published by a distributor on dvd or blu-ray for writing a review or article, he or she need look no further than the publisher's publicity contact to obtain a copy. All distributors see publicity as a key element of promotion and thus aim to support journalists and critics by organizing press screenings and handing out screener copies. How do you justify pirating films for work purposes when you represent one of the key sectors in the audience of movies which the whole industry aims to support with as much free movies as possible?

Glenn Kenny

I don't wanna continue baiting Mike, or continue to look like I'm baiting Mike, but I wanna make clear that I'm FOR what he's for. I just don't think a pro-piracy case is the best way of getting it, and I'll leave it at that.

As for Peter's question, if I read the warnings at the beginning of many DVDs correctly, it's possible that import sales of foreign region DVDs do actually violate the letter of a given cited license agreement. But the extent to which anybody pursues the active enforcement of the license is A LOT less than that to which the industry would like to pursue "actual" piracy. I know that Masters of Cinema strictly complies with region-coding restrictions while being pretty vocal about the fact that they'd rather not have to. I agree in thinking that region-coding is outmoded AND ineffectual. But actual import of product is not illegal, and the money chain with respect to the license isn't being broken at any point as far as I can tell. So while it may in fact BE a violation of the law for me to watch a foreign-region DVD, my actions don't have the effect of mucking up anybody's revenue stream.

Rob

Mike, I'm a little confused by the statement, "I pirate movies because at the present moment I know of no other means of watching a high-definition copy of an older film without buying it outright" as a justification. So, in fact, you DO know of another means of watching; you can buy it outright. This is a little like saying, I choose to steal cars because the kind of car I like isn't available to be rented and the only other alternative would be to buy it. If you were pirating only movies that were not available in any other form, I'd have some sympathy. But you're taking a luxury good without paying for it. It doesn't matter that it's not the same kind of stealing as stealing an object that someone else will no longer have; what matters is that it's stealing something that somebody, somewhere, makes a living by selling (since, as you note, you could buy it). It's generally not a good idea for someone to break the law and then work backwards to custom-tailor a self-justifiation.

Will

Just as an aside about critics, also programmers and curators, and access to materials; most major distributors (in Canada anyway) will no longer send screener/review copies of anything current, even by web-based methods, to reviewers or programmers who are not in major centres or not well known. I am aware of programmers fairly often resorting to illegal downloads in order to see films in order to be able to make screening decisions.
This has, according to distributor employees I've talked to, mostly happened because of fear that screeners will be pirated. Ironic.

Mike D'Angelo

By the way, for anyone arriving at this article cold, be advised that while I declared my intention of pirating ANATOMY OF A MURDER in my original blog post, I wound up not doing so after all. One of my followers on Twitter alerted me to a site I'd never heard of, ClassicFlix, which carries almost every American film made before 1970 released on DVD and/or Blu-ray. I signed up with them that very day and they sent me ANATOMY about a week later. They're kinda pricey compared to Netflix and not super-speedy (only turning around one disc per week on average even if I sent it back the next morning), but they exist, so I no longer have any need to pirate anything in their catalogue, which is a hefty percentage of the stuff I used to download. Still no good source for old foreign films, though.

Mike D'Angelo

@Arch "If you don't agree with the price of the commodity or how it's distributed…don't buy it. How about that?" I'm totally fine with that, but I'm not talking about buying anything. I in fact do subsequently buy many of the films I download (and have zero doubt that e.g. Criterion has received more money from me because I've pirated their titles than they would have had I not done so, which is one of the reasons I can sleep at night). What I'm doing, if it's theft at all, constitutes "theft of service," akin to sneaking into a movie at the multiplex. But I'm stealing a service THAT NOBODY IS OFFERING. That's the whole point.

Peter Debruge

A question for those who know more about such things than I do… Mike D'Angelo proposes downloading films illegally as an alternative to renting them from Netflix or his local video store, but how legal are those rental operations in the first place? Many DVDs I've watched over the years (and even more VHS tapes) expressly state that they are for private exhibition only, not to be watched in group settings or rented, whatever that means. And many of the DVDs carried at Rocket Video, CineFile and NY stalwart Kim's Video are of dubious origin to begin with, being bootlegs or foreign-region discs. At Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee, they get around this by lending such films for free (where the store doesn't profit from making them available), which seems an awful lot like the old-school equivalent of streaming them on YouTube. But wasn't one of the industry's big gripes with Redbox the fact that they weren't using DVDs in the way the rights-holders intended?

Glenn, you would probably know best on the legality of foreign-region discs, as you watch and review more films in that format than anyone I know. Technically speaking, isn't every one of those imports violating rights issues? As far as I'm concerned, two of the most essential films I saw last year, MR. NOBODY and BLACK VENUS, are only available to Americans via Bittorrent and Canadian-issue DVD. I had the good fortune of seeing both on the big screen, but for anyone else, your best bet is to order the discs from Amazon.ca. But just because you're paying SOMEONE to buy/rent it doesn't mean that's the legal way to go. This whole issue confuses me to no end.

