The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A suggestion of what to do, now that we’ve trashed SOPA

with 33 comments

I learned a new abbreviation this week– SOPA. The idea with it– as far as I understand it – to fight online piracy. The problem was that the chosen method was rubbish – which as by a coincidence is what the word “sopa” literally means in Swedish.

From what I get the protests have been listened to, at least for the time being. The bill won’t pass, at least not the way it originally was suggested.

Does this mean that it’s celebration time? Should we go out on the webs and arrange file sharing orgies, downloading and uploading as much as our connections can handle? Should we shout out in triumph to the world:  “free, free, free!”, sparkling champagne all over our keyboards whilst giving the film industry who , giving all the film workers of the world who try to make a living on making films the finger?


I think it’s time to show that film fans are decent people who respect the property of others. There is a question I think it’s hard to come around: is stealing a film from the Internet, really much different from stealing a physical copy from a shelf in a video store?

The excuses
I know there are a lot of excuses. Some better, some worse.

“It doesn’t hurt anyone poor. The companies are already making a huge profit as it is.” Or: “I wouldn’t have bought it anyway”. Or: “They’re charging fantasy prices. I’d pay they just make a cheap service like Spotify. I can’t afford it as it is.”

The one that I think is most valid is when it’s actually the only way to get access to a movie, since there isn’t any option available to buy it legally. In those cases a download can actually be a signal that there is a market demand for this film. Perhaps it can even inspire someone to make it available on DVD or Blue-Ray.

But a lot of the excuses for downloading instead of renting or buying or – gasp – going to a theatre – is just excuses.

Get me right. I don’t feel particularly sorry for people behind block buster productions that probably make a gazillion of dollars in merchandise only. They’ll survive.

I think of everyone else. There are countless of film makers who I imagine barely can make a living, who borrow money from their parents, who sell their houses and live on their spouses, not necessarily because they imagine they’ll get rich and famous, but because they’re bursting with creativity, because they love their arts, because they have a desire to tell a story, even at a price of a poor and uncertain existence.

Maybe you’re too cheap – or poor – to buy their films legally. Maybe you’re too lazy to borrow them on the library (which wouldn’t make them rich, but hopefully give them a cent or so, which is considerably more than zero). Maybe you download their films with the best of intentions. (Hey, you blog about them, that’s free advertising, right?). But could you meet them face to face and tell them about what you’ve done without feeling embarrassed? I couldn’t.

The failed fundraising
Another thing happened to me this week – something that made me feel like a jerk. I’ll tell you about it and then I’ll get back to the downloading issue and make a suggestion.

What happened to me was that I failed to give support to someone who needed it.

You see, in the end of the autumn I got a kind letter from a small German film production focusing on independent and art-house films. They told me about how much they loved my blog (that’s a good start for that kind of conversation :)) and suggested me to take a look at a young German director named Nikias Chryssos. He had previously done a short film called Tower Block (you can check it out without feeling bad, it’s not an illegal download), which I was asked to review, and now he was working on a new project, called “Der Bunker”.

I replied politely that I was flattered by the attention, but that I probably wasn’t the right person to ask since my blog was so small and significant. But they promptly answered that this was no problem. “Even if your blog is small – so is our film”. This made me smile. Us small people should stick together, shouldn’t we?

Time passed quickly – doesn’t it always? – and my film review queue got longer and longer and I never got around to check it out and – in the case I’d like it – give it a shout-out. But finally I watched Tower Block and thought it had “something”. This was a director I’d like to see more of. So I went to check out the kickstarter project they had started to get funds to do their next film.

[Quick interruption to tell you about what a kickstarter project is: it’s a method where art and film makers and such can ask for voluntary donations for a project. They set up a budget for it and if the project reaches this budget within a certain timeframe, they will get the money and do what they had promised to do. If it fails it will get nothing and the donators won’t have lost any money. It’s a safe way for people to be able to support fairly “unsafe” projects without risking to loose it to a project that didn’t’ take off.]

However once at the web site, I was met by a sad message. “Der Bunker” had only assembled 12 000 dollars, which was 8 000 dollars short of the goal of 20 000. It had failed as the deadline ran out. I had arrived to late, missing it by three hours and I felt like such a jerk.

