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David Poland

By David Poland

Making Movie Theft Easier


I have a couple legal copies of Frozen in my home… and I don’t even have a daughter. But this morning, Time magazine (basically stealing a story reported by TorrentFreak) featured a web-based program (not an “app” in the traditional sense, as it is not available on wireless platforms via Apple, Google or whomever) called Popcorn Time. I won’t link to it, but it isn’t hard to find. Still, I feel compelled to write about it, as it is an open-source, free program that simplifies the theft of filmed content for pretty much anyone.

And within 5 minutes of reading about this thing, via Time magazine, was illegally watching Frozen in perfect HD form.

The content… what is and isn’t there… is interesting. According to the TorrentFreak story, the feed to Popcorn Time is from a site called YTS and searching that site, it seems that the only 2014 movies are direct-to-dvd releases. In fact, it appears that everything there is already on DVD or about to go onto DVD. The post-theatrical market is the one being attacked in this case, not really theatrical.

American Hustle won’t be released on DVD until next week and it is available. But all the December movies from major studios that are torrents streaming on the website (give or take a week) are movies already out on DVD. No Wolf, no Philomena, no Her, amongst Oscar nominees. No Hobbit 2, no Walter Mitty, no Anchorman 2, no Lone Survivor, etc.

A little research turned up that the top source of early releases are leaks within DVD production houses, so the films available, it seems, are those within a few weeks of – or in – DVD release. Did the interest in films that were videotaped off movie theater screens, or “cams,” end? Did tracking mechanisms on theatrical prints end the practice?

Seeking answers, I put in a call to CreativeFuture, the new coalition of content-creating and distribution companies that has been tasked with finding solutions to piracy for the film/tv industry moving forward. The organization confirmed that films videotaped in movie theaters are still out there and an issue, but that the piracy universe is now dominated by post-theatrical theft. In other words, pristine quality, hi-def streaming that takes dollars out of DVD/Blu-ray sales & rentals, but also devalues ongoing deals with pay-TV, Netflix, and other ongoing post-theatrical revenue opportunities.

There is a notion that Popcorn Time, created by “Sebastian, a designer from Buenos Aires, Argentina” is only offering the highest quality torrents so that they can equate themselves with Netflix… a comparison that is made in every media story I have seen. In other words, even though the site is now free and claims that it always will be free and without advertising, they are behaving like an organization staking out a place at the table. According to the Digital Citizens Alliance, “content theft websites” took in $227 million in advertising last year. There’s a lot of money to be made on selling what other companies paid millions to create.

Is Popcorn Time the Napster of movies? Is this the beginning of the end for copyright respect?

I don’t think so. And anyone who has read me much knows that I believe the industry will move to a subscription-based, everything/everywhere/on-demand future within the next decade. I don’t see another way that it all works. Fifteen hundred dollars a year or so for access to pretty much everything in post-theatrical. Times 100 million households. That’s $150 billion a year in revenue, before theatrical, specialty variations at a price, and other ancillaries. How it gets spread around is the question that slows the whole evolution down.

But until that happens, there will be theft. Technology, slow lawmaking, international apathy, and human nature guarantee it.

It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make people who do it any less guilty of taking money out of the pockets not just of corporations they don’t care about, but working people they should care about. But we need to be conscious of reality on every side of this, not just whatever side best serves our personal interests.

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26 Responses to “Making Movie Theft Easier”

  1. EtGuild2 says:

    Popcorn Time? Who the hell cares about that? This is like Roger Friedman writing about the “X:Men Origins” leak as if it is news.

    For everyone under the age of gazillion, who has no qualms about engaging in piracy, The Pirate Bay has been the source (and for others the problem) for years. You could find “Her” on Pirate Bay before it got outside NY and LA. Ditto “Lone Survivor” in limited release. (I spent New Years in the Upper West Side and was curious if the exclusive stuff I was seeing was available to the masses already. It was!). Look up “Saving Mr. Banks” and you get copies of the SAG screener dated to before it was release in ANY theater.

    NYMPHOMANIAC, which I just saw tonight on VOD (amazing), is available in Blu-Ray quality…both volumes! Want to see “The Wind Rises” with English subtitles, instead of voiceover, something you can’t do legally now in the States? Available on The Pirate Bay since May 2013. How about every foreign film you want to see, 2 months before anyone else, like “The Raid 2?” or “Gloria?” (out since New Years) Sure.

    Stuff like Popcorn Time is transient and irrelevant. Sometimes I wonder if Pirate Bay, Movie Forumz (which acts as an out-source hive to illegal steaming at sites like PutLocker and SockShare so you don’t download anything) and Torrent Freak don’t set up these sites as a straw man to alarm movie writers. Create something new, that no one will really ever use, and industry writers go “Squirrel !”

