Content Cafe


Industry Voices Q&A – How does piracy affect your business or that of your stakeholders? 

by Content Café, 27 January 2022

Throughout 2021 Content Café ran a series entitled Insider Insights, publishing articles written by 24 industry mavens across the music, publishing, games and screen content industries who shared their knowledge and opinions on copyright and content theft, and the affect it has on their stakeholders, business models and revenue. One of the questions they were asked was about the effect piracy has on industry professionals in their sphere of expertise. Here are some of their responses.

“Own the Sky” –  BTS Image courtesy of Firelight Productions 

Michael Hawkins AM – Executive Director of Executive Director of NACO, the National Association of Cinema Operators

The impact of piracy has significant financial consequences for every step of the film cycle. Producers, distributors and exhibitors are denied deserved reward for their creativity and the risk they undertake. Agencies are denied the return on investments they have made in film projects. Audiences are denied the opportunity to see films on big screens in immersive auditoria as the theatrical run is significantly reduced..

Ruth Vitale – CEO of CreativeFuture, USA

Piracy – and in particular, streaming piracy – is without question the biggest threat facing the creative industries today. Digital piracy has the power to destroy livelihoods and shutter businesses. The U.S. motion picture industry is dominated by small businesses with 87% of entertainment companies employing fewer than 10 people. Piracy siphons the revenues that support these businesses to the tune of billions of dollars per year.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study found that streaming piracy costs the U.S. economy at least $29.2 billion in lost revenue each year, and between 230,000 and 560,000 jobs.

Simon Brown – Film Content Protection Agency

With advances in technology, audiences have more choices than ever before to access film content – when, where and on any device they want. However, as the content increasingly moves online, so does the demand for readily available infringing versions of newly released films. The majority of such “pirated” versions are still sourced in cinemas around the world by illegal recording activity, and just one infringing digital copy is typically streamed globally within hours by internet release groups.

Just as an example a few years ago we investigated a case whereby one individual recorded a new (UK-first) blockbuster release at his local cinema, and then distributed it online – making it the first available pirated version globally. That infringing version was subsequently illegally downloaded at least 750,000 times over the first few weeks, causing huge financial losses to the industry. Estimated losses were a minimum of £2.4 million, but realistically much larger.

Shaun Grant – Australian Screenwriter (Nitram, Penguin Bloom)

Sadly, it affects it all too much. In today’s world, with its burgeoning technologies, it appears it’s only getting easier to pirate film and television. As an artist whose living is made from that work it’s tough knowing that, while your work may be getting seen online, often people aren’t paying for it. That has a knock-on effect upon filmmakers residual payments.

Andrew Cripps President International Theatrical Distribution, Warner Brothers

Yes piracy has a major impact on our business – Warner Media invests many hundreds of millions of dollars in content every year, and the only thing enabling that investment is copyright protection.

If copyright protection cannot be enforced, financial returns are diminished, investors will lose money, and jobs will be lost.

Mad Max Furiosa for example – Warner Media has just committed to produce the film in Australia, one of the most expensive films ever produced in there.  On the first day of theatrical release, if an illegal camcord of the title appears online, thousands of people worldwide will be able to access the film for free. The impact of piracy is irrevocable.

Deanne Weir – and Chair, Sydney Film Festival

Of course!  I am part of a broader creative and commercial community that wants to inform, entertain and engage all of us through screen content.  Whether it is the formation of an original idea that forms part of a screenplay or the writing of a treatment for a documentary, the creative process that lies behind each step of the journey to storytelling sees someone expending emotional, physical or financial capital.  That effort has value, and if we want to experience the ultimate result of the creative process, by watching the screen content, we should be prepared to pay fair value for it.

That might be through watching ads, through donating, through paying for a subscription or buying a ticket, but whatever the method, the notion of exchange is where our mindset needs to be. A young artist might choose to make something available for free as part of getting their name and work known, but in that case the notion of exchange still requires those who choose to experience the work to consciously do something to acknowledge the generosity of the artist.  It might be a social media post or a recommendation to friends, but something active is required.

