Linked in to 4 Years Jail

Aug 21, 2012 No Comments by

Anton Vickerman is starting a 4-year jail term here in the UK.  Idiot drivers who’ve killed children get less, so Vickerman must have done something truly heinous.  FACT (the Federation Against Copyright Theft) obviously thought so because they used money generously donated to them by the film and television industries to mount a private prosecution against Vickerman for ‘conspiracy to defraud’.

What naughty Anton did was set up a website – – that directed other miscreants to sites from where they could illegally download TV programmes and films. And that’s it.  No one died, no one was injured.  FACT had to prosecute privately because the Crown Prosecution Service declined to do so.  Given that the CPS thought it worthwhile using public money to pursue John Terry for racist abuse, you might think they’d drag any old joe into court but they drew the line at Vickerman.

FACT argued that had caused its members to lose between £52 million and £198 million.  Those numbers might seem fairly arbitrary and they’re impossible to either prove or disprove.  Illegally downloading a pirated copy of a film supposedly means the loss of cinema revenue (don’t think so, UK box office returns at the flicks have risen steadily from just over £600 million in 2000 to over £1,000 million in 2011) or the loss of a legal download or DVD rental (hmm, Netflix and LoveFilm, to name but two movie download services, are also in rude health).  And how to quantify the cost of pirated TV shows?  Simply not possible, there being so many varying factors.

If TF was walking down the street and you came up to us and asked, ‘where’s the nearest crack house?’ are we committing an offence by pointing you towards the cradle of squalor?  The precedent that’s been set in Anton Vickerman’s case would suggest we were.  Lots of other organisations can direct you to illegal activity – Google, for example, but they are even richer than FACT and the industries that fund it.  Much easier to go for the tiddlers that can’t afford a decent lawyer.

The film and TV industry lobbyists who go after copyright infringers are very persuasive and very well-funded.  Sadly there are no similarly well-heeled organisations taking an opposing stance.  And this doesn’t mean advocating making downloading certain items legal but rather trying to impress on those industries why anyone would commit such a dreadful crime.  An offence that, when scaled up by repeated transgression, could mean the difference between industry execs having to forego Cuban cigars for something more domestic, or swapping champagne for prosecco, or not being able to send their kids to St Posh private academy.

US chat show host Jay Leno has shown solidarity with workers on his Tonight Show facing redundancy (20 have been hoofed out so far) by taking a voluntary pay cut to…. $20 million. What a guy!  This sort of profligacy has been common in film and TV-land for decades.  The market dictates etc.  The music industry has seen the value of its product decline to the extent that artists are now touring more often so they can earn a crust and keep up with the alimony payments.  Oh no; being able to see your favourite bands more than once in a blue moon.  Awful.  Must be stopped.  Film and TV see this and panic but the figures don’t support their paranoia or their continued assertions that piracy takes food from their mouths.

Netflix garnered 44 per cent of online movie revenue in the US last year, up from just 0.4 per cent in 2010.  Netflix has now overtaken Apple’s iTunes in this market.  Five years ago it was a sector that barely existed.  Netflix is to film and TV what Spotify and Last FM are to music; a monthly payment for an ‘all you can eat’ subscription allowing unlimited access to thousands of movies and millions of tunes.  Eventually services that stream video via the Internet will supplant renters of physical media such as DVDs.  Bye bye Blockbuster stores, hello Blockbuster online.  Imagine the savings on manufacture, storage and distribution between a DVD or CD and a digital download.  And the beauty for the film and TV industries is they (mostly) didn’t even have to pay for the infrastructure by which to deliver those downloads.  More and more people are watching content on smartphones and tablets – another new, exploitable dynamic.  And given that the cost to a consumer of a downloaded book, music album or movie from iTunes is comparable with what we paid previously for the physical equivalent, someone must be coining it in.

The luxury goods industry also cries ‘fake!’ at every turn, getting all uppity about people buying knock-off handbags and watches while simultaneously reporting records profits during a recession.  And still they moan and whine.

If only the film and TV-wallahs would just give up on their piracy/copyright infringement obsession and spend all the time and money they’d save making decent product with intrinsic value instead of disposable pap.  And make the good stuff available; don’t let a brilliant TV series such as Breaking Bad impossible to watch legally in the UK.  Have some respect for your audience and see what happens.  And stop putting small-fry in prison.

Read more from The Guardian here and Tech Dirt here