Yarrr.

Went to see District B13 on opening day with two friends. Throw in the popcorn and soda, and we were at nearly $50. It’s especially expensive to see films in New York, but it’s expensive to see them anywhere. I still go and see a movie whenever there is anything remotely watchable in the theater. Heck, I even saw MI3.

I was especially enthused about going to see B13 for two reasons. First, Luc Besson was the writer. I don’t think he’s a great writer, but I like the films he writes, if that makes sense. Second, the action drew heavily on Le Parkour, and co-starred Parkour star David Bell. (To see him in action, check out this short documentary on YouTube.)

Given that I like Besson and Le Parkour, you would think–obviously–that I have also seen Yamakasi, the first Besson/Parkour combo. You would be wrong. I could: it’s at Amazon.com, in the $25 range. But I don’t want to buy a movie that may suck and that I may only watch once. Especially since the DVD might not even play on my DVD player because of an accident of geography. I want to rent it.

Of course, my local video store in Buffalo didn’t have it. I suspect that there is a video shop somewhere in NYC that does, but I haven’t put in the hours needed to find it. Netflix doesn’t have it. As ArsTechnica found, this particular title isn’t an anomaly–video shops tend not to provide for the broad needs of their customers.

So what’s a movie fan to do? Well, I would never violate the law, but this is enough to drive someone to go to a site like The Pirate Bay and use BitTorrent to download a free version. As more and more computers are tied to home entertainment systems, and as BitTorrent becomes better understood by the average user, this will be an option of increasing ease. I can, therefore, understand why the MPAA wants so badly to shut it down.

But even if I were to give in to the urge to download a pirate copy of this film–a film that the movie industry, meaning theaters, distributors, and even rental shops, haven’t bothered to provide at a price point that makes sense for the casual viewer–it doesn’t mean that the movie company is out $25. I’ve wanted to see this movie for years but not enough to shell out that much money. And when they close down a resource like The Pirate Bay, it closes that little escape valve that allows people to feel as if they are partners with the movie industry and not just users/customers. If I were, frustrated with my ability to find this one film, to download it, MPAA would consider me a “movie thief,” despite the thousands of dollars I have sent their way. Alienating your best customers is the wrong way to go.

Most people don’t care very much about copyright law and Digital Rights Management. But the MPAA seems determined to make people care about it. The question is whether, once people are made aware of the rights that the film industry is asserting, that education will lead to a rollback of these rights. I’ll admit, I’m not particularly hopeful that there will be a great rising up against over-reaching copyright, but it’s not beyond comprehension.

The furor over the recent police action against the Pirate Bay, police action that appears to have been instigated by American corporations, may end up hurting the efforts of the MPAA more than helping them. The “Pirate Party” in Sweden, an offshoot of the Pirate Bay, seemingly well out of the mainstream, is now gathering increased support from Swedes. If Sweden decides that this is an issue worth debating, and that a different path may be appropriate for Swedes, this is a chink in the armor of an international regime for intellectual property. It provides that little bit of wiggle room that may lead other countries to recognize that more limited monopolies may actually help smaller countries in the world market (cf. Japan’s liberal interpretation of foreign patents, for example), and may encourage the development of cultural products rather than retard them.

At the same time films are being made and distributed outside of the expected structures of Hollywood. Not just the “indy” films, or those from Bollywood and Hong Kong, but animation produced using open source tools and making use of distributed, open source approaches to financing and creation. Sure, these are just experiments, but they show that there is something more than a vacuum outside of Hollywood–that there are other possibilities. Does the MPAA really want to push people away? Does turning off the escape valve make sense? Or do they want to recognize what some industries (did I hear “porn”?) have already figured out, that piracy is the best form of advertising out there for the “TiVo Generation.”

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One Comment

  1. Glen
    Posted 6/16/2006 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    You might try Movie Place (http://national.citysearch.com/profile/7172099#editorialreview)at 237 West 105th St. (just east of Silver Moon Bakery) for YAMAKASI.

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