Hollywood says ‘hi’ to Napster

Will the kids stop pirating when films go online? Doubt it.

Hollywood says ‘hi’ to Napster

In a recent episode of The Office, Jim and Pam pushed their disdain for annoying co-worker Andy aside to watch pirated movies with him on his laptop. Why the change of heart? He was the only one at work who knew how to download bootleg films.

Meanwhile, in the real world, people are discovering that pirating movies has never been easier. Thanks to faster download speeds and easy-to-use software, it’s getting to the point where your grandmother can download any DVD she wants, for free, in minutes. Which means Hollywood is about to run headfirst into the same forces that have already decimated the music industry.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the studios lost US$2.3 billion worldwide as a result of Internet piracy in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available. In 2008, U.S. DVD shipments slumped to a five-year low. Here in Canada, DVD sales are still climbing, but moviemakers say illegal downloading and streaming is posing an increasing threat. “It’s the most significant challenge for the industry,” says Wendy Noss, executive director of the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association.

In an effort to keep pirating at bay, movie studios are attempting to offer video content in the format viewers desire—legally—through video-on-demand releases and Web extras on Blu-ray discs. As Eric Garland, the CEO of the online research company BigChampagne, recently told the New York Times, “that’s how you start to marginalize piracy—not just by using the stick, but by using the carrot.”

Still, according to Tim Blackmore, a media studies professor at the University of Western Ontario, for the industry to succeed, “the carrot has got to be a lot smarter and better”—especially in these recessionary times. After all, says Blackmore, it’s hard to resist getting a valuable product for free, and for the younger generation, pirating content doesn’t seem to pose an ethical quandary. In fact, he says, it can often be seen as a cool way to say “ ‘screw you’ to the man.”

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