Tag Archives: movies

Spain Is the Latest Nation to Make Progress Against Piracy

It’s always a rough ride for national governments trying to curb content piracy within their borders. Trying to promote legitimate streaming and download services while punishing illegitimate platforms is tough enough,m but the challenge is even harder when it comes to balancing punitive measures with education for end consumers.

For all the setbacks, though, 2015 is showing signs of success for anti-piracy initiatives at the national level. 

 

Earlier this year we were happy to report on Norway’s progress against piracy. Now, at the halfway point, it’s Spain’s turn to trumpet some positive results, as Spaniards turn towards legal channels, especially on the streaming side.

As a little background, as recently as last year, Spain was Western Europe’s black sheep of the family in terms of content theft. A report commissioned by the Coalition Against Piracy found that a massive 88 percent of all digital content accessed by Spanish consumers came was unlicensed. That was only a four percent rise on the previous year, demonstrating just how established and brazen these illegal players had become in Spanish society.

At an estimated cost approaching $2 billion lost to rights holders, Spain was clearly a piracy hotspot.

Thankfully, the country’s government took that slight to heart and enacted some serious legislation to tackle the problem, including greater attention to intellectual property complaints by the authorities and the potential to block Internet service providers (ISPs) who facilitate access to illegal sites.

These efforts began back in 2012, so there has been some overlap, but now the country’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports is reporting signs of success at every level.

The highlights include:

  • 98% of all content removal requests, covering 247 sites, have been heeded, while 95% of 444 creator complaints against unlicensed content have been resolved satisfactorily,
  • Annual music revenues returned to positive growth in 2014, following a historic low the previous year, reaching $150 million dollars and posting a further 11% growth in year-on-year spending for the first half of 2015,
  • The number of pirate sites in the top 250 visited websites in Spain has been cut in half since 2012, partly due to ISP blocks but also as a result of changing consumer behavior.

As is believed to be the case in the many Scandinavian success stories, streaming music services are driving a return to legal consumption for many Spanish music fans. The movie industry will hope to see similar results in the coming year, as Netflix gets ready to launch in Spain and bring all the competitive attention that its presence in a market tends to catalyze.

In such a piracy black spot, this news represents a positive development that creators and rights holders will hope can move from short-term trend to long-term habit.

After all, the more nations that can successfully balance education with enforcement, while at the same time introducing the kind of legal content services that consumers enjoy, the more chance we have of seeing this national progress turn into a global phenomenon.

 

 

Sweden Suffers a 25% Revenue Hit Resulting from Piracy

The entertainment industry in Scandinavia has a tendency to occupy both ends of the consumption spectrum. In any one month you might see headlines in Norway proclaiming piracy dead, while the country’s Pirate Party campaigns for its own extreme take on a free and open Internet.

English: Snow Cover Across Scandinavia. In thi...

Snow Cover Across Scandinavia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, in neighboring Sweden, music streaming on sites as wide-ranging as Spotify to illegal veterans The Pirate Bay shows the area as a home to both legitimate profit and piracy.

Thus, depending on your most recent reading material, the situation for copyright protection and creative rights in the region could swing from doom and gloom to profitable paradise in one sitting.

Unfortunately this piece will have to speak to the former, as Sweden’s movie and television industry this month confirmed that it loses an estimated $100 million annually from piracy in the country.

A Frosty Picture for Swedish Filmmakers

The number arises from a report conducted on Swedish TV and movie consumption in 2014, which included 280 million instances of illegal viewing. Commissioned by the country’s Film and TV Industry Cooperation Committee, the findings show that almost one-quarter of the nation’s market for these productions is being lost to consumption via unlicensed channels.

Inevitably, this leads to a frustrating creative environment for filmmakers and TV producers in Sweden. Citing the issues that providing a home to piracy sites causes for creators both at home and abroad, Per Strömbäck, the reporting organization’s expert on digital trade, says “the situation is not sustainable.”

His analysis is correct, and also the reason that copyright activists advocate so vociferously for stronger measures to protect creators globally. Any one country can give rise to piracy and cause significant problems for creators around the world. The 25% figure shows a major concern not just for Sweden, where the impact is of course most immediately felt, but beyond its borders when productions from other countries are viewed by its citizens, or by using services they host.

Fighting Back

The most disheartening part of this latest piracy setback is that Sweden is far from a hospitable place for pirates, at least in terms of upholding copyright law.

