Downloading Dent?

May 26th, 2005

Just a week after its release, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is expected to break $200 million–and that’s just the domestic box office. Overseas, it’s earned over $160 million by now. And none of that includes the merchandising, or the DVD sales that often match or exceed box office sales. It is probably safe to say that by the end of the year, the film will gross well over a billion dollars.

A bootleg copy of the film–a workprint straight from LucasFilm, in fact–has been available on BitTorrent since just before the film was released, and probably tens of thousands of people have downloaded it. Federal agents stormed sites in ten cities across eight states as the MPAA got help from the FBI and–why, I have no idea: the Department of Homeland Security–in shutting down “Elite Torrents,” a BitTorrent tracking web site which guides people to make the connections to download movies such as Sith.

But it doesn’t stop there. A 60-year-old man was arrested in California for taking digital still photos of the screen while Sith was playing. Still photos. Of lesser quality than hundreds of photos which have been out there legally for months now. He faces a $2500 fine. The theater owner explained it like this:

But Del Oro Theatre co-owner Mike Getz said Keachie’s actions Thursday amount to movie piracy. Signs near the entrance to the theater clearly state that video recording devices are prohibited, he said.

“People who are (pirating films) are costing us billions of dollars a year,” Getz said of the cinema industry.

Now, the Torrents site I can understand, but the guy with the still camera? Please. Throw him out of the theater and be done with it. But arrest him and claim he’s responsible for “billions” of dollars lost?

The MPAA and related industries, in a way similar to the RIAA, are acting like Republicans nowadays–highly successful and hurt none at all by the opposition, but playing the grievously wounded victim for the cameras, as if they were getting killed by this nickel-and-dime stuff.

Say 100,000 people download the Star Wars movie. You think that even a sizable minority won’t go see the film in theaters? Unlikely. Most of these are people who’ll still go see the film three times, then buy the DVD along with bags of merchandise from the film. I don’t care how much it’s downloaded, Star Wars isn’t going to lose a dime from Torrents, and certainly not a penny from senior citizens with digital cameras. There will not be a single dent in George Lucas’ wallet.

The truth is, illegal downloading, despite being illegal, isn’t doing the music or movie industry any actual harm–but it might if they keep acting like fascists. I mean, Homeland Security? Shouldn’t they be hunting down terrorists instead of arresting people for stealing a few bucks apiece from billionaires? Do they not have their priorities straight? Lighten up, people.

One way to lighten up: watch this. I love ChewBroccoli.

  1. May 28th, 2005 at 15:44 | #1

    For the first time ever, I have to disagree with you Luis.

    I work in the American anime industry in a couple different ways, but one of them is through my retail store. We stock every anime DVD released, rent them for a reasonable $1.25 a disc and we always have them on street date. BitTorrent is killing us. We are a college town and my rentals are dying a painful death.

    Each week we post a list of the new releases. I just love hearing the week the first volume of a new series comes out “Oh, I’ve already watched all 26 episodes. I downloaded them fansubbed through BitTorrent.” (I will admit, this is not ALL BitTorrents fault, it is also the fansubbers.)

    Talking to my customers though, it’s not just anime they are doing this with. They ARE doing this with TV shows. They ARE doing this with music. They ARE doing this with movies. And their defense is ALWAYS the same “Well I’m poor and those companies already have enough money.” They are NOT going out and buying the CDs. They are NOT going out to the movies. They are NOT going out and buying the DVDs.

    “The truth is, illegal downloading, despite being illegal, isn’t doing the music or movie industry any actual harm”

    My daily reciepts beg to differ Luis.

    Like I said, this is the first time I have ever disagreed with ANYTHING you have said, but this is a significant one. Illegal downloading DOES harm the industry. Sure, it doesn’t hurt Lucas to any extent, but you go down the road and the victims become far more obvious. Each school year this problem gets worse, I am SO looking forward to late August when the new students come in.


  2. Luis
    May 28th, 2005 at 18:35 | #2

    Hmmm, hard to argue as I don’t work in that business. But there is evidence that the effects of downloading on overall sales was negligible, in the form of music sales rising undisturbed all through the Napster years, and only starting to fall when the economy declined. But then, I’m speaking in general terms; a college town combined with anime, I mean, you gotta admit that’s an incredibly specific dynamic–the effects of BitTorrent on that specific community will be incredibly out of proportion with the industry as a whole (in fact, it would be hard to think of a narrower market with a greater focus on a product combined with a stronger built-in ability of that exact customer base to take advantage of an alternate supply–like opening up a water store in the desert to service miners, then everyone discovers an underground stream nearby). The percentage of college students downloading anime will differ significantly from the percentage of Americans downloading media in general.