  2. leahnz says:

    “I have a couple legal copies of Frozen in my home… and I don’t even have a daughter.”

    yikes come on DP, i appreciate that you’re into fighting the good fight against this type of content and the ramifications to the film industry, but how about not casually leading off your piece with a sexist comment pandering to patriarchal double standards in the industry as your way of doing so… it’s hard to tell sometimes if you’re trolling with stuff like this or just kind of clueless/ignorant, but let me ask you: if by chance you had a girl instead of a boy (and there was a time warp back to 2009), would you lead off this commentary with, “I have a couple legal copies of UP in my home… and I don’t even have a son.” (UP as an animated film with two human male lead characters for comparison).

    sadly i’m fairly certain you would consider that very successful animated film about two male characters as universally human and ‘gender neutral’, for kids both male and female, while you casually reinforce the insidious sexist double standard that female protags are not universal to the human condition but for girls. sexism in the film industry reflects sexism in the culture at large and stems in large part from exactly this type of conditioning and attitude – you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution, little things make a difference.

  3. Matthew says:

    “Want to see “The Wind Rises” with English subtitles, instead of voiceover, something you can’t do legally now in the States?”

    My local theater has both options:

  4. cadavra says:

    Theft is theft, regardless of method of transport. Kids will never understand this. And when artists quit making movies, music or whatever, and the kids whine about it, somehow it still won’t be the little sociopaths’ faults.

    SAVING MR. BANKS streets next week. I can wait.

  5. Hcat says:

    I came across some video review of game of thrones awhile ago when I was curious about the differences between the books and the show. First the reviewer gushed about how it was the greatest thing ever and there should be more episodes in the season and the budgets should be bigger, and then ten minutes later was talking about downloading pirated episodes from the web because she doesn’t want to pay for cable. I was just awestruck by how ignorant the two statements were side by side.

  6. EtGuild2 says:

    I have HBO, but I couldn’t understand the GoT strategy for the series’ first 3 years….it was basically begging for piracy. This Oatmeal comic sums it up, and why they finally gave in to selling the seasons on Amazon and having them on Netflix as of last Fall:

  7. hcat says:

    Sorry for rehashing an old arguement, but that comics defense of the action is pretty much, “Gee Bart, its the companies fault for making you want it so bad.” What we pay for in media is not quality since Grown Ups 2 and 12 Years a slave cost basically the same to see rent own, we don’t pay for budget since Ride Along and The Hobbit cost the same to see rent own, we pay for access. We pay more to see it in the theater than we do to rent than we do when it hits HBO than we do with it hits USA network. The person watching a pirated show merely doesn’t want to pay the price to watch it legally, and doesn’t want to wait for the price point to come down in another format. I love Game of Thrones, its glorius trash, and I dont have cable so the trade off is I have to wait for a year for it to hit DVD, and since I don’t have a Veruca Salt sense of entitlement, I am fine.

    Is there any difference between that cartoon and watching a pirated movie that is still in theatrical? Since its not in the format you want to watch it in the very moment you wish to watch it, its fine to steal it?

  8. Mike says:

    I mostly agree on the Oatmeal cartoon that it’s just trying to justify theft, which I think is wrong. But then again, “just say no,” doesn’t work – just ask the music industry. I think HBO is making the calculated decision that allowing piracy while keeping the income from cable subscribers and carriage fees (do they get carriage fees?) is worth more than allowing non-cable subscribers to HBOGo.

    Someday that math will change for HBO and all of the other content providers, and when it does, I expect they will be allowing a lot more access.

  9. EtGuild2 says:

    @Mike, it changed somewhat when they caved last Fall. They still don’t allow streaming, but you can buy the seasons on Amazon or or iTunes and rent disc via Netflix.

    And yeah Music plays into it. People don’t usually get into piracy for movies and TV shows, another reason sites like the one DP mentions usually tank. I’d guess most of those engaging in movie piracy started with music, because when you’re a thief you start small and think “isn’t really stealing!,” which is why torrent sites like PB will remain the standard–you can get anything you can think of–from movies, music, books, games, programs,–short of hard drugs. You still, for now, need TOR for that.

  10. Hcat says:

    The game of thrones discs where always available via Netflix as soon as they hit stores.

  11. Sam says:

    Did David just imply that certain films have a target audience? Cue angry leahnz rant!

  12. can'tremember says:

    “Fifteen hundred dollars a year or so for access to pretty much everything in post-theatrical.”

    No chance anyone will pay $1500 a year for ANYTHING. Pipe Dream.

  13. Chris S. says:

    $1500??? $125 per month vs. Netflix at $16 per month. Hmm…

    Sure it would be nice to have access to “everything”, but I can’t see it being worth a $100 premium. Also that price point surely isn’t going to dissuade people from piracy.

    $30-$40 per month seems more realistic.

  14. hcat says:

    Don’t people pay $100 plus for cable?

  15. YancySkancy says:

    Yeah, with cable TV (including HBO and Starz/Encore) and Netflix (streaming only), I’m already at something like $1,500 a year, and that’s not counting any iTunes/amazon/Vudu streams or downloads, much less any Blu Rays I might buy.

