Will the spirit of American cinema become extinct?


When I produced “Forrest Gump” and “The Devil Wears Prada”, it was astonishing to see each of them come together, from books to scripts to financing to shooting to the day they were in theaters. Amazingly, they both hold up beautifully years after they were released. The movies still inspire audiences, make them laugh, cry and think – all very true emotions that are at the heart of American filmmaking.

It took over 10 years to get “Forrest Gump” to the big screen. The film is a result of years of toil from hundreds of people to craft this singular experience.

{mosads}“Forrest Gump” was released in theaters in 1994, a very different world of watching movies than we now inhabit. People didn’t “stream” movies at home – they were still driving to and from Blockbuster with bulky tapes. We didn’t give much thought to piracy back then.

Fast forward to 2018, and if that movie were released today, it would be available illegally online, from unauthorized sources, within hours. You don’t need to be a tech genius to figure out how to see it. All you would need to do is get a “fully loaded” piracy device (sometimes referred to as a Kodi box) and you could be watching any movie ever made within seconds – all in the privacy of your own home and on your 60-inch flat screen TV – for free, with no compensation to anyone who helped make the film.

Kodi by itself is legal software that can be loaded onto any Android streaming device, creating a viewing interface on the television screen that functions similarly to the Apple TV. However, devices that use the Kodi platform can be easily misused. When they are loaded with third-party add-ons, the user can access a virtual treasure trove of pirated entertainment media from all over the world.

Unscrupulous companies are profiteering by buying massive numbers of empty set-top boxes, loading them with Kodi and illegal apps, then selling them at a high markup. One of the most notorious is “TickBox,” which has been making headlines for its role in enabling piracy on the grandest of scales. That includes “Forrest Gump” and “The Devil Wears Prada”, and as well as live streams of cable and pay TV channels from around the world. Don’t believe me? Here’s what TickBox’s marketing pitch looked like (as it appeared on their website until they were ordered by a court to take it down):

“Simply plug the Tickbox TV into your current television, and enjoy unlimited access to all the hottest TV shows, Hollywood blockbusters and live sporting events in one convenient little device, absolutely free.”

But entertainment isn’t free – it costs money to develop an idea and then execute it. Whether it’s a live event, or a film, or a television show, companies big and small spend millions of dollars to bring us the characters and stories we love.

Some piracy operators even have the gall to charge additional subscription fees for “services” that pipe in stolen content, usually for about $10 a month. A recent study from the Internet research firm Sandvine found that an estimated 7 million North American households now have a piracy device, earning criminals about $840 million per year. And this is nothing compared to the billions lost when the device users stop paying for legitimate access.

Because they look and work just like brand-name set top boxes, these streaming piracy devices normalize piracy, ushering content theft into the cheerful light of the living room. Now it may feel just like home, but you and your family are breaking the law from your couch.

Fortunately, the news about Kodi is not all bleak. TickBox has been called out for their blatant thievery, and the courts are listening. In January, a judge in California saw through TickBox’s protestations of innocence and slapped the Georgia-based company with an injunction, ordering it to keep pirate add-ons off of its devices and halt all advertisements that encourage piracy.

But while the end may be near for TickBox, our fight is far from over. A recent study found more than 750 websites that sell infringing devices, which means that wherever a TickBox falls, another like-minded device will step in to take its place. 

The battle against piracy will remain an endless game of Whack-A-Mole until we change the conversation at the federal level. In Europe, the highest court has ruled that fully-loaded piracy devices are illegal, and UK law enforcement have brought numerous criminal cases against box purveyors, obtaining jail sentences as long as four years. In our country, prosecutors, with the encouragement of Congress, should be working to deliver a similar knockout blow.

My fear is that the growth of streaming piracy will prevent films like mine from being made. Although “out of the box” films often reap a higher return on investment than franchise films, they have no built-in audiences and therefore are financially riskier than franchise films that do.

My hope is that services like Tickbox will be stopped so that the next generation of American writers, directors and producers have a chance to tell their stories. If the growth of streaming piracy devices continues, it will deprive audiences of the life long memories that come from watching classic American cinema.

Piracy must be stopped – for all of us.

Wendy Finerman is an Academy Award®, BAFTA®, and Golden Globe®-winning producer. She has produced films and television shows including “Forrest Gump,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Drumline,” and “Stepmom,” among others.


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