The Blog

Why Online Piracy Should Be A Topic For The Classroom

Children these days will literally laugh if you tell them that you used to pay for music; to them it's a free medium. Many don't seem to comprehend what it means for a creative industry to be in decline

As somebody who has worked in the film industry, and failed in the music industry, I've always felt sympathy towards modern creatives contending with the digital age. I came from the tail end of what you could call the "traditional market" and still have a firm attachment to physical products, such as CDs. While I can certainly see the appeal of Spotify and Netflix, I can't help but feel anger at online piracy. I know how much time and effort goes into writing good music or creating a solid story, and making that vision come to life through speakers, or on screen, isn't easy... nor is it cheap!

In the film industry less than 10 percent of all movies manage to acquire distribution, and only one in ten distributed movies turn a profit. In the music industry bands and artists are always the last to get compensated and often spend years paying back production fees out of their royalties before they see anything in their bank account. Of course, there are a few exceptions, but contrary to popular belief, music and film aren't the big money businesses that they used to be.

According to a report conducted by NPD in 2009 only 37 percent of all downloaded music was paid for legally. While stealing a track from a multi-millionaire doesn't place much of a strain on the conscience - it's hard to feel sympathy for somebody like Maria Carey, whose 28 million dollar payoff left over 1,800 EMI employees jobless in 2002 - we tend to forget about all the players working diligently behind the scenes: songwriters, studio engineers, talent scouts, session musicians. A-list talent will always be able to monetize their "name" in other ways, but all other involved parties rely on general consumers to make a living. Fundamentally, when the music industry is deprived of this crucial revenue, it has to make compromises, often in the form of lay-offs.

Ever wondered where all the creativity has gone in Hollywood? Or why there's such an abundance of prequels, sequels, remakes and... *sigh* super hero movies? Piracy has forced studios to become less advantageous. Instead of taking chances, they're having to invest in run-of-the-mill movies that have been tried and tested over and over again. But aside from the creative implications, the biggest impact is felt by the faceless people you see in the credits: make up artists, assistant directors, prop designers, etc. People who rely on cash revenue to remain in the job.

The High Court has fought the problem, and in 2012 implemented a ruling that forced the UK's largest Internet service providers to block access to The Pirate Bay. In the wake of the ruling, hundreds of proxy sites popped up that were able to bypass the restrictions -- these were soon added to the list of illegal sites. Policing the Internet has proved impossible, so ISPs are now having to take extra measures. For example, Sky Broadband now silently blocks access to proxy sites, which prevents cyber criminals from pre-empting restrictions and making alternative routes to illegal content. Other ISPs are expected to follow suit in the near future.

The average person has downloaded 2,900 songs and 90 movies, which equates to around 67 million dollars in fines. The threat of prosecution simply isn't taken seriously. Tackling the problem from the source may seem like the most effective option, but when one of the big sites has shut down, tens (often hundreds) of others will spring up in its place, creating an unmanageable web of proxies. Pirates will always be ahead of the game. While it's easy to blame the advent of technology, or those who actually upload illegal material in the first place, it's the attitude of the general consumer that needs changing. And where is the best place to do that? Our schools.

Queue the grumpy old man speech... Children these days will literally laugh if you tell them that you used to pay for music; to them it's a free medium. Many don't seem to comprehend what it means for a creative industry to be in decline. We should be teaching about the implications of piracy in the classroom, and in a manner that fame-craving kids of this generation will understand, i.e. "don't bother dreaming about making a living in the music/film industry if you keep on pirating, because there won't be one!" It's a harsh truth. While it may seem ruthless, perhaps adding a dream-crushing reality check to the national curriculum is the best way forward.

Before You Go