Ruwandi Perera discusses ways and means of saving the legal film industry

When was the last time you were in a cinema to watch a movie? Do you consider yourself a moviegoer or have you crossed over to the dark side and become a movie downloader? And if so, have you ever felt guilty about watching a movie for free?

Technological developments, digital advancements and social media progress have turned almost every aspect of life upside down. They have also encouraged us to share more – from what we had for dinner last night to what we bought our sister for her birthday.

Indeed, people have taken this concept to the next level by sharing things that shouldn’t be shared.

The word ‘piracy’ may cause many to utter ‘shiver me timbers!’ But to the film industry, it represents a whirlpool that will take viewers straight down to Davy Jones’ locker.

What might seem like an innocent movie download at home is in fact a contribution to movie piracy.

Many industry analysts blame comparatively innocent – and should I say legitimate – villains such as the advent of high quality TV series, movie sequels and gaming for the erosion of the film industry’s profits. But the real enemies are the movie downloaders who take piratical pride in sharing what isn’t theirs to share.

With the power and presence of social media and digital technology on the rise, movie piracy has superseded duplicate CDs and DVDs. Today, many hackers and movie pirates release full-length movies on their sites, YouTube channels and social media feeds only hours after their cinematic premieres.

The worst part of all this is that many people do not know or care about movie piracy. Many of us operate pirated versions of different software knowingly or unknowingly. Why pay when you can get it for free… right, matey?

However, the unfortunate consequence of movie piracy is the loss of revenue for networks and film companies, which in turn have to curb expenses that include the salaries of lower end workers. While actors and actresses indirectly benefit from online movie sharing because more viewers gain access to their artistic work, producers and film companies suffer serious consequences.

Movie piracy is everywhere from remote villages in the hinterland to bustling metropolitan areas. In Nigeria, Nollywood loses around half of its profits to piracy and corruption in the country.

And in India, Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan’s production house Red Chillies Entertainment earned 148 crore at the box office with its movie Dilwale but its pirated version, which was released the previous day, grossed much higher.

Perhaps one of the most pirated productions was HBO’s Game of Thrones – the show’s seventh season was pirated a whopping 1.03 billion times, according to anti-piracy analyst firm MUSO. This means that the show was watched 1.03 billion times without generating a cent! HBO took several measures to address this issue such as not conducting advanced screenings of the show for the press and eliminating paper scripts altogether.

There’s been good news for the industry in the guise of legal streaming video content hubs such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, which have successfully brought some online viewers back to legitimacy. And with many people opting to watch movies online in their own time and on their own devices, the industry cannot deny or ignore the need for online streaming.

So how does piracy take place and how do you know if you’re unwittingly contributing to it?

File sharing – also called a ‘peer-to-peer software programme’ – enables music, games, software and other files to be shared, most of the time without the user knowing it.

The inevitable reality however, is that it will never be possible to arrest all the hackers out there anytime soon although in countries such as the US, copyright infringement is an offence that can send you to jail for up to five years – sometimes with a fine of around US$ 250,000.

Nevertheless, we can adopt a strict ‘don’t support piracy’ policy and reduce the demand for pirated movie content. As users, if you find any file sharing programmes on your machine, you could uninstall them. And if the music, videos, games and movies you have on your computer weren’t paid for, then delete them.

Start using legal alternatives such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and others, and maybe switch to Netflix or iflix – it may cost you more money but it’s cash well spent. And if you’re watching a movie at home in its first week of release, then it’s obviously not legitimate. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Technology is good; sharing is even better. But maybe heading to the cinema every now and then is not such a bad idea after all.