  16. EtGuild2 says:

    Do yall have Time Warner Cable or something? Or are you including your entire cable bill (aka bundling with internet/phone). I pay $1,250 a year for Comcast Cable/Internet (Ive severed my landline) +HBO Go, and Netflix Streaming/1 Blu-Ray Disc at a time. I don’t have a DVR which would account for $180-220 extra, though I’m including modem rental for around $100 a year.

  17. David Poland says:

    If you think there are a lot of people out there who want to live only with Netflix, it’s a reasonable comparison, Chris S.

    Fact is, there are over 100 million households paying $65 – $130 a month for cable. More than 25 million of those are also paying another $8 a month for Netflix. (not sure what the $16 figure is)

    Market forces will not allow the average household spend to drop by 2/3 while increasing access… which is also, by the way, why so little content is actually available on Netflix streaming compared to 3 years ago.

  18. YancySkancy says:

    I have HD/DVRs on two TVs, HBO ($18/mo), Starz/Encore ($12/mo), and of course the various taxes and surcharges. My entire bill, including the bundled net and phone, is a little over $250/month. Netflix Streaming is another 8 bucks or so. So my above estimate was probably low even without the net/phone portion of the bundle.

  19. David Poland says:

    Leah… seriously?

    Boys like Frozen too. My son has seen it 3 times, including in a theater sing-a-long.

    But how many times have I heard parents talking about their daughters knowing all the lyrics and obsessing on the film? Many. Boys? Not once.

    Frozen was 100% intentionally built for girls first.

    So what angers you about that? That someone finally did it and had a massive hit or that I mentioned it in passing?

    Is it okay as female movie writer after female movie writer celebrates the film for having such strong female leanings? But when I do it, I am a pig?

    Plenty of sexism out there… even mine, occasionally, but this particular fight is a little silly on your part.

  20. David Poland says:

    “No chance anyone will pay $1500 a year for ANYTHING. Pipe Dream.”

    Uh, no… incremental increase in what people are already paying.

    Pipe dream is what The Industry would prefer and sometimes fantasizes about… which is that the average household would pay $3000 a year.

    As Yancy notes… he’s already there. I’m probably already there too.

  21. EtGuild2 says:

    I feel left out since you didn’t respond to me. I’d just love an explanation of how a site like Popcorn Time competes with something like TPB, or even Movie Forumz.

    Ridulous, in ways that haven’t been explored.

  22. scooterzz says:

    i’m easily at $1500 a year (and i don’t even subscribe to premium networks)….
    btw: on the subject of piracy, via sling i use a friend’s hbo-to-go and showtime-anytime account… it never occurred to me until the head of hbo said in an interview that it was fine by them….
    also, on ‘piracy’… a few years back, i saw a bootleg copy of a film that was still in theaters and it had a (very prominent) watermark that read ‘live with regis and kelly’….
    on any given weekday, my local strip mall has no less than four guys selling ‘boots’ and the titles are as fresh as your morning paper’s listings….

  23. hcat says:

    So is this 125 a month omnichannel just replacing netflix or also replacing cable television as well? Because if you are making predictions on peoples future viewing habits and not including sports, you are going to be way off. And if people are going to have to choose between 125 for either cable with sports and new programs or 125 for the ultimate catalog the vast majority are going with cable, so that 150 billion figure drops to at least 40 while also pissing off cable companies that pay your carriage fees, advertisers that pay for your first run television programming, and retailers that stock the dvds and blu-rays that you are making obsolete by giving people access to everything everywhere.

    The golden goose nowadays for the media companies are these cable channels, they make a ton more off them than they do theatrical movies or television production. I love Netflix, its all I have along with the rabbit ears, but its a bargin bin, another revenue stream for ancillery product, and the studios are not going to sacrifice a single cable viewer in an attempt to kill it.

  24. Bulldog68 says:

    And just like that, we’re all out of popcorn. They have posted a goodbye. We hardly knew ye.

  25. tbunny says:

    $1500 a year, then the next year Comcast/Time Warner/Verizon will increase it to $1800 a year because of your loyalty, and also reduce the number of channels.

    Piracy is wrong. So is monopoly capitalism and a congress beholden to copyright stockpilers. Since a compromise is impossible, people will continue to steal (on both sides).

  26. Chris S. says:

    “Fact is, there are over 100 million households paying $65 – $130 a month for cable. More than 25 million of those are also paying another $8 a month for Netflix. (not sure what the $16 figure is)”

    But you are assuming that this will remain the status quo, when in fact there are increasing signs that consumers, especially younger ones, are not bothering to sign up for cable:

    From Huffington Post:
    “The U.S. pay TV industry in 2013 recorded its first-ever full-year subscriber decline, SNL Kagan said Tuesday in confirming what industry watchers had previously predicted.

    Cable TV, satellite TV and telecom firms offering video services collectively shed 251,000 subscribers in 2013, led by continued cable losses, the research firm estimated.”

    That may be a small loss, but it may also be only the tip of the iceberg. Making cable rates more reasonable could help to prevent further losses.

    Regarding the Netflix price, isn’t it $16 for streaming plus discs?

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