Mike D'Angelo

Glenn: If my local library were an option, I'd certainly use it. They don't carry much of anything on Blu-ray. As for grandstanding, I plead not guilty. The piece I wrote for this site was specifically commissioned, but my original blog post on the subject (which led to said commission, and which received way more attention than I ever expected) was simply an attempt to rebut the widely held and weirdly monolithic belief that everyone who pirates movies is just a skinflint parasite who refuses to pay fair market value for what (s)he consumes. I would very much prefer not to have to pirate anything, and will rejoice when I no longer have to; I'm not bragging about it in the least.

Jukka Lattu

I think you've kind of gotten it all wrong from the start. The point isn't what pirates think about what they're doing, the point is that the facts regarding piracy have shown that piracy is NOT hurting the movie/music business. As studies have shown people who pirate movies and music also buy more movies and music, it's not a binary situation in which people will either pirate everything and buy nothing, or pirate nothing and buy everything.

This point might even be proven moot as I believe that the current development of technology has shown that piracy is inevitable. If piracy is common now, can you even imagine what it will be like once internet connections have advanced to the point in which you can download a 1:1 blu-ray rip in a couple of seconds, and storage devices are advanced enough to store every single movie you can find of the net? Unless you're planning on drastically changing the whole nature of the internet, how is it even theoretically possible to stop piracy? And again, if piracy is actually beneficial to the media industry, why should we?

Robert g

Presenting a fatuous and self-serving position as "a side of the argument" is disingenuous. Guy wants to steal and can get away with it? Fine. But stop pretending it's a morally harmless position. Totally idiotic to say the original item is preserved. The value of the original item is diminished by theft, and with movies, it's all about the value. I suppose, by the definitions stretched in this article, I've merely taken one of two positions, equally valid and equally assailable. I disagree. If we postulate that wanting confers the right to have by any means, then I should be able to steal that Maserati I'll never get to drive, as long as I return it in one piece. Idiotic failure of the most basic logic. Stealing is wrong. Persistent stealing harms the creators and owners of the piece, who are in business.

Jordan Hoffman

If doing a piece on Preminger is the case, then you don't NEED to see it in super high res. The Standard Def version is fine, unless you are reviewing for a tech outlet, in which case the publication should cover your expenses for buying the blu (ha, ha, ha.)

Glenn Kenny

"Full boar," that's very creative spelling, for sure…

Arch

The bottom line is that he's trying to dream up a rationalization for stealing. A lot of us might agree with him that media companies need to evolve with technology and find new and better ways to deliver content, but that doesn't somehow give him the right to take things for free that don't belong to him. If you don't agree with the price of the commodity or how it's distributed…don't buy it. How about that?

Mike

As business models become more limited, (no rentals available, only purchase) pirates will work around those models exposing the models' holes, hopefully forcing them to re-examine their practices and start making available what people are downloading for free, but there's still no way to justify it. If a critic can justify illegally downloading/streaming a film, so can a non-critic. Justifying that action by saying you're adding more press and publicity is just as non-sensical as someone running out on a bill at a restaurant then blogging about how good the dinner was.

Glenn Kenny

I find the whole "debate" slightly befuddling, frankly. If someone wants to strongly advocate for alternative ways of watching a high-def film other than out-and-out buying a Criterion disc or any other disc, then one should advocate for that. I understand it's a good "hook" to say "I've been driven to piracy by unaffordable Blu-ray movies that can only be seen a certain way," but the announcement that therefore you do something that's both illegal and arguably unethical DOES smack of a certain entitlement. It's not as if people are going to say to a critic, "That was interesting what you said about 'Anatomy of a Murder,' but tell me, how did you come to see that high-def version of it?" The assumption is always that it's accomplished on the up-and-up, but here comes someone saying, in effect, he was FORCED into engaging in piracy. It's not just entitlement, it's grandstanding. It's saying "Look at me, I dare you to call me on it." And by "you" it might mean Criterion, or another critic, whoever. It advances exactly nothing.

I don't recall coming across a mention of this in D'Angelo's article, but I have a friend who regularly borrows Criterion DVDs from his public library. Guess that's pretty "square" in the world of torrenting.

As for myself, like Norman Greenbaum, I've never been a sinner, I never sinned. I don't watch bootlegged stuff (okay, maybe some early Traci Lords stuff, nothing wrong with that, though, right?)* not because I'm necessarily so holy but because I actually find it helpful to put some limits on my viewing options. My point is that I consider it in somewhat bad taste to go around flaunting one's illegal activities.

*This is a joke. Please do not have me arrested.

Brandon Petersen

Why not? Film critics already suckle a living off of creative people's tits. Might as well go full boar, and rip off their work entirely…

-bp.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *