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Piracy and P2P filesharing

And whether filmmakers could ever benefit from file sharing?

One of the most feared developments of the film industry is the disruptive force of the internet and its effects to the film business. Piracy is real and effecting all filmmakers, not just the big studios. Adam Leipzig recently analysed the effect of piracy to 14 films that were screened in Sundance 2014 and 2015 and the results were troubling. All films had at least hundreds of thousands illegal downloads, Whiplash more than 12 million.

Internet piracy operates on a P2P file sharing principle. P2P stands for peer-to-peer file sharing and refers to distribution and sharing media using peer-to-peer technology. The technology allows a user to access media files by searching for other connected computers on a P2P network and locate the desired content on other user’s computer and download it. In 2009 P2P networks were estimated to be responsible for 43%-70% off all internet traffic depending on geographical location.

The technology was popularized by Napster, a music P2P service that later run into legal difficulties over copyright infringement and had to change its operations. Later the technology has been standardized by BitTorrent protocol and services using it include the popular uTorrent.

Piracy has been a well recognized threat for the global film industry. If economic losses are used as indicators of a crime’s seriousness, then film piracy would constitute a crime-wave nearing epidemic proportions, underlines a Majid Yar in an academic article tackling the complicated statistics of piracy.

Efforts to alter users’ appetite for piracy include relying on the threat of financial punishment, embarrassment and aggrievement of the content creators. To the average file sharer, often young people, with not much money and financially little to lose, these efforts have proven ineffective, writes Sheri Candler in an article published on Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul.

But what about using the available technology as our advantage as filmmakers? A popular marketing phrase advises businesses to ‘go where the audience is'. Could that apply to P2P file sharing as well? If the viewers are in the P2P networks, could we go there and use it at our advantage?

In her article Candler goes to praising the P2P platforms as simply a new form of distribution, an equal platform for content sharing, making suggestions that ‘creatives rarely start their process motivated by making money’. Surely true, but the statement very much underlies the value of creative work, as it assumes that it would exist to the standards we expect it to exist without being professional (everyone getting paid).

But that said, maybe there is ways to use the P2P technology and its power as a supportive form of distribution to complement the ones that we already have?

A few filmmakers have tried and succeeded. Pioneer One is an episodic drama series produced by Josh Berghard and Bracey Smith. The series is entirely funded by donations and created for a file sharing network VODO.

VODO is a viewing platform using the BitTorrent protocol. The service was launched in 2009 and is based on donations. Filmmakers upload their content to be watched for free, and viewers can pay what they want. Pioneer One is the highest earning title on VODO receiving close to £100 000 on donations only.

Naturally the success of such distribution depends highly on the goals that filmmakers set for themselves and their distribution campaigns. Jon Reiss and various other distributions consultants out there stress the importance of a distribution strategy and that strategy depends entirely on the filmmakers goals.

Maybe money, maybe career launch, maybe having a social impact? For money, without a question P2P is the worst option, regardless of the donations. But large audiences are key for a career launch and in making a social impact. If those are the distribution goals, then maybe P2P can be a valid option. With some donations a filmmaker can break even and reach a larger audience than with limited theatrical release and a transactional VOD release. All the traditional methods require a relatively pricey marketing campaigns, where as P2P travels much more naturally on a word to mouth basis, hence being a lot cheaper option.

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