I have noticed recently that, when one reads the comments from folks who participate in online piracy, their language is often filled with a kind of virtuous, take-from-the-rich Robin Hood-ism, where piracy is actually seen as the moral high-ground. Pirates are merely taking from overly rich global corporations that, in the case of music at least, are exploiting their artists anyway. The premise seems to be that piracy is good because it is fighting the good fight against fat, capitalist, power-brokers who are out there bilking the consumer.
Though this position is, I’m sure, both convenient and beneficial, it is also incorrect, as the following account of an independent filmmaker’s piracy travails will show.
Filmmaker Ellen Seidler and her partner poured $250,000 into their independent film, And Then Came Lola. The movie saw a good deal of success early on. Unfortunately, much of that success was achieved by content thieves.
Within 24 hours of the release of the DVD of “And Then Came Lola,” digital pirates had ripped the DVD and uploaded it to an internet distribution site where it was distributed for free download. Supported largely by AdSense ads, the site immediately began earning money off the movie.
Despite the fact that Google has a very strict policy against copyright infringement, they also apparently have an unwritten see no evil, hear no evil policy as Google’s AdSense ads are a recurring theme on sites that are pirating music and movies. Google claims that they cannot possibly root out every site that’s pirating copyrighted material and shut down their AdSense ads. Still, the frequency with which AdSense appears on sites completely dedicated to piracy, indicates that Google gives a cursory initial glance at a site before authorizing the site for AdSense and then never looks back.
And, Google isn’t the only advertiser that turns a blind eye to piracy issues. A number of major corporations (Walmart) continue to allow their ads to run on pirate sites.
So, Ellen decided to take matters into her own hands. She started filing take-down notices with every site she could find that was illegally distributing “And Then Came Lola.” Unfortunately, the task quickly became an overwhelming one.
Thousands of cyber lockers already offered her film for free download. Many of the sites have simply ignored her take-down requests. Several have complied with the take-down requests as they are afraid of having their entire site shut down (see End of 2010 sees crackdown on copyright infringement and online piracy), but many just don’t seem to care.
Add to this the fact that for every download link Ellen has disabled several more pop up. So, it seems that most of Ellen’s requests simply sail across the bow of pirate sites and fall harmlessly into the water.
In the end, Ellen (and all independent filmmakers) will need someone with some economic muscle to gather their navy and set sail against the digital pirates of the world. It doesn’t appear that will happen soon (read more on NPR or hear the story directly from Ellen), but independent filmmakers like Ellen Seidler have little choice other than to remain hopeful.