What if Internet Were Not the Devil Itself?
by Guido Scorza (ICT Law Professor)
- Reduction of the windows and worldwide distribution licenses are not the solution. It is important to rebuild a trustworthy relationship between industry and its audience
Precisely in 1982, Jack Valenti, at the time president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), declared before the Congress of the United States of America that VCR – a technology which was relentlessly spreading in American homes – would become for the film industry and the audience what the Boston Strangler had been for women alone at home.
A new technology like VCR was looked at with suspicion and terror by the film industry as though its popularity was directly proportional to the disappearance of a healthy and flourishing industry. The history of the last thirty years has shown how those predictions were totally wrong.
Not only the video has not “strangled” film industry, but it opened a new and prosperous market sector like home video, revealing the power of home theatre to the audience and leading the way to a different experience. This very experience later proved to be useful and valuable with DVDs replacing tapes on the shelves.
Today, history seems to repeat itself again.
The fear still hovering on new digital technologies and computer systems and nourished by global film industry originates from the same conviction that considered VCR as a potential disaster for film industry. Today film industry looks at internet as the devil itself, considering it as the most dangerous rival’. Internet is looked at as the worst enemy and it’s necessary therefore to fight it with Machiavelli-like devices, the end being always justified by the means used. It doesn’t matter to the international film industry whether the way towards the release of the film from network’s terror will lead us to compromising the relationship between those who make cinema and those who enjoy the cinema. It doesn’t matter if along the way it will be necessary to establish an alliance with those same governments and those powers which are opposing the free flow of ideas.
For most representatives of the industry a film on the web is just a lost film. Users will gobble up its value and this means destroying multimillion-dollar production investments in a few hours. Any new production investment will be discouraged. It is a general opinion that Internet will transform glorious Hollywood industry in a relentlessly anti-economic enterprise.
No experience will help people heading film world to look for a different approach. Certainly not the experience connected with video recorder nor that other very enlightening experience lived by the colleagues of music industry a few years ahead of their time. The whole thing looks hopeless, at least up to now.
The online circulation of movie contents is considered an enemy almost by definition. The result is that films land on the Net through legal channels too late and almost without any promotional effort.
According to film industry, this phenomenon ought to be governed by increasing regulations designed to restrict copyright laws, which at the time are already very strict. All this in order to offer the owners of these rights more effective tools to be used against whoever facilitates or receives films online.
The whole thing looks like a scene taken from the famous movie “cops and thieves” with film industry running after governments from all over the world to help them run after online users. It is quite clear that they are running around in circles and nobody is catching up with the other, not even stopping him, which is quite obvious considering how technologies and digital contents are in constant and impossible to stop evolution.
All this giving way to dangerous misunderstandings.
Still, it would be unreasonable and it would be wrong to blame the content industry which rightly demands users to comply with the rules of intellectual property, which are too often violated.
Downloading or watching a movie in streaming without paying and without the copyright’s owner permission is prohibited and it is wrong – besides the fact that it is illegal – in the same way that it is wrong to walk out of a mediastore with a dvd in your pocket. Then, there are no excuses for digital pirates. However, we must admit that the approach of the film industry to online content circulation is wrong and surprisingly difficult to change.
The reasons behind such a strong judgement are many. It is difficult to sum them up since they are connected with film distribution system and endless time and space limitations within it. Internet is by definition a network of open and interconnected networks. This means that every time a content is made available online in a country within a certain timeframe, the global network users expect to be able to use it no matter in what country they are living. Whenever legal access to a specific content is not made available in our own country, we feel pushed to find it on parallel and often illegal markets. The same happens with the time windows system. This system makes films available for a certain timeframe through specific channels (i.e. cinemas) making it unavailable online. In this case, the promotion aimed at cinema audience will create frustrating expectations for those who would legitimately like to be able to access the same film online. The same kind of frustration creates often the need to reach those contents through illicit channels.
This kind of mistake on the part of film industry may be effectively portrayed by an image quite familiar to western fans. It is quite clear that online audience, faced by existing commercial and legal boundaries, will not be easily pushed into a specific enclosure – such as movie theatres, home video or pay tv.
Digital audience is now used to accessing any kind of content regardless of temporal or spatial boundaries. Digital audience is used to considering any content existing in cyberspace as accessible at any time. Therefore it would be logical for film industry to take advantage of this desire or need to find contents online. Something that already took place as in the musical world – and this by offering access to their audiences through a multi-layered cross-platform system.
It would be wrong, of course, to think that this device would be enough to solve the old question of piracy. It would also be wrong to think that the reduction of the time windows and the long-awaited worldwide distribution licenses might be the solution to all problems. An important cultural question would still remain unsolved, and it would be hypocritical not to recognize it. It would still be difficult to explain a ‘digital native’ what is the value of an intangible work of art and how wrong it is to take advantage of it illegally. To all effects this is a cultural battle that requires fighting. In order to win it it is important to rebuild a trustworthy relationship between film industry and its audience. At the moment this relationship is weak as audience sees the industry as a rich and greedy antagonist towards which even using Robin Hood-like devices is ethically correct. What if we tried to look at the Internet as the most valuable ally rather than as the devil? Among other things, internet represents the media with the largest capacity of widespread audiovisual content’s distribution in human history.
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