Creatives’ livelihoods are under attack. Piracy is to blame.

Like everyone else I know, I have a smartphone that feels like an extension of my arm. As a busy agent representing a global roster of production designers, cinematographers, visual effects artists, and other professionals in entertainment, I couldn’t do my job without it.

But while I’m grateful that the internet has helped my business thrive, I also, like most people these days, have some concerns. I hate how much time I spend looking down at the phone, for instance, and I can’t stand the idea of everything I’ve ever done on Facebook being stored in one of their massive server farms.

{mosads}And, I certainly don’t like the fact that I work incredibly hard to attach extremely talented people to film and television projects – only to see those productions pirated across the internet, available illegally for free through a simple online search.

For someone in my line of work, it’s truly terrifying how easy streaming has made it to steal the movies and shows we spend our lives making. It used to be that you at least had to know your way around a computer to commit internet piracy – now you don’t even have to have a computer at all. “Fully-loaded” Kodi boxes function just like a Roku or any legitimate set-top streaming device, letting the user stream any pirated film, television or sports offering they want right to their television screen.

The impact of piracy directly affects people like my clients, who collectively represent the vast, diverse workforce that toils behind the scenes of the entertainment industry. They’re not the ones you typically read about in the Hollywood trades – and that’s how they prefer it. Show business is known for its glitz and glamour, but visit any film or television set and you realize quickly that most people in the entertainment industries are just working people doing their jobs. They work extremely hard as cinematographers, production designers, costume designers, make-up artists, set decorators, and many other roles you never really think about while watching the finished product up on the screen or on your television.

They are people like my client Ed Cathell, who served as unit production manager on movies like “The Paper Boy” and “Olympus has Fallen.” Or Chris Menges, a cinematographer on movies like “The Reader” and “Dirty Pretty Things.” They are part of a community of more than 2 million people employed by the film and television industry in America. Some of them work on giant tentpole blockbusters, but a great many more work on smaller indie films – like my client Anne-Sophie Bion, who edited the 2011 Best Picture winner “The Artist” or Deborah Riley who was art director on “21 Grams” and is now the production designer on “Game of Thrones.”

It’s these people who I worry about most when I see a report from Digital TV Research predicting that by 2022, online piracy will cost the U.S. film and television industry $52 billion annually. No industry can weather that kind of loss without experiencing some serious setbacks to its workforce, and ours is no exception. The big tentpole movies will probably weather this storm with their mighty box office receipts. The indies, on the other hand, are in trouble.

Take a film like “Hacksaw Ridge,” on which my client Lizzy Gardiner was the costume designer. It grossed over $175 million worldwide theatrically, which translates to approximately 25 million tickets sold at an average ticket price of $7.00. Sounds great, but consider this: During its worldwide theatrical release, there were also over 142 million piracy transactions – almost 600 percent more than paid ticket sales. If just 5 percent of the pirated transactions had been paid downloads, at a conservative price of $3.99 per download, the film would have earned an additional $28.4 million.

While “Hacksaw Ridge” did well, those kinds of piracy numbers can mean life or death for most indie films. For another example, look at “Lady Bird,” an Academy Award® nominee for Best Picture in 2018. While I did not have a client working on “Lady Bird”, its nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards® was an important moment for independent film. However, movies like it are being hurt by piracy and are therefore struggling commercially. “Lady Bird” is just the kind of risky, provocative fare that makes the world a more interesting place.

“Lady Bird” grossed $71 million in theaters – substantially less than “Hacksaw Ridge.” At $7.00 per ticket, 10 million tickets were sold. During its worldwide theatrical release, it was illegally downloaded over 16 million times – meaning that the piracy number were over 50 percent higher than legal ticket sales. I know that not all of those people would have paid to see this film, but even if 5 percent of them would have downloaded the movie legally for $3.99, the film would have earned an additional $3.2 million. That is revenue that could go toward making the next great independent film.

This is a problem that I’m hoping Capitol Hill will tackle head-on in the coming months. Most of the people who work on these productions aren’t employed by huge companies. The U.S. motion picture industry is dominated by small businesses, with 84 percent of entertainment companies employing fewer than 10 people. I should know – my business, Claire Best & Associates, is one of them!

Right now, existing law gives immunity to internet companies for harmful activities such as the rampant piracy happening on their platforms. Influential voices like former President Obama and early Facebook investor Roger McNamee have spoken out against this paradigm, and Congress has been listening. But now, they need to start actually making the changes that will ensure that the internet follows the same rules as the rest of society.

Otherwise, the livelihoods of creatives will continue to be under attack. We need to protect them and all of those who work in their highly specialized and skilled departments: the camera operators, seamsters and seamstresses, grips, lighting crew members, and other folks who make our favorite films and television shows a reality. It takes a village to make a movie or a television show. We need to protect this village because the revenue it creates has a cumulative positive effect for the nation’s economy.

Claire Best is the owner and C.E.O. of the film and television talent agency Claire Best & Associates. Her clients include multiple Oscar®, Golden Globe, Emmy, BAFTA winners. She traveled to Washington, D.C. last month with CreativeFuture, an organization that advocates for stronger copyright protections for the creative community, to speak with members of Congress on how to protect intellectual property on the internet.

Tags Copyright infringement Piracy

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