In middle school, a classmate’s dad worked for PepsiCo Inc. Under no circumstances would Patrick, my classmate, drink Coca-Cola, Powerade, or any product of the Coca-Cola Company. According to him, to enjoy a Coke, Sprite, or Fanta was to support the enemy, to spoil the very bread (and Pepsi) that his dad worked so hard to put on the table.
Similarly, as a student of film and television, I shouldn’t illegally stream Breaking Bad, Kung Fu Panda 2, or season 4 of The Wire because in the long run, if you think about it, I am stealing from the very industry in which I hope to one day find a job. And in doing so, I’m stealing from myself, right? I mean, what would Patrick do?
Internet piracy could very well be the straw that broke the camel’s back, the camel being Hollywood, an industry already doomed as a result of on-demand viewing and online streaming from providers such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. With DVD, ticket, and traditional ad sales at risk, studio executives are in desperate need of an alternate source of revenue.
As my professors are keen to point out, the source of the problem lies in our generation’s propensity for online streaming, not to mention our lack of empathy and overall godlessness. And professors are always right, aren’t they? That is, unless they require you to watch Chinatown five times by tomorrow (the film school equivalent of three Hail Marys), or assign you a paper on some obscure, French film obtainable by no means other than online streaming. As much as professors denounce the practice, they expect it of you. Unable to require that you purchase the film, instructors often joke, “If you can’t find it at the library”—and you can’t—”I’ll turn a blind eye to whatever it is that you kids do.”
And for the most part, whatever it is that we kids do, it’s not piracy. Streaming involves accessing the content after it has already been copied and distributed, and because at no point in the process do you create your own copy of the property, it’s not piracy. That’s not to say that streaming isn’t illegal or that it doesn’t support copyright infringement, because it is and it does. The legal implications, however, remain unclear, as does its contested status as a misdemeanor. How do you regulate what cannot be regulated?
Propaganda. That’s how. In the State of California, an anti-piracy curriculum is in the works for students from kindergarten through sixth grade. The controversial program receives support from, no duh, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and major Internet service providers. But wait, Jeff. As an aspiring film and television writer, wouldn’t you want your kids to learn the dangers of Internet piracy, just as Patrick’s father taught him not to drink Coke? Judging by the whopping success of anti-drug and abstinence-only education (telling kids not to smoke cigarettes and have sex only makes them want to smoke cigarettes and have sex), I have faith in my future children’s generation to think for themselves.
“But what if it were your film?” a professor posed this semester. “What if kids were streaming your movie instead of going to the theaters or renting it on-demand?” I don’t know. Someone painted a dick on my mural, and honestly, I don’t care. It’s become a part of the urban environment, just as online streaming and piracy have become and will remain a determining factor in our viewing habits. You can refuse to jump ship and lament over a love that’s as good as dead, or you can get over it, board the last remaining life boat, and look toward the future.
Am I guilty of online streaming and, in doing so, stealing from the industry in which I hope to work come graduation?
Do I feel guilty?
No. Not really.