In early 2014, a small team of international programmers created Popcorn Time, an app that enables free online streaming of movies and television shows. Just over a year later, the
app's popularity has already grown to Netflix-like levels, largely due to its slick interface and higher-quality streams than those on many piracy sites.
The entertainment industry is studying the app and the growing number of piracy sites as a whole, which some say now makes up about
24 percent of global Internet traffic. Netflix sees Popcorn Time as a considerable threat and even mentioned it in a January
note to shareholders.
The app is difficult for U.S. copyright laws to shut down because it does not actually host pirated content. Although it provides free access to online streams and its developers show no intent for commercial gain, it could severely affect content creators' ability to get a return on investment.
So with dull legal teeth, the U.S. film and television production industry takes a grassroots approach to fighting piracy.
The Industry Fights Back
The legislation conversation has been quiet since 2011, when
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) tried and failed to extend copyright infringement provisions to streaming.
Meanwhile, the entertainment industry isn't backing down. At the forefront is
Creative Future, an advocacy group comprised of about 400 television and film industry associations or production entities.
According to Ruth Vitale, executive director of Creative Future, "We feel the creative community has been absent from the conversation and that needs to change." The group has mobilized film producers, directors and writers to speak on Capitol Hill and at film festivals about their craft and how copyright laws protect their ability to earn a living and deliver more of the content the public demands.
The group has also taken its message to credit card companies and payment processing entities like PayPal. Since 2012, PayPal has been
breaking ties with cyberlocker sites, obstructing the sites' abilities to collect payments.
Some countries are taking more direct measures. A group of London police officers, for example, formed
PIPCU (Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit), which blocks or shuts down piracy sites. In one year it has targeted 2,000 sites, Popcorn Time among them.
British courts are now a greater part of the piracy conversation too. A late April
ruling from a U.K. High Court issued blocking orders on several websites facilitating Popcorn Time.
Content Delivery is the Key
Plenty of people argue Hollywood is doing fine, and that 2014's domestic box office
dip to $10.4 billion, just off record years in 2012 and 2013, is an aberration. Some also claim that piracy is a tastemaker, not taking away dollars as the
industry claims but actually encouraging people to go to movie theaters.
The film industry has also been called slow to move to better digital delivery methods as the movie industry will need to change for consumers who want product delivered quickly and inexpensively.
Wade Layton, Group Head and Managing Director of CIT Corporate Finance, Entertainment, Gaming, Sports & Media, developments in digital, cloud-based and physical storage, mobile, smart-tv's and wireless broadband are among the major technological trends that have transformed the way consumers' access and interact with content.
Theatrical release remains the best way for filmmakers to make money. However, in addition to the mainstream offerings such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, many new subscription-based video-on-demand (SVOD) over-the-top platforms are being launched, making content available through some 400 legal sites.
According to Vitale, the industry is really doing battle with its own corporate image: "We're victims of our own red carpet celebrity. Those who don't believe in copyright continue to minimize our value. They reinforce the thinking that we're rich, fat sitting in the back of limos and we don't care."
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