Friday, April 1, 2011

Piracy a boon to purveyors of bad music and movies

There was a time when the combination of good stories, great scripts and well-recognised actors would guarantee huge box-office profits for movie companies.

Back in those halcyon days, movies were part of our culture and "a night at the flicks" was part of everyone's weekly routine.

Of course new technologies came along and somewhat changed the entertainment scene.

Instead of dressing up and taking in a movie on a Saturday evening, people opted instead to stay at home and watch this new-fangled television box that now sat in the corner of the living room. Movie stars were replaced by TV stars and the whole movie industry struck a rather rough patch.

Of course there was a problem with TV -- you could only watch what the broadcasters were screening at any given time.

This problem was soon solved however, in the form of the VCR and later, the DVD and PVR.

Today, people can watch whatever movies they choose at a time which best suits their busy schedules. Indeed, DVD sales now exceed box-office returns for many movies, with a good percentage of movies "going straight to disk" rather than even trying to content for a slice of the fickle theatre-going public's purse.

Of course the industry does argue that the internet and resulting piracy is now killing it.

Instead of paying to legally purchase or rent a DVD, people are simply downloading entire movies from P2P networks on the internet and thus depriving the lawful copyright owners of their entitlements -- at least that's the story.

Now while it may be true that the profits some movies might have made are being raped by the users of P2P networks, the real block-busters still seem to be doing "very nicely thank you" -- and the bad movies were never going to make a dollar anyway.

Yet, strangely enough, the internet, piracy and P2P networks may actually be the salvation of the B-grade movie industry, at least if the lawyers have their way.

In the USA right now, the producers of one such B-grade movie are attempting to turn their lacklustre title into a big money-winner, and here's how they're doing it.

Investigators have rounded up a long list of IP numbers that they allege represent just some of the internet users who have downloaded this movie illegally.

Around 6,000 downloads have been logged and identified, a number which could represent a total of over US$850m in damages, should a successful prosecution and full damages be awarded for each infringement.

According to reviews, this movie "Nude Nuns with Big Guns" is nothing to write home about and it's very unlikely it would have made even a tiny percentage of that money if it had been reliant on legal sales and ticket receipts. However, with the maximum penalty for an illegal movie download being around US$150,000 per incident, the potential returns from having your product pirated then successfully prosecuting the downloaders would seem to far exceed anything that could have been hoped for by way of legitimate, legal sales.

If, like some of the other prosecutions, the producer of the movie in question choose to offer defendants a "deal" for settling out of court they still stand to reap big revenues. Lawyers
acting for producers of the Hollywood blockbuster The Hurt Locker recently offered such a deal to those caught illegally downloading that film. Instead of facing a fine of as much as $150K, they were offered the chance to "settle" for $2,900. In the case of Naked Nuns with Big Guns, that'd still net the producers almost $17 million.

One can't help but wonder how long it will be before the producers of B-grade movies are being smart enough to seed the P2P networks with copies of their movies in the hope that they'll be downloaded by enough people to make legal action not only worthwhile but highly profitable.

Look -- a new business model has been invented!

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