On the contrary, the country’s authorities have conducted several raids on piracy server sites this year already, as well as having a hand in bringing the co-founders of The Pirate Bay, which was born in Sweden, to justice.

This is also the nation that just two years ago levied a six-figure fine to an individual for sharing a film illegally. Suffice it to say, the proliferation of piracy in and around Scandinavian countries is not for the want of a strong stance against it by the relevant authorities.

It is the country’s commitment to technological advancement, however, that appears to have set it up as an inviting location for pirates to test their limits. After expanding broadband capabilities in the early days of the Internet, along with encouraging digital consumption of music, movies and television, it was perhaps inevitable that Sweden would become one of the front lines in the fight against piracy.

What is encouraging is the fact that this approach has also allowed legitimate streaming sites to flourish, with the convenience and affordability of what they offer proving a powerful competitor to the lure of piracy sites. The aforementioned headlines in Norway, while perhaps a little overblown, nonetheless prove that legal streaming can make inroads against illegal platforms, given enough time.

With a supportive government and a strong commitment to copyright law, there is every reason to believe that Sweden and its surrounding countries can become a model for entertainment industries around the world, rather than a black mark on the general European trend towards protecting creators.

How “Going Global” in New Zealand Hurts Legitimate Internet Providers

Last month we examined the issue of Internet providers in New Zealand being warned by the country’s broadcasters to take action against subscribers who use virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around geographical licensing restrictions. With these services, viewers around the country can access and view website content that might otherwise be restricted to other nations or regions.

Although this can sound harmless enough on the surface, when it comes to valuable content like movies, television, and music, there’s every chance it could mean the difference between business and bankruptcy for legitimate Internet providers in New Zealand.

 

Once you delve deeper it becomes clear just how intentional this practice is at a business level, not one driven by individual users. Several non-facilities based telecommunications companies – i.e. those with no central offices to pay for or networks to maintain – from New Zealand are engaged in the resale of broadband connections to residential subscribers. On its own this is of course a legitimate business model, much in the same way that non-network mobile providers in the U.S. make use of the main carrier networks to repackage and sell cellular services.

It’s the next step that has the major telecoms providers and rights holders up in arms, and with good reason.  As this article on Tech Policy Daily explains, the resellers are attempting to gain market share by bundling a DNS geo-block defeating mechanism into their broadband services. Essentially, they’re saying to customers that they can provide them with a way around those pesky viewing barriers, or “legal regional licensing agreements” to those of us who have some degree of respect for creative rights and control of content.

Where this particular article departs from fact is in suggesting that there is any argument that these non-facilities based resellers are promoting. One look at the marketing literature from these companies, or even the comments from those in charge, shows exactly where their intentions lie.

Take Slingshot, for example, who make no bones about their “Global Mode” sales pitch:

Slingshot Global Mode Plan

This marketing push is enough to assure customers that they will gain access to overseas content services such as Netflix simply by signing up with services like Slingshot.

What’s more, the offering is pitched in such a way that it makes it sound like this level of access is not only legitimate, but something they should expect from all providers. When those who have invested in networks, offices, and content licensing agreements specific to their country fail to offer such a global service, it perversely reflects badly on the legitimate provider, rather than the likes of Slingshot who are skirting the rules and riding on the infrastructure of other businesses.

The bottom line is that established and respected service providers spend more than US $300 million every year for rights to the content they bring to New Zealand. Add this to the cost of providing a variety of traditional and Internet-based services to customers, with all the infrastructure and capital costs that brings, and it’s a significant investment in bringing that content to the country in the many ways viewers and listeners want to consume it.

While there may be some lag between release windows, the fact is that legitimate services are constantly evolving to meet customer demand and the licensing agreements in place ensure that creators are rewarded for each new market in which their work succeeds. This is the basis for continued revenue to the most in-demand creative talent, wherever it is in the world, and a keystone incentive to keep production flowing. Free riders, in this case the businesses who trade on the back of other providers’ networks and promote unlicensed content as a competitive advantage, only detract from that carefully constructed ecosystem.

An important point to note is that this is a battle against unfair business practices, not taking legal action against individual consumers who pursue their own viewing practices. John Fellet, CEO of Sky New Zealand, confirms this point, explaining that “this is a business-to-business issue; it’s about creating a fair playing field.”

