Why I Stopped Downloading Films

As I mentioned in my previous post, my resolution for 2014 is to watch 365 films, all acquired through legitimate means. While I made the decision to stop downloading films illegally around two years ago, the recent court ruling forcing Canadian Internet service provider TekSavvy to provide Voltage Pictures with information on TekSavvy clients who had downloaded the production company’s films – and thereby setting a precedent in the common law courts  – has made this decision even more appealing. My desire to avoid litigation aside, my decision was based on other – though arguably equally self-serving – grounds.

Since I completed my undergraduate degree in Cinema Studies in 2011, I have been working to establish a career in the film industry, and have worked with various companies and organisations in the Canadian film and media industries. The same industries that even in the less than three years since I began taking on internships, has changed drastically with major companies merging and being bought out in both the exhibition and distribution fields. These changes, along with a less than ideal economic environment, and a morally troubling dependence on and expectation of unpaid labour in the film industry makes it a particularly difficult one to break into. And yet, many like me continue to work towards finding these jobs in cinema. Though I can’t speak for everyone, I do believe that most people in this industry (and though I wont here, this argument can be extended to most other arts industries) have a passion for film and a dedication to contributing to other’s love and experiences with film. This is why I stopped downloading films.

Unlike some of my fellow cinema studies students, my public schools were not equipped with film classes, nor did I look to public arts classes for experience. Instead I satisfied myself with TVO’s now defunct Saturday Night at the Movies, and my parents’ Blockbuster memberships. Despite this lack of filmic experience growing up, I knew my interest in cinema was sincere enough to ensure I enrolled in cinema studies in my first year of university. Initially intimidated by the more worldly viewing habits of the other students, I eventually learned to ignored the pretentious looks I got after admitting I hadn’t seen a certain Russian/French/Japanese/German/Art House/cult film/experimental masterpiece and actually expand my film experience both in the class room, and in my dorm room, taking complete advantage of the excellent campus peer-to-peer file sharing platform.

But I’m not a student anymore. And although I’m not gainfully employed, I can no longer justify cannibalising the industry I am so dedicated to working in. I have seen the work it takes to bring a film to market, and while this is a drastically different trajectory for a film like The Hunger Games compared to documentaries, experimental pieces, art films, or independent films, there are still individuals working on these films that are dedicating their time, energy, and experience to the production, distribution, and exhibition of their film. As someone who would like to be one of those people, I will not devalue that labour to allow me to watch a film two months before it is released on an SVOD platform.

I admit this is a little self-righteous, but it’s also self-preserving. And part of the reason I find it easier to make – and stick to – this decision (and why I feel comfortable hectoring certain members of my family to stop buying bootlegged copies of films from Pacific Mall) now is that film companies have started to do a much better job at making their films more accessible to the public. The same public who will watch films through legitimate means when it is reasonably available to them. This brings me back to the Voltage/TekSavvy lawsuit. Voltage Pictures absolutely has a right and a duty (to their stakeholders) to protect their copyrighted material. If companies did not ensure that they were pursuing the appropriate monitisation for their material they would be unable to sustain themselves financially. (Putting aside any argument as to whether these goods are being priced appropriately according to their inherent value to society.) That being said, it is also incumbent upon a company to exploit any potential revenue streams to the best of their ability. Specifically, giving the public the opportunity to pay for the film in some accessible manner, which today frequently means through VOD, Pay TV, and SVOD models.

This is where the privilege of my decision shines through. As a middle class (ish) person living in Toronto, I am able to reach at least 10 theatres within a half hour of travelling time. Seven are walkable (more so in the summer). One theatre is across the street from me. For an individual in a rural community, or even in many small towns, physically going to a theatre to see a film that is even marginally outside of the mainstream is unachievable. Let alone individuals with any type of accessibility challenge. As our internet infrastructure is improving to these areas, fully realised digital distribution is the best way to access these people and give them the opportunity to pay for their media comsumption. And more importantly, to access them as customers, instead of defendants.

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