Dear Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA),
That’s right, I am one of those dastardly pirates that engages in Peer-to-Peer (P2P) theft, downloading movies when so inclined. I do not do it because I have a fascination with breaking the law, nor am I struggling for money. I do it because it is convenient, and the movie industry has done an incredibly poor job meeting consumer demands, most notably mine. Until the movie industry provides more reasonable and convenient services, I will continue to break the law. But wait MPAA, there is a silver lining! First, I will write a check for the movies I pirated, based on the value I perceive the viewing to be worth. Second, I will stop my evil ways if your organization is dissolved.
Rather than seeking innovative ways to deliver content in a manner that financially benefits the industry you ‘protect’, you resort to suing individuals, resort to scare tactics, peddle bogus statistics all the while violating copyright law yourselves. Cries of piracy hurting the movie industry and absurd claims of losing billions of dollars come in the midst of a record year in 2007, record sales in 2008 and $10 billion record breaking year in 2009. Further, cries of a hurting industry while increasing ticket prices by 50% over the last 10 years, well above cost of living increases, point to a flawed business model if any part of the industry is really hurting.
I’m a big fan of movies, and I like all types. I have been going to theatres to watch movies since I was a little kid, and even remember being excited about seeing Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back at a friend’s birthday party. I’ve seen hundreds of movies in theatres, own several hundred DVDs and have owned hundreds of VHS tapes. I like good movies (Star Wars), bad movies (The Bodyguard) and even some of the unbelievably horrible movies (2012). I can usually suspend disbelief when needed to enjoy a movie and I can frequently latch on to the good traits of a movie. If a bad movie is on that I haven’t seen, I frequently watch them as background noise and entertainment while working.
When a movie is released and I find myself unwilling to pay $10.25 to see it, that is a strong indication the movie has no appeal on any level. Some movies have a certain level of appeal, but not enough to pay the high ticket price and deal with annoying theatre conditions. Unfortunately, I am not patient and I won’t necessarily remember to track down the movie six months later. That creates a situation where I want to see the movie if it is cheaper than a ticket price and readily available in the comfort of my own home. Therefore, I pirate the movie.
The movie theatre experience is still dismal. After paying $10 to walk through the doors, I frequently find myself purchasing a large drink and small popcorn for $11 bucks, and I still get pressured to buy more. For only a dollar more, I can get a bigger popcorn! Would I like to add candy to that order? The theatres that attempt to upsell me on more food, more sugar or the larger drink that must be served in a popcorn bucket are insulting and irresponsible. Virtually every theatre still does not offer low carb or sugar-free snacks despite the millions of diabetics and a nation-wide obesity problem. They further restrict that option with prominent signs saying no outside food or beverages are allowed. Once in the theatre, I find myself sitting with inadequate leg room, people talking on cell phones during the movie and obnoxious kids or their moron parents kicking my chair. This tired and predictable set of events doesn’t lend to an enjoyable outing. Why do consumers want to deal with these problems when they have an option of seeing the movie in the comfort of their own home while eating fresh fruit or sipping Scotch?
Read between the lines, MPAA and movie industry, and you will see it is your fault that I look to piracy as a solution.
The Movie Time vs Pay Scale
Currently, the value of seeing a movie is based on a measure of time. Specifically, the amount of time that passes since it is released in theatres affects the price we pay to see it. In Denver, matinee prices for a new movie are around $10. A month or two later, it moves to one of the cheaper cinemas and I can pay $3.50 to see it. A month or so later, I can rent it from a Red Box, Netflix or one of the rapidly dwindling video rental stores. Movies may not be instant if they require postage or checking back several times due to availability. At some point, the DVD becomes available for around $19 and eventually drops down as low as $5 depending on popularity and time elapsed. At some point, it ends up (virtually) free when it is aired on TV.
This artificial time-based scale is based on arbitrary value associated with the same product, all of which reinforces the fact that the initial offering price is grossly inflated. The movie industry imposes this timeline and pay scale on us with no legal options to break away from it. In this day and age of high-bandwidth, high-definition and high-priced access, why can’t you look to offer more content on-demand, without the wait?
By The Numbers
I have pirated
101 102 movies in the last 2 years. The MPAA would say I stole $1,070.00 dollars based on a matinee ticket price of $10.50 (my local theatre). They would not factor in that I purchased 15 of those movies at a cost of $240 based on the average price of a new release DVD, or that I will be purchasing 5 more movies at $70 total the next time I pass a Best Buy. Those are cases where piracy actually led to me spending more than ticket price for the movie. They don’t factor in that I would not pay full price for the rest of the movies and that it does not constitute a huge loss of revenue. They further don’t consider there are some movies that I would not pay for in any capacity, be it theatre, DVD rental or ‘on demand’. If I had a reliable mechanism for on-demand movies, at a price point I chose and a time scale of my liking, I would have paid between $1 and $8 for some of them, while still refusing to pay any money to see others.
The 102nd movie I pirated, while writing this article, doesn’t count against me. With the upcoming release of TRON: Legacy, I wanted to purchase the original TRON movie on DVD as a refresher and just to own the cult classic. Checking Amazon, I found the Tron (20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition) DVD was not even available as a new product. Instead, I could pay as little as $38.95 for a ‘new’ copy from an Amazon seller and as little as $27.69 for a used copy. Best Buy lists new copies for $14.99 but conveniently does not offer shipping, instead, forcing you to find a copy at a local store. Searching the local stores via their web page finds that no copies are available in Colorado or New Mexico. Solution? Five hours of downloading and I have a high-resolution copy of the movie to watch whenever I want.
Like a good citizen and human being, I take responsibility for my actions. I pirate movies, violating copyright law. For that, I am willing to make restitution for my transgressions, up to a certain point. While I will not pay full price for many movies I have downloaded, I will pay what I believe is a fair value based on the quality of the movie and my enjoyment. I will not pay for the movies that I downloaded and subsequently purchased a DVD copy of. Finally, I will pay what I believe is a fair price and what I would have paid to see the movie if given a variable pricing system.
If the MPAA would kindly provide me an address where I can remit a check for $239, I will drop that in the mail in return for a signed indemnification agreement pardoning me for the download of those 102 movies.