Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pirates of the South China Seas

A few years ago, a Disney animation staffer who'd just return from Thailand said to me:

"You know, I was in Bangkok the day Chicken Little opened in Thai theaters. And the same day, I walked through a city shopping bazaar and bought this."

At which point, he held up a dvd box with Chicken Little artwork on it. "Ah," I thought to myself. "A pirated dvd."

Which, of course, it was.

So it's not surprising that this is going on now:

The 3-D animated movie "Monsters vs. Aliens" will release in China on March 31 on more than 200 screens -- all 3-D equipped, making it all but impossible to pirate the film with a video recorder, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said Wednesday ...

"China is the only market in the world where it will be shown 100% in 3-D," Katzenberg said, adding that after successes across the region with "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar" animation, Asia and the combination thereof is increasingly important to DreamWorks...

Lim Han Seng, regional director of sales and marketing for distributor United International Pictures Asia, put at 180 the number of screens on which "Monsters vs. Aliens" would show in China, mostly in Beijing and Shanghai.

China, which caps at 20 the annual number of imported films allowed to screen on a revenue-sharing basis, has allowed 3-D pictures to skirt that limit.

The reason that piracy is a big deal and ongoing cancer ... I mean beyond the money the multi-nationals lose ... is that it impacts the amount of work and amount of money that film workers ultimately get.

Less revenue equals less work plus smaller paychecks.

Not to mention the nasty way it impacts the level of residuals that flow into health and pension plans and film workers' pockets.

Every guild and union has been screaming about movie piracy for years. (A while back, IA reps were royally bugged by the "who cares" attitude of various representatives from foreign governments at a couple of overseas conferences, so it's not like government entities in far-away lands necessarily worry about this, or that they're going to waste much money, time and energy enforcing international copyright laws.)

My take is: theft of intellectual property will always be with us. The best we can hope for is to diminish it some. It's good that 3-D is slowing down the pirates. But they'll find a way around the impediments placed around them. They always do.


Anonymous said...

Same reason it opens in Russia ahead of the US, then.

I had a feeling that was the reason.


Anonymous said...

Does 3d really make the film un pirate-able? couldn't you just put one lens of the polarized glasses in front of the lens of the video camera lens and get a left eye only version of the film? (which is basically the version people will see on non 3d scenes)

I'm pretty sure its as simple as that. not that I'm going to try anytime soon.


Khylov said...

Again, very good observations. This may be the beginning of a trend in US film studios focusing moreso on foreign markets instead of domestic. Go where the money is, etc.

Bill Robinson said...

That's ridiculous and not going to stop piracy. Inevitably, someone in the US (or another country where its being shown in 2D) will videotape it and post it to the internet. Then its a matter of minutes until someone in China downloads it, burns to DVD and hocks it on the street. Pirated movies spread faster than bird flu!

Steve Hulett said...

That's why you get more and more "day and date" releases around the world.

But if local officials don't enforce laws (and they often don't), the studios will go on losing big money.

Anonymous said...

I am not defending or dismissing piracy, but I question the statistics with regard to lost revenue. I think they are wildly exaggerated. The statistics assumes a one-to-one relationship between sales of pirated DVDs and potential sales of legitimate DVDs. The actual loss is a fraction of that statistic. Many people, particularly poor people in foreign countries will grab something just because it is a bargain, even though they are not all that interested in the content. What if your local video store stated selling off its inventory at $1 or $2 a pop? How choosy would you be? How fussy would you be about the content or titles? You would grab them by the handful. Does that mean that you would have bought these titles anyway? No way!

If you like a film enough to want to own it, you will want to buy the best possible version, with all the artwork, all the extras, all the notes. That means you will most likely be willing to pay for the legitimate issue. That's true all over the world.

Anyone willing to put up with a film shot in a theater with a cheap hand held camera would most likely not have bought the commercial version, anyway. It's not a lost sale and shouldn't be counted as one.

There is no way to accurately calculate the correlation between piracy and lost sales.

Anonymous said...

Asia is horrible when it comes to piracy. a polarized version will definitely make it less enjoyable to watch a pirated copy but they will certainly still try. good thing they don't use the old anaglyph red and blue lenses.

smart thinking JK.

Anonymous said...

to anon 4:50

I definetly don't buy any dvd or blu-ray if it's above $20. No matter how much I want it.

Animated dvd's are overpriced too.

Whatever they can do to stop piracy is fine with me. And I agree with the comment about enforcing the existing laws. All is missing is the will to enforce them.


MikeBelanger said...

Patrick, above is correct. I actually went to a CG
trade-show last week, where nVidia showed off its home '3d Movie' system. As long as its a digital format, that can be reproduced with basically no cost, it can be pirated.

Also, if companies think piracy is eating into their sales so much, why don't they manufacture the DVD's/films in a country that's more willing to abide by international copyright law? Something tells me the low wages in China still save Dreamworks money over doing it in the US - even with piracy taken into account.

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