To be honest I don’t think a plug at my blog would have made that much of a difference. My readership isn’t of the size that it easily could gather what was missing. But still – if I had been arsed to check this out properly and put aside some time for it in time, I could have done something to help them out. Something is always better than nothing.

My suggestion
And this brings me naturally to my idea.

Maybe you have a really good reason to occasionally watch a movie for free when you know deep down that you should have paid for it. Maybe you’re one of those who happily would pay for the view if only the film industry let you do it in a reasonably easy way, if it was as available and convenient as the music downloads nowadays. Maybe you don’t want to feel like a parasite or thief. Maybe you want to do the right thing.

My suggestion to you is simple: Why don’t put aside the money you would have paid if you had that option and give it away to another good, film related cause?

There are loads of projects like Der Bunker at Kickstarter. Perhaps you’ll find one of your liking, a talented, upcoming film maker that you’d like to see more of, someone you would rather see making more films than flipping hamburgers for a living in the future?

Or alternatively you could consider becoming a regular donor to your favourite film podcast, the one you’re probably downloading for free, week after week, year after year, and at least make sure they can afford the equipment, even though it won’t be enough for the hosts to make a living of it?

You see: If you want your favourite street musician to keep singing, brightening your days, you’d better toss him a few coins now and then or he’ll give up and do something more lucrative with his life.

If you want good film makers to keep creating magical worlds for your enjoyment, you need to support them in some way, at least so they can get a meal for the day and roof over their heads.

Put your money into the kind of movies you’d like to see made in the future. You’ve got the power. Use it.

And remember: just because we care about the free speech on the Internet, it doesn’t mean that everything that is on the net should be considered free.

Written by Jessica

January 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

33 Responses

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  1. Well said! Couldn’t agree more!


    January 20, 2012 at 5:45 pm

  2. “There is a question I think it’s hard to come around: is stealing a film from the Internet, really much different from stealing a physical copy from a shelf in a video store?”

    Yes, in economic terms a physical copy of a video is a private good and a digital file on the internet is a club good. The distinction being that in one case, your having the copy means no one else can have that copy while in the other case, as many people can have the copy as want it. This doesn’t mean it is right, but it means it isn’t stealing.

    That said, I do like your proposal. Maybe we can’t always direct the money to exactly who deserves it based on our own media usage, but so long as we are pumping the money into the film industry in one way or another, and especially outside the studio system, you are at least providing a certain vitality. I mean, I’m more connected with the super-indie filmmakers and they tend to be the ones least concerned with piracy because making much money simply isn’t in the cards even with no piracy and at some point you at least want people watching this thing you put time, energy and money into. But it would be great getting people in the habit of throwing in a contribution to them when they see something they really like.


    January 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    • Yeah. I don’t think piracy is going away completely anytime soon. So why not try to encourage people to combine it with giving some kind of contribution?


      January 21, 2012 at 12:40 am

  3. Of course there’s a difference between stealing and copying. In one case you hurt the shop owner, in the other the film industry.

    The game service steam made me stop illegally downloading games. In fact, I now have a library of +500 legal games. How did they do it? It’s easier than pirating. If I want a game, I have to click three times and I have it at which point it’s downloading at 2mb/s. And the price? They offer deals each weekend and per season. Suddenly you can buy that game that costed €50 for €10 or €5. Heck, you can sometimes get €500 of games for €50. Believe me, it sells very well.

    Which brings me to movies: there’s no digital alternative in Europe. Please give me a netflix like service that allows me to see as many movies as I want by just clicking three times for a decent price. Please give me shops where the prices of movies sometimes go down to €1. Please stop offering movies half a year after they’re out in the US.

    I do like your idea of supporting other alternatives though. But it’s really about time that we get a good online shop over here.


    January 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    • “Of course there’s a difference between stealing and copying. In one case you hurt the shop owner, in the other the film industry.”

      The question is: who is the film industry? In the end if consists of people. Some of them are rich enough as it is. Others probably – not so very much.

      I too am of course envious about the Netflix thing. We have nothing like that here. But about the price… I don’t know. Is it reasonable to expect movies to cost as little as € 1. What other sorts of entertainment cost that little? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to pay as much as the cost of a hamburger meal to watch a movie?