    In the post, though, I was referring to the industry, the studios, the content providers–I was not considering the retailers. And the new media age is hitting private content retailers hard–but I think that illegal downloads is only a very small part of it. It is probably much stronger in terms of the new technical and sales paradigm to the business. I haven’t bought any music CDs in years (the last ones were the OSTs to Shrek and the The Fellowship of the Ring); instead, I buy all my music through the Apple store now. And I rarely buy videos or DVDs in stores, rather I buy them all through Amazon (my family thinks I’m nuts, ordering $500+ of DVDs every time I come home at Christmas). If I was in the U.S., I’d almost certainly be subscribed to NetFlix; my parents are, and never go to rental stores anymore. All of that has to be a big part of what’s digging into your sales, or at least it would be in a more standard market.

    But in terms of TV series, there are some fine lines. After all, I DVR all the shows I get on TV–the X-Files, the Star Trek series, Stargate, Dark Angel, so forth and so on. My machine allows me to edit the commercials out, and then I archive them on DVD. That might also hurt DVD sales (though frankly I never spend more than $50 per season of a TV show, no matter what it is)–but it is completely legal. Only the manner of transmission differs from BitTorrent. I’m not saying BitTorrent is OK, I’m saying that BitTorrent is only one small part of a much larger picture which is changing radically.

    I remember back in the early days of the VCR when complaints were the same: this will kill the entertainment industry. It didn’t. It caused some restructuring, movie theaters had to change the way they worked (just like small retailers get hit by Wal-Marts), but the end result, I think, will be the same–the industry in general will continue to prosper just as it always has, it just has to figure out a new business strategy.

    In the meantime, I have to figure that small retailers are gonna get creamed, just as I believe local TV and radio outlets are going to get creamed when digital transmission of their media also becomes standard over the Internet. But BitTorrent is not the only culprit, nor do I think it’s even close to being the biggest one–your specific venue being an exception. I don’t think that the MPAA and RIAA really care about you at all; none of their actions are aimed at helping you directly, they’re just protecting their own interests. You simply happen to have a lovely piece of shorefront property, just as the sea level starts to rise…

  3. Enumclaw
    May 29th, 2005 at 12:57 | #3

    The MPAA is trying to get ahead of the problem and not get caught behind the downloaders. They’re convinced that’s what killed the RIAA.

    But what really has driven the RIAA is how much the record companies r-a-p-e people for a CD.

    You can buy most major release movies for around the same price as a major release music CD! Yet the amount of work and amount of capital tied up in producing the movie is SO much higher than the CD, it’s pathetic.

    If the RIAA charged a more reasonable price, they wouldn’t get screwed nearly as hard by the downloaders/sharers.

    As for the MPAA and movies/TV? Same deal. If being a criminal weren’t so economically advantageous, people wouldn’t do it.

    When it comes to something like anime… I suspect that the “new releases” that are making their way to the USA aren’t really all that “new”. What companies have to realize is that when it comes to non-physical things, creations (like movies or songs) that can be turned into digital information, THERE ARE NO BORDERS anymore.

    Why should “Revenge of the Sith” have different release dates in different nations? Why should a hot British series take months to be found on American TV? While studios and networks dicker over the rights, fans can send files instantly.

    Ultimately, while I have sympathy for the little guys who really are seeing some damage to their businesses, I have to think that it’s partly a matter of simple economics. Quit r-aping people for grotesque profits on TV shows, movies, albums, songs, and they won’t be as eager to break the law or get them for free.

    Seattle, WA

  4. June 3rd, 2005 at 03:52 | #4


    Guess Who ?

    Through long association with the “G” Developers Industry as an adjunct to teaching computer science to high schoolers, I became aware of a little known notion, approved by the Supreme Court, which essentially says you can capture and present materials for educational purposes, within limited scope. The doctrine is known as “fair usage.”