When resellers are able to contribute little but gain a lot in terms of market share, it reduces the incentive for those providers with a major capital investment in the country, like Sky New Zealand and Telecom New Zealand, to continue bringing licensed programming from overseas and, more crucially, investing in home-grown creative talent. In that scenario the large American services like Netflix have an easier time dominating, even if they their revenue streams are diluted by geo-dodging, as they cut by far the biggest slice of the global pie.

In the long term this inhibits innovation and limits production diversity, which is exactly what customers want, and how free-riding resellers play on their trust to promote access to content that hasn’t been paid for.

As India Replaces Media Minister, Its Courts Lead the Way Against Piracy

We took a look last month at the potential prosperity of international movie markets outside of Hollywood, including a nod to India’s rampant demand for its own films. As in any popular creative market piracy rears its ugly head, requiring authorities to come to the aid of creators.

Well, the high court in Bombay came to exemplify this action last week, following heavy piracy of the film  “Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans.”


A mixture of known and unidentified offenders, including two cable operators, flagged the film’s popular appeal and flooded the local market with illegal copies of the title, which didn’t go unnoticed by its producer Abis Rizvi. Returning to court with specific cases of infringement, following previous appeals based more on anticipation than actual fact Rizvi found immediate support from authorities.

The high court issued an injunction against all parties involved in illegal distribution of the film, coming just one week after its October 31st release and instructing police to assist the movie makers in shutting down websites and physical “hawkers” of pirated DVD copies. Although it puts the onus back on the filmmakers to work with police to catch offenders, the speed of the support is what marks it out as exemplary action on the court’s behalf.

Arun Jaitley at Indian Economic Summit

Arun Jaitley | Image Credit: World Economic Forum

The activity comes at a time when India has just announced a new Minister for Information & Broadcasting, Arun Jaitley. Jaitley returns to the ministry after fifteen years away and would be well served to follow the example his capital’s high court has set in pursuing piracy with immediate action.

Prevention is preferable to cure, of course, and the latter comes firmly under the court’s remit. The former is best addressed by the politicians who define the laws that the courts must uphold. With a movie business worth almost $2 billion a year to his country, Jaitley will have every reason to steer his peers in the direction of protecting the creative minds that clearly thrive within the Indian film industry.

China Walks the Line Between Celebrity and Censorship

When it comes to controlling content, the Chinese government is more vigilant than most. A familiar frenemy to most major U.S. tech companies, it frequently clashes with the likes of Google to filter our search results and content that it finds objectionable (which doesn’t take much).

While the country undoubtedly wants the connections and revenue that come with attracting such major brands and services to its shores, the commitment to freedom of information that they bring is far less appealing.

China flag in front of aerials

Can China continue to obstruct digital airwaves? | Image Credit: Mark Tollerman

Now it appears that TV and movies will be the next content frontier on which this China censorship battle will be fought.

Through a series of convoluted red tape measures, Chinese internet service providers who plan to air imported shows will be subject to increased scrutiny and editing before popular titles like “The Big Bang Theory” and  “Breaking Bad” can hit China’s screens. For companies who could otherwise immediately serve up these headline shows to an eager domestic audience the delays are likely to grate.

The piracy angle to this story is perhaps the most frustrating, given that availability is such a crucial part of the formula for convincing viewers to use legal services. When shows aren’t available via a legitimate platform, the chances are that they can be accessed through an illegitimate one. In this case everyone except the piracy site loses, as legal services are denied a paying viewer, revenue is lost to the original creator, and even China’s government fails in its mission to censor an imported show. Many titles on piracy sites simply run in their original, unedited form, potentially cutting the government out of the loop entirely.

This comes at a time when China’s curious mix of capitalism-backed Communism has its own media giants extending their reach into Hollywood. Alibaba, for one, is coming off the back of a hugely successful IPO and a strong financial quarter, with a significant part of its plans to capture new users lying in the U.S. creative industries. On the export side, American studios are showing huge interest in further exploration of the Chinese movie-going market, where imported films are already subject to quota yet make up a little less than half of the country’s box office.

With such a rapid acceleration of its entertainment industry on both the import and export front, China’s government is going to have to balance an increasing number of spinning plates as it seeks to censor incoming content, curb piracy that circumvents its efforts, and still exploit the economic value that the creative industries present.