      But perhaps there’s something I don’t understand here. Maybe I don’t see how much money there is to be made on micro transactions. As long as there is an option to make a living on doing movies, movies that aren’t “given successes” such as Transformers 3, I’m happy. I just think that we need to realize that we’ve got some responsability for this. Our choices, our willingness to pay for what we watch, will determine the future.


      January 21, 2012 at 12:46 am

      • They key here is that it costs pennies to distribute the data so you make money by even asking €0.50 for a movie.

        Plus, it usually goes like this: first you pay full price if you really want to see it. After a few months the price drops. And finally, after a year you can buy it for one dollar. Sure, the margin is smaller but you have a lot more people willing to buy it at that price so it makes up for it in numbers. It’s a lot better to sell 100.000 tickets at €2 than to sell nothing. It’s also a good way to keep your movie selling after the DVD is out for a year.

        The way steam bargains works is pretty clever too. For a weekend, you can buy a game for 1/4th of the price. You’ll play it and if it’s good you’ll recommend it to your friends which in turn might buy it. A movie for a dollar each day could give the same effect. You watch it, review it and praise it to your friends. After that, others might want to see it at full price.


        January 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm

        • Yeah I think I underestimate the fortune there is to make in mass-distribution. I’ve heard of people making a fortune in small app-games that cost close to nothing for the user. So perhaps I should think otherwise about movies. A the same time though I think it is a little bit weird, the expectance that people have that cultural experiences as movies and books should be close to free, while they’re prepared to pay fortunes for other things. Why is it that people into arts are supposed to do their work for free as a hobby while an engineer gets paid? I guess I know….. so many people are willing to work in the business for free… But yet. It bugs me a little. I think a good film should be worth more to me than a crappy hamburger meal.


          January 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm

  4. I love your suggestion about donating to film causes. What a great idea.

    As a side note, I think one way the industry can combat piracy is to make it easier for movie lovers to legally pay for downloads and streaming. I think most people wouldn’t mind paying a fee to download their favorite movies. It’s all abut convenience. For the record, I don’t illegally download movies. As far as I’m concerned, it’s stealing.

    Dave Enkosky

    January 21, 2012 at 1:43 am

    • Yes, I too think it could be easier. Perhaps there’s some technology missing there. I frequently buy e-books through Amazon for reading in my phone as well as apps. If only films could be that convenient!


      January 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

  5. I always feel sympathy for the little people associated with film productions whose livelihoods become threatened – not the actors, but the people who make the coffee, tea, and sandwiches, and folks like that. Just regular men and women trying to put enough food on the table.

    The problem with revolutions – and the rhetoric by quite a few people (not you!) on this is quite revolutionary – is that the little people are always pay the highest price.

    Lewis Maskell

    January 21, 2012 at 2:03 am

    • I can only agree. It’s not just the creators that are losing money on illegal downloading and the general expecations that “everything should be free”. It’s also the sandwich maker, not to be forgotten.


      January 21, 2012 at 9:23 am

  6. Recent case for us Australians was Game of Thrones. It is an excellent show with a huge fanbase here. The USA had finished showing it before we got close to seeing it on TV, and then it was shown late night, at different times of the night. Basically the distribution here was killed. I feel no pitty for the distributors in these cases.
    Let me pay for it in a timely manner and I will. I already run legit software, and dev software for a living – of course I want our IP protected, but I also do not want to wait 6-12 months between the US to Aussie releases.
    Before that was West Wing, a show so popular in Australia that it was first aired on one station then picked up by another – alas by the time Aussie audiences could enjoy it, the show was winding down.


    January 21, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    • I think you’re right that with the media situation today, word spreading on the webs, an international community wanting to discuss the same movies and TV series, the distribution needs to speed up. Back in the days you could keep the entire Swedish population unknowing about “who shot J.R” in Dallas for was it… six months? At least. Nowadays we’d like to keep up.

      I’m really frustrated this time of the year when I haven’t had the opportunity to watch half of the movies that are up for discussion for the Oscars. However it wouldn’t make me consider download them illegally. But I’m absolutely with you about the distribution lacking a lot.


      January 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

  7. Even-handed and well-reasoned. Bravo. That’s all.


    January 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    • Awww. Thanks! Your next drink is on the house. Cheers!


      January 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm

  8. An exceptionally well formulated text and a really good suggestion. While I never seem to get round to it, I have for long time now been thinking about quitting the church (translate it literally to Swedish and you’ll know what I mean) and donate the money that I would otherwise have paid in taxes.