    I always carry a camera with me, and as going to see Sith on opening day was kinda of lark, due to bad weather for working outside, and so was taking a few still shots with a battery nearly on empty, as an experiment. I’m teaching a one week kids camp course in video production this summer. You can see lots more details at

    As far as I knew, civil liabilities, easily avoided via “fair usage,” was my only risk. There were no signs regarding making it a criminal offense, but, locked away in the manager’s offices, were all the details, and a hotline number to call, which immediately alerted Associated Press, which had the story running before it made the police blotter. Basically, the industry paid to criminalize ALL copying, even partial screen stills of low quality, and thus removed “fair usage” from play.

    Of course they didn’t want to tell anyone that they lobbied for the law, or the rather drastic changes it wrought. Thus, no signage in the theater. I have pictures taken the very next day at all 8 theaters in the chain, no signage. (Your post capture unit keeps drifting off to one side, which is very annoying on my 800×600 screen.)

    As for money and the theaters. If this is not resolved in a timely manner, charges dropped, Sony CF717 returned, I will come out of retirement and work for free to sell HD dishes and promote Indy films available for viewing. How’s that for the pocketbooks of MPAA memebers?!

  5. Luis
    June 3rd, 2005 at 04:32 | #5

    Welcome to the site, Mr. Keachie. It seems that you have become somewhat of a sacrificial lamb for the movie indistry, an “example” to scare off pirates. The heavy-handed way it was done almost smacks of an industrial police state; if the police are too busy to go after every stolen vehicle, how come they’re not busy enough to take ten seconds to start the camera, see that only stills were taken, erase them, and end it there? The disparity between respect given to individuals and corporations here is somewhat absurd.

    Instead, the entertainment industry gets to use the criminal justice system indiscriminately to make public examples and scapegoats of people who are about the farthest thing from a threat to them as one can imagine. It reminds me of the grandmother who was sued by the RIAA for illegally downloading rap songs; the RIAA didn’t care who they came down on like a ton of bricks, so long as they could make news in a vain attempt to frighten pirates. They used the taxpayer-funded legal system to act like a private rent-a-cop for their own interests.

    As a college professor myself–I teach Computer Science as well, but also Writing–so I am also aware of the Fair Use statutes. Whatever they’ve done in Washington to subvert that, one thing is certain: still photographs are of zero threat to the industry. Only a full-length, full-frame video recording is even arguably a threat–and no digital camera I’ve ever heard of can record 140 minutes of video. Arresting someone for something like that is like arresting a kid on a tricycle for speeding.

    I would be interested to know when your case will come up in court, and how they handle it. I’ll bet that if the judge throws the case out, the Associated Press will not be there to cover it….

  6. June 3rd, 2005 at 14:41 | #6

    Thanks for the support !

    I’ll keep you informed and readers wishing to know more can go to www dot swland dot org. I have actually now written to the Lucasfilm’s Publicity Dept to request permission formally, a procedure suggested on the web site which also grants permission to use any of the over 7,000 photos there fornone commmercial use on home computers. Apparently some readers have extended that right out to their websites, as there are over 140,000 sites that come up when searching “Star Wars” + (“.jpg” or “.jpe”). Add in blog and the number drops to 70,000, using google advanced search. Flickr posts what are obvious screen shot…

    Doug Keachie

  7. Jaime
    August 22nd, 2005 at 20:52 | #7

    Hey Sean renting and buying dvd’s are different things.
    I would not go out and rent a dvd because I can’t keep it. If I see a Anime or Drama series selling for about 10 pounds I would rather buy it because it is less hassle than downloading it. But retailers aren’t selling them for about 10 pounds you can’t even buy a up to date movie for 10 pounds!! Thats a crazy amount of money to expect people to pay!!

  8. DG
    October 7th, 2005 at 19:24 | #8

    I am a person that has a system that has adapted the wintv pci slot card. Now this allows me to record tv directly to my computer edit it and then burn it to DVD. This is going along the same lines as the DVR and the VCR recording of TV. People cannot sanction what we watch or record from our own TV’s, we pay for our cable and are able to record shows so we can watch them after work. And think about it, they record football games to show what mistakes they make. Highschools also record games (not their own) to learn new techniques, is this not also illegal. I think the industry is getting a tad picky when it comes to what is right or wrong. I am sure they don’t follow the LETTER of the law in all things, I do not think anyone can.

    Those who live in glass houses better not have any bricks sitting near by.

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