This month marks the five-year anniversary of my first blog post about online piracy and its link to advertising profits. At the time I was pissed. The movie Megan Siler and I had spent three years creating had just been released, and within 24 hours, had found its way online as an illegal download. One illegal copy quickly morphed into many tens of thousands.
What made me angry wasn’t necessarily the fact the film had been pirated. Though certainly I wasn’t pleased, it wasn’t really a shock. I knew in the back of my mind that piracy was an issue. However, I’d never really examined it up close. When I did, I was surprised not only by the how–but by the why. Online piracy was, in fact, an insidious for-profit business cloaked behind a curtain labeled “sharing.”
Online piracy is driven by profit
It turns out our film–like thousands of others, studio and indie–was just click-bait for a flourishing online market driven by greed. The breadth and scope of this illicit online marketplace was shocking. Examining a wide range of pirate websites I discovered an insidious, profitable and widespread economy driven–in large measure–through the complicity of major American corporations.
Sure, some of the major players were well-known thieves like Kim Dotcom whose Megaupload business empire was built on content theft. But many others cashing in on the online feeding frenzy were (and still are) mainstream corporations like Google. Ad service providers and major brand advertisers were (and still are) incentivizing and sustaining online piracy as a profitable venture. It was true five years ago and unfortunately it remains true today. Legit companies supply the blood that feeds the beast.
I didn’t begin blogging about online piracy for the sake of our film. That’s old news. The reason I’ve continued to spend the past five years investigating and writing about online piracy and copyright issues is because I don’t believe what’s happening to our creative community is fair. I write because I worry about the future of those who earn their living by creating the content we so enjoy. I write because online pirates continue to rip-off creators at every opportunity in order to make a buck.
I also write because worry that online piracy diminishes the diversity of content that’s produced. After all, we won’t know what we’re missing when it isn’t made. Creative voices on the fringes, the most fragile among us, are often the first to go, and it’s often a silent exit. Piracy apologists who believe it’s their right to take what they want– when they want–routinely belittle creators who dare speak out against such theft. For those defending piracy it seems easier to denigrate and devalue artists rather to hear them.
When I recently sent a DMCA notice to the Chilling Effects database to highlight the hypocrisy of Google’s message that it “fights piracy” my move was met with predictable derision. Few on the copyleft seemed to understand that it really wasn’t about me, or our film. The same scenario happens day after day to all types of creators who send takedown notices to Google. I used our film as an example (because I could) in order to make a point about how Google (and Chilling Effects) conduct business–removing links, but replacing the original link with another link back to a page featuring the original link. It’s a duplicitous shell game that mocks the very intent of the DMCA.
“I figured you are stupid Gay”
One blogger was so bent out of shape by my takedown notice to Chilling Effects he wrote his own post. He sent me a series of messages via my Vox Indie Facebook page and attempted to point out the futility of my anti-piracy efforts. Apparently crabbed when I didn’t respond, in a fit of pique, he resorted to childish name-calling:
So much for thoughtful discourse eh? For the record, I am “Gay.” As for stupid, well, that “blogger” certainly thinks so. It would appear he has a problem with stupid Gays who dare to speak out in defense of creators. For the record I didn’t bother to read his blog post which–given the tone of his messages–was probably not particularly friendly, nor thoughtful.
That particular blogger was not the only one to mock my attempt to highlight Google’s DMCA shell game; though I must say I’ve not really experienced the homophobic angle before. TechDirt, a site well known for its not-so-friendly views on copyright, also recently posted a harangue about my DMCA notice to Chilling Effects. That piece featured the subheading “from the stupidity-in-Russian-doll-form dept” so it would seem that the word “stupid,” in various forms, is a popular term for frustrated anti-piracy apologists to use when writing rebuttals. I imagine their dependence on the word is merely a further sign they have no cogent argument at the ready.
As the saying goes, “sticks and stones…” However, the upside is that my efforts to bring attention to the damage done by online piracy are clearly having the desired effect.
LGBT Filmmakers are among those whose voices are diminished by online piracy
I should also point out that LGBT filmmakers regularly send me emails asking what they can do to protect their films from online piracy. Some of them have spent years trying to bring their vision to the big screen and when they see their newly released film showing up as downloads and streams on pirate sites across the globe they are crushed. I wrote a piece about this some time ago, but it’s worth reminding audiences that these are some of the independent voices that are damaged when we allow online theft to flourish.
How can we change the status quo? We speak out. The good news is that we are. Artists across the spectrum have begun to focus frustration into action. We’ve begun to speak out and formed coalitions, demanding with one voice that our representatives in Washington take action to better safeguard creative work (and livelihoods) in the digital age. Whether it’s by re-tweeting for the #IRespectMusic campaign or joining the new Content Creators Coalition, as WE come together, WE will make progress–of that I am sure.
I didn’t make a film in order to become an “anti-piracy” activist. I made a film with my (also gay) filmmaker friend Megan Siler because we had a creative idea we wanted to share with lesbian audiences. However, once our film was released, and subjected to the online piracy pulverizer, this particular stupid Gay couldn’t look the other way. It opened my eyes to what was happening across the board to content creators of all stripes–and it wasn’t OK.
Hopefully, over these past years, through my research and subsequent blog posts, I’ve helped frame the debate over piracy in a way that exposes criminal nature of online piracy and motivates others to acknowledge it’s a problem in search of a solution. I also hope readers can better appreciate the long-term value of safeguarding our creative communities large and small.
Here’s to the next five years and hoping creators continue to make progress against the scourge of online piracy…I may be stupid, but I’m also stubborn. 🙂