Beyond Hollywood: International Movie Markets Look to Make Their Mark

For most casual fans of film, Hollywood is the first and last location name in movie making. But as tantalizing as Tinseltown is for actors and fans alike, there’s much more to production and many other excellent, if somewhat elusive film releases are made outside of U.S. borders.

Perhaps the best known of these is India’s Bollywood, a prolific section of the country’s movie industry that produces thousands of releases every year and contributes some . The Mumbai-based focus of film contributes several billion dollars to the Indian economy every year and has launched its own megastars, some of whom have crossed over to the market we in the West consider mainstream, such as Anil Kapoor of Slumdog Millionaire fame.

Bollywood Art

Image Credit: Meena Kadri

Where Bollywood is a term generally known by serious film buffs, Nollywood is unlikely to have reached such heights… yet. This week the New York Times name-checked the Nigerian film business of the same name,  citing the thousands of films produced by the country and the gritty, “bare-bones” nature of the industry as a prime attraction for domestic fans and those hardcore fans that the titles reach around the world.

Unfortunately the article also acknowledges a limiting factor all too familiar to global audiences: movie piracy. 

The box office revenues of Nigeria are reigned in, despite the huge level of production and passionate interest in what’s being made, by bootleggers. This illegal activity threatens to cut off the life blood of budding movie industries around the world, as cash is what impresses investors, and investment is what drives early-career filmmakers on to produce bigger and better movies.

Piracy is of course a problem in every country, from ripping off the big money blockbusters of Hollywood and denying them millions of dollars at the box office (see Expendables 3), to callously taking the work of rising talent without license, denying them the funds they need to get going on their next project.

At any level and in any country, widespread copyright infringement is a problem that requires both local and global enforcement in order to create an environment in which new talent can not only germinate, but bloom and grow with the funds that should be due to directors for success in their early work.

BBC Store Hints at a Drive to Greater Global Access

BBC world logo

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Often held up as a paragon of broadcasting virtue,  where the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) leads, other programmers tend to follow – – by way of a timely example, it just won two Emmys here in the U.S.

So the news that the public service organization will next year introduce its own version of a digital content store is sure to  have broadcasters around the world considering where their own service offerings stand, by comparison.

The idea that the next evolution of entertainment will be based on accessibility and reliability is not a new one, but the international question remains a crucial sticking point to one of its key tenets. Anyone who spends a standard amount of time online looking for content knows that running into geographic restrictions – the dreaded “not available in your country” warning – is a common barrier.

Although the first iteration of the BBC Store will serve only British audiences, a further hint at the desire to “go global” lies in the tentative steps towards bringing iPlayer, the corporation’s streaming service, to an international audience. The radio wing of iPlayer is already edging out into the wider world, while its TV offerings are facing a slower but steadily popular rise through international arms like BBC America and the World Service.

The corporation clearly wants to expand the audience for its vast archive as far and wide as possible, but to do so must avoid stepping on the toes of many other parties in individual countries, from rival broadcasters with their own content agreements to digital retailers that include some of the biggest technology brands in the world.

Although that’s no mean feat, if anyone can accomplish international access the BBC is perhaps the most well placed to do so.

As a public service (to the British public, admittedly, but nonetheless driven less purely by revenue than most) the corporation has more of a focus on serving its audience with deep, diverse content than broadcasters who rely on advertising revenue. Even with the first step of the BBC Store the service has confirmed that links to purchase content on other major digital services, such as iTunes or Amazon, will be integrated into the system.

And as the Hollywood Reporter article above explains, BBC Worldwide president Marcus Arthur confirms that this move is “as much about the archive as it is about current content.” Only six percent of BBC content is currently available to buy, meaning that this play could expand audiences for all manner of titles both at home and abroad. Even if an early work-around is to link users outside of the UK to services in their own country that do host the desired content, it’s still a small step towards greater international access, and one that major digital content providers would surely embrace as a new source of traffic and custom.

Eventually it seems likely that intellectual property restrictions based on geographic location and release exclusivity will have to recede.

Audiences around the world are increasingly connected and aware of what their peers in other places are watching, reading, and listening to,m making it all the more desirable to search them out.Whether or not the BBC ushers in a new era of access, it’s in the best interests of entertainment company and consumer alike that they find a legitimate service to pay for when they reach out beyond their own borders.