It comes as no surprise to learn the rise of digital streaming services is changing the way movie buffs experience Oscar-season. For the first time ever, an online digital-streaming service won Academy Awards this year. Also cashing in on the rise of digital streaming services, the New York Times created a website that linked viewers to the online streaming platforms where they could legally watch the year’s most talked-about movies. Despite these innovations, digital streaming still poses a major threat to the biggest night in Hollywood. Online piracy is jeopardizing the sancity of intellectual property rights and stealing revenues from the movie industry.
Unfortunately, digital pirates no longer have to choose between free and convenient (but illegal) streaming and a high-quality movie-watching experience. Every year, voting members of the Academy are sent advanced copies of the nominated films, and every year, some of these “screeners” are released online. Screeners are remarkable for their high definition picture and quality sound, making piracy seem ever-more enticing.
This year, despite efforts to curb illegal uploads, 14 screeners were posted online. In fact, all 37 of this year’s Oscar nominations were available in high definition for free online from illegal torrenting websites. This week, the three most pirated movies on BitTorrent were Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Passengers, and Doctor Strange – all of which were nominated for Oscars.
Easier access to high-quality pirated films will only expedite the downfall of the Hollywood film industry. In 2007, researchers Arthur S. De Vany and W. David Wallstudiedthe effects of piracy on a major motion picture, estimating that illegal online digital streaming caused the film to lose $40 million in revenue. In another case, a small, independent film studio had its film profits cut in half by rampant digital piracy.
To compensate for this loss in revenue, film studios hire fewer workers, reduce employee salaries, and, ultimately, make fewer movies. The people who are hurt most by digital piracy are not the actors or directors, but the hundreds of low-level employees who will never be recognized at the Oscars. They are the people whose names scroll by on the credits as movie-goers exit the theater, the people whose jobs depend on the continued success of the film industry. The other losers from piracy, of course, are the viewers – those of us who never get to see the “marginal projects” which are scrapped as a result of illegal digital streaming.
Digital piracy exists because people love the movies – because they want to be able to watch movies cheaply from wherever they are. Even as legal digital streaming services like Netflix and Amazon become more widely-used and start to create their own Oscar-winning content, piracy continues. In anticipation of the Oscars, more and more people are turning to piracy to preview the nominees before the big night. These pirates, however, are stealing from the very industry that the Oscars celebrates. The Academy Awards are a celebration of the artistic geniuses – actors, sound specialists, directors, costume designers – who conceptualize a film and then bring their intellectual property to life on the big screen. Now that the awards season is over, we can celebrate these visionaries by protecting their intellectual property rights.