    January 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    • Thanks Sofia! It’s basically a kick in the ass directed to myself. While I don’t do downloads I still think I should be better at giving my support for instance to podcasts that I listen to for free.


      January 22, 2012 at 7:24 am

      • Now I get it — all this is a very subtle innuendo about your and Joel’s podcast that he announced in the FB-group. You just want get free drinks in February 😉

        On a more serious note, I wanted to ask you your opinion in this regard on older movies. Would it be ok to download, say, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis? No one that was involved and could profit from it is probably alive. Relevant point or shameless sophistry?


        January 23, 2012 at 6:13 am

        • Hm… that’s a tricky question. I think my knowledge about 1) the copyright aspect of older movies b) the finacial side of it – who is the one that will suffer the income loss is too limited for me to take a clear standing on this. And the technical law is obviously one thing, the ethics another. I still think that if you watch something you enjoy for free it’s a good idea to support upcoming filmmakers. 🙂


          January 23, 2012 at 9:50 am

  9. Bravo. Well said, and I think a lot of folks would agree with you. Well written Jess!

    Rodney Twelftree

    January 22, 2012 at 3:54 am

  10. Hey Jessica,

    I think your proposal has merit – it assuages guilt (a driving factor for some people) and it can get money to people who really need it (new filmmakers trying to start out on their own). It doesn’t even noticeably ‘hurt’ the large entities – one of the problems I’ve seen with discussion of piracy is the tendency for the large companies involved to speak in numbers (X millions of dollars in damages) as opposed to the percentage it cuts into their gross and net revenues. After all, if your film only made $2M overall, and $500,000 net, then $1M in piracy losses (just as a big number hypothesis for example, not for a realistic situation) is 50% of your gross, and 200% of your net. In a more ‘big film’ example, if that same $1M in piracy losses is applied to a film that grossed $100M (not that unreasonable now), and $25M net revenues, that loss is only 1% of the gross, and 4% of the net – much more endurable losses.

    Part of the problem is that the film companies believe that the consumer money lost to pirating is ‘entitled’ to them – that the pirates would pay if there was no pirated material available out there. I disagree – I would think that many of the pirates, given the choice between buying a product at full price and forgoing the product, would actually forgo the product. If that’s the case, then the film company in question would have actually lost nothing, as the would-be-pirate wouldn’t give the film company any money, anyhow.

    What really needs to be done to reduce piracy, is two-fold… A) The price point of the product needs to actually be adjusted to the reflect the real demand out there, with a SMALL premium for recouping piracy. B) The method of distribution needs to be rethought out – convenience means a lot to people these days.

    Take iTunes, for example. There are tons of ways to listen to music for free out there without owning the songs – Grooveshark and Pandora are two popular and legal avenues. However, despite this, iTunes does very well distributing money. In fact, I am surprised there hasn’t been any griping about how iTunes cuts into CD revenues – as for most people, buying just the songs that one wants off an album is generally cheaper and more efficient than buying the whole album. Further, one has to go to a store, or wait for delivery from an online order, if one wants an actual CD for their collection, as opposed to downloading it.

    iTunes takes both of these factors into account. The product is kept very reasonable in price – a buck or two to own a copy of a song for your collection, and is very convenient – online download for use on your computer, iPod, iPhone, or iPad. It satisfies many of the needs at once for a reasonably priced product in the eyes of the average consumer, and allows all parties involved to get the revenues they’ve earned.

    Earned. Not are entitled to. I think it’s the attitude of big business that gets heavy-handed legislation such as SOPA in place. If the parties involved were more reasonable about their approach to selling their product, and looked at the price point and distribution from more of a consumer-oriented view, then the companies might make up the reduced profit per unit by in sales volume. And by making consumers happy, they would entice them to buy again the next time, and piracy wouldn’t be such a tempting option.

    There will always be piracy, no matter what measures are taken. It’s like online security – it just takes one bored engineer to break it. People want to partake in what’s out there, and if the companies could make the legal cost to the customer reasonable enough to make the risk of repercussions due to piracy not worth it, then they can actually win this battle, and increase their bottom line.