If that exchange doesn’t happen, if people actively choose to pirate content because they have the technical means to do so, then they are not only undermining the social bargain of exchange, but they are telling creative people and the commercial people who support them that their work doesn’t matter.

Ron Curry- CEO, IGEA (Interactive Games & Entertainment Association)

The Australian Government’s most recent consumer copyright infringement survey released in April reported a worrying rise in the percentage of Australians who accessed at least some online video game content unlawfully, from 20% in 2019 to 31% in 2020. This was equal first amongst online content types measured by the survey, alongside live sport, with games leapfrogging music and films.

Another challenge to our industry is the sale of physical devices, often designed to look like retro arcade machines or consoles, that are typically pre-loaded with pirated games – sometimes thousands of them. While these devices are typically sold online, we’ve recently even seen them sold in physical electronics chain stores, with those stores presumably unaware of the infringement going on.

Diane Hamer Head of Business & Legal Affairs, Content and Brand Protection BBC Studios

While we strive to get our content to audiences across the world at a time, place and manner of their choosing, pirates do not play on a level playing field. They have no production costs, do not comply with regulatory obligations and make no payments to talent – the writers, directors, producers, set designers, musicians, actors, or anyone else involved in making this content. So they can get to market more cheaply and often more quickly than we can.

And here’s the challenge: our licensees around the world – the broadcasters, channel distributors, streaming services and others who buy our content to show in their home markets – pay for exclusivity.

Piracy threatens to undermine that exclusivity. This in turn can adversely impact the fees licensees are willing to pay to buy our content, which means BBC Studios has less money to invest in future content.

Bridget Fair – CEO, Free TV Australia

Piracy is a major challenge for Free TV broadcasters.  We make and commission great content, which we broadcast on our linear channels and make available on our BVOD (Broadcaster Video on Demand) services.

While the content on both our linear and BVOD platforms is free, our business depends on the number of people who watch it, which in turn generates advertising revenue.  If pirates are making our content available in other ways, it stands to reason that less people will watch the content we have so heavily invested in on our platforms.

Annabelle Herd- CEO, ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) & PPCA (Phonographic Performance Company of Australia)

Most of ARIA’s members are small businesses, facing all the same challenges associated with any small business – particularly during the pandemic. Their investment in the creation and promotion of Australian recorded music comes with an inherent risk, which has been exacerbated by piracy. Piracy devalues their work and inhibits an artist’s ability to be rewarded and paid for their creative output.

The proliferation and ease of access to peer-to-peer networks and file-sharing technologies in the early 2000s led to mass online copyright infringement, which led to significant loss of income for Australian artists. Fortunately, since the advent of the digital music services – particularly streaming – this trend has reversed and consumers have numerous ways to access music legally, both through subscription and ad-funded models.

James Dickinson- Chief Executive, Screenrights

Piracy was actually core to the appointment of Screenrights in our original capacity. Screenrights licences were created so that teachers were no longer pirating when they copied television shows for class. The provision was created under the Copyright Act.  It was an innovative solution which ensured the education system could still use the content, but also that the copyright owners were fairly compensated.

We see our role as being to help ensure there are legal ways to access content so that piracy can never have an excuse.  If we can build more ways for end users to access content legally, while paying those who make that content, it’s better for everyone involved.

Alison Crinion- Communications Director, the Irish Industry Trust for IP Awareness

Consumers need to understand that the amount of time, effort, and investment it takes to make a film or television programme is more than passion – it is also someone’s livelihood.   Even a movie you hate still employed many people and gave a few of them the start and encouragement they needed to go on and get more work in the next film.

Accessing content illegally impacts on those who work on set and behind the scenes, like the writers and caterers, to those working in the cinema, each person has a right to get paid for the job they do.

Read the full interviews on our Industry Voices page