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Monday, February 04, 2008

Why Aren't More Sundance Movies Pirated?

Slate has a story that poses that question.

Tim Wu observes that it's nearly impossible to find any of the hits from this year's Sundance Film Festival, or last year's, on any of the leading networks for pirated media. He hypothesizes:

    ...The simplest explanation is that it takes a critical mass of interest—lots of people who want to see a film—before it will get decent pirate distribution. There are a number of reasons for this, but, crucially, every step of the piracy distribution system relies on knowing that the film exists at all. Moreover, to get effective, fast distribution on a peer-to-peer network, you need lots of reliable peers—enough people willing to share the burden of distributing the film online.

    In the end, it's a numbers game. How many people want to see the film? Of those, which will get access, break the protection, and put it online? How many will download it, and of those, how many will share the burden of allowing others to download it? These numbers determine whether a film is online at all and mark the difference between a BitTorrent download that takes one hour, and one that takes five days or doesn't work at all.

    ...What this suggests is that film pirates are not predators but parasites. They do not roam around looking for new and unknown films to eat, but rather prey on big films with name recognition. Some pirates also seem to take pride in landing the "big film," and, by that measure, documentaries about the Pentagon's classification policies (Secrecy) do not measure up. In a sense, this is more bad news for independent filmmakers. Forget about Sony Classics: It's not all that easy to get distribution on the Pirate Bay.

Reading the piece kept bringing to mind the quote from Tim O'Reilly: "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy."

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