Content Cafe

Pirating films is stealing movie tickets and burning film investors

by Ché Baker 26/5/2019

My taxi arrived on a blustery morning. After I told the driver I was headed to Fox Studios he told me how much he loved movies and that he downloaded a heap of them. I didn’t interrupt. I wanted to hear this stream of enthusiastic rant in all its detail.

One of the movies he mentioned happened to be mine, Blue World Order.  I guess I should have felt honoured he liked it, but I didn’t. The feeling instead was closer to an uninvited prostate exam.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a ‘holier than thou’ article. I’m guilty. As a child I would copy VHS tapes and take a full hard-drive home. I loved movies, like my taxi driver, and wanted to be able to watch them anytime. Many were not yet available in Australia but some probably were. The point is, at that stage, I didn’t care. It wasn’t that I thought it was a victimless crime… I just didn’t think it was a crime. I didn’t think I was hurting anyone. I was wrong.

So, let’s start with why people pirate:

  1. It’s free. Free is always hard to compete with.
  2. Because they can. It’s easy. The infrastructure exists to facilitate it.
  3. They feel entitled. If it’s available somewhere in the world, they have the right to see it.
  4. There’s no recourse. There’s no punishment. There’s no shaming.
  5. Justification – ‘If it’s good, I’ll go and buy it anyway.’
  6. It’s not really stealing because it’s not removing the original file, only copying it.
  7. It’s victimless. It’s not hurting anyone.

Space is too short to tackle all these points so I’m going to address the last one first, because I believe it’s one of the most misunderstood. The actual impacts of piracy are little known to most perpetrators. I sincerely believe that if they knew, a good percentage would stop pirating tomorrow, illustrated by an experience I had last year.

It’s the story of a guy who posted a message asking which sites to get a copy of certain films from. He loved genre films: Aussie, post-Apocalyptic ones. He loved Blue World Order, Wyrmwood and Mad Max. Great.

I’m normally quiet online. I don’t want the headache of Internet fights but I knew he wasn’t a bad guy so I explained how our film was made, and by extension, many others. Most people reading this will know much about how a film is funded, but our friend – let’s call him Jeremy, didn’t.

I explained that as an indie filmmaker, you have to somehow convince a bunch of people to give you money. Lots of money. Money that you promise you’ll get back to them. For my film, I was personally responsible for a lot of money. Not a lot in film terms but a lot by day to day standards. These people put their faith in you, so you’d better believe in yourself 5,000%.

So you go and make the film. In many ways, this is the easy part. Most filmmakers are usually well versed in corporates, shorts, etc. and the mechanics are familiar, albeit on a much grander scale.

Wanting a sustainable industry, you’ve paid your cast and crew, which is never as much as they deserve for the work they put in. But that’s real money. At this point you’re anywhere from, let’s say $1 million-$5 million in debt. That’s a few MILLION dollars you now owe.

Theoretically, the way a film gets money back is via a sales agent selling to distributors in various territories at film markets. Bit by bit, it might take a year or more. In theory, once the advance is paid off, you’ll see some of the money from these sales. But a distributor will only buy the film if it has value in their country, ie, no one has seen it. They make their money by controlling how the film is seen.

As a filmmaker, I believe it’s essential to educate yourself about the backend of the process so it can inform what you choose to spend years of your life, money and reputation on.

I was with another filmmaker at the American Film Market. A sales agent wanted to buy his film. They watched the trailer, got excited about the key-art, and were talking $US40,000 as an advance. At that point, his associate found the film on YouTube, uploaded for the world to see for free. The words I’ll never forget came next: ‘Yeah, if it’s out there on pirate sites, it doesn’t really have any value for us, we can’t sell it.’


So, my point is this; when you pirate, upload or share, the film loses its value to a distributor. If they can’t monetise it, they won’t pay for it. If distributors won’t pay for it, a sales agent won’t buy it. If a sales agent won’t buy it, you can’t get your money back and you can’t pay your investors back. If you can’t do that then the best you can hope for is that they simply won’t invest again, so you can’t make another film.

There is a very small pool of people willing to invest in films and if you burn them, they disappear and tell other investors what a bad experience it was. So by pirating the film, you’re burning film investors, which means no one gets to make films – you are literally stopping the films you love getting made.

After our chat, Jeremy publicly posted that “after a discussion with a local filmmaker, I’ve learned about the impact of pirating films and will no longer do it. You shouldn’t either.” It was a rare win. But for every Jeremy, there are a hundred people who just don’t care.

The solution? It will take both carrot and stick. The carrot is to minimise the motivation for piracy and provide audiences with what they want as much as possible:

  •    Release films simultaneously throughout the world. (Readers must understand that unless you have a single platform like Netflix, this isn’t within your control).
  •    Ensure the price is affordable.
  •    Make sure the experience is good (many people I know have stopped going to the cinema because they’re sick of people pulling out their bright iPhone screens during the movie).

The stick hasn’t happened yet. There has been no effective deterrent or recourse against individual pirates. Imagine pirates got sent an actual infringement notice just like a speeding ticket, or anyone who posts a link on Facebook to a pirate or Torrent site is seen as committing an actual crime and issued a fine.

You can start by reporting piracy to the Australia New Zealand Screen Association

And learning more about combatting piracy from the Independent Cinemas Association

So as my driver asked if I was paying with cash or card, I feigned surprise and asked if he expected to be paid. He looked at me confused and said, “Of course, how else am I supposed to make a living if I’m not paid for my job?” I nodded, told him I agreed and then informed him that he had taken my movie for free. That he hadn’t paid me, and by proxy, all the people down the waterfall that I have to pay to make the movie happen. “How am I supposed to make a living if I’m not paid for my job?” I parroted. He stumbled a little, not knowing what to say… then sputtered… “I’m sorry.”

He’d never seen the impact of piracy before, the exact person that his actions had affected. It was just something he and his friends did, never thinking it was actually impacting someone on the other end. I smiled and said, “I’ll pay by card.”

The point was made.

Ché Baker is an author and filmmaker who has recently produced his first feature film Blue World Order ( after working as an on-set colourist on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. He also writes novels and articles in the technology and film space and resides in Canberra.