    Right now, they’re showing too much greed and too little thought. It makes me shake my head, like I do every time a professional sports league goes on strike here in the U.S. It’s striking by rich people against other rich people because they want more money, when they’re already rich. It doesn’t garner any sympathy or support from the average Joe.

    Companies need to get back to working out problems by their own means, rather than running to the government every time they come across one. Each time the government has to step in, we lose a little more of the freedom that the United States is supposed to represent. Censorship is not the answer.

    One other thought on your idea, Jessica – it’s a very Robin Hood-esque solution. Stealing from the rich to help the poor. I would support the idea, if I had the inclination to pirate movies, and would feel better for doing so.

    My 2 yen,



    January 22, 2012 at 6:12 am

    • Hey there Akiosama! You’re matching my blog posts with the lenght of your comment. Just the way you used to do on my old place. I love it! 🙂

      I feel as if I know too little about how fir instance Spotify has affected the composers and artists to be prepared to say that it’s “the way to go”. I think I’ve heard somewhere that they nowadays have to find other ways to get an income than from selling their music. It’s more about making concerts and selling merchandise. Same with authors who have to make public shows with entrance fees. Is that the way we want to go with movies too? Having not only the Star Trek stars but everyone else travel around, doing signing and shows for a huge salary? I’m not sure.

      But again: it’s just specualtion. I really don’t know enough about the economy of the film industry to have a certain opiionon about how movies should be priced.


      January 22, 2012 at 7:43 am

  11. Hells no! I download and watch about 15-20 hours/week series and movies. I have a low income and a couple of kids, their friends go to theatres and see the new films, and mine still wait until dvd releases in our language so that I can download and watch, since no-one makes high quality screeners here. If I could, I’d take my kids to the movies, but I’d rather they eat healthy.


    January 22, 2012 at 9:20 am

    • Just a tip: there’s a legal and cheap way to get access to a ton of movies: borrow them at the library. I don’t know how it is where you live but it could be worth checking out. I can borrow up to five movies for a week at a time, all for free. And thousands of high quality movies (many of them quite new) to choose from.


      January 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm

  12. […] wrote a post regarding piracy and SOPA that can be read here.  While some of it discusses what we all know about SOPA – what it does, and why it’s […]

  13. Good post. Just one short thing from me.

    Give me a good online alternative where I can find all the movies I would like to see. I have stopped buying plastic things. I’ll happily pay $5 per movie online.


    January 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    • Yes please! I’d love that too. I’ve tried a bit of renting on line, but it hasn’t worked particularly well. Very messy and few films to choose from.
      On the other hand – I still think movies are best watched in theatres. But then I live in a fairly big city with a lot of movies just 20 minutes from home with my bike.


      January 23, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      • The online services I’ve tried have worked pretty ok. I’ve tried Headweb, Voddler,, Viaplay, Ameibo (not active anymore). Voddler still is buggy but the other services have worked fine. The problem is the choice of movies, basically it’s limited to the latest hip movies but it’s growing. I think it’s a good option if you miss the movie a the cinemas. I also prefer to see movies at the cinema. Last year I saw 26 movies at the cinema which I’m pretty happy with but it could (should) be more.

        I don’t buy or rent dvd movies anymore. I either see movies at the cinema or online (legal when possible). During 2011 I saw 40 movies using legal online services. is a new services I will try out. They have a more arty range of movies, not so much, if any, blockbusters.


        January 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm

        • Thanks for the ideas! Now most of the movies I watch outside of cinemas I watch on DVD, burrowing them for free at my library. However they’re often scratched and that’s kind of annoying. Perhaps I’ll check out some of those services at some point.


          January 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm

  14. This is a wonderful post! While I am quite against piracy, I won’t say that I’ve never watched a movie online. Usually this is because movies take so damn long to get to NZ and sometimes they never make it to our cinemas (like I’m sure The Artist isn’t going to). But if I had watched a movie online I make a special point of buying it when it comes out on DVD. No money lost, really.

    It always makes me feel sad about the young directors who have the brightest ideas but money doesn’t let them achieve what they want. I try and support them as much as possible, because one day I’ll be just like them.


    January 23, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    • Thanks!
      I love your model where you buy the movie you’ve watched online when it comes out on DVD. That’s a fair deal.
      And I know your frustration. Everyone is talking about The Artist and if it ever reaches my city it won’t be until the end of March…


      January 24, 2012 at 12:13 am

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