Paul Desmond: Movie lovers unite - save our films

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Creating distribution rules that serve consumers and artists is vital for industry's future, writes Paul Desmond.

Nothing beats the thrill of watching a movie on the big screen, but the industry is under threat from piracy. Photo / Getty Images
Nothing beats the thrill of watching a movie on the big screen, but the industry is under threat from piracy. Photo / Getty Images

Movies are a fantastic art form, the paramount means of telling a story this century and last. Nothing beats sitting in your local theatre, the anticipation rising as the credits roll for the latest block-busting movie out of Hollywood or Cannes-winning indie film.

It doesn't matter whether you're a DVD renter, cinema fanatic or an industry member like me; we all share a love for great film and television. We also have a shared interest in ensuring big studios and independents still make movies screened in cinemas and, after a suitable time, rented for view, either on DVD or online.

It is that commonality of interest that will ensure the survival of the greatest form of story-telling ever invented.

I say survival because the movie and television industry is under threat. Not because of the digitisation of all facets of the economy; movie-making is ideally suited to adaptation to digital delivery. Piracy is the problem and is affecting all facets of movie and television-making, including exhibitors such as myself.

If we don't find a co-operative means of making the movie business work for everyone then fewer big budget action thrillers and romantic comedies will be made. And all of us movie lovers miss out, even the pirates.

It is perverse that illegal file sharers claim to love film and television, yet engage in behaviour that directly threatens the viability of the art form they claim to adore, so much so they're prepared to steal money out of the pockets of New Zealand artists.

I hear many arguments designed to morally justify and even legitimise illegal file sharing. A common excuse is they want access to quality entertainment and, they claim, the industry isn't providing what they want, when they want and at a price they find acceptable.

The accessibility of online entertainment content in New Zealand is in its infancy, but watch closely as it matures rapidly in the next few years. It may not be perfect right now, but this in no way justifies online piracy; it's theft, plain and simple.

To try and place some context around the potential cost to our industry - a 2 to 5 per cent loss in retail sales from shoplifting in New Zealand is reported to equate to a 25 per cent loss in profits. Shoplifting is costing retailers $760 million every year. A significant cost for affected businesses, and the economy as a whole.

There is no moral justification for stealing. To do so when the industry is improving its content delivery platforms to meet public expectation is a perversion of the moral argument.

What to do, though? If we all agree that we all love movies, we can probably agree on another thing: the law governing copyright and file-sharing doesn't work.

For the public, it is a stick-only approach, a courtroom at the bottom of the cliff. Artists see it as a failure because every week their work is being stolen online. The regulations make it so expensive for rights holders to enforce, it is less than useless. The ISPs don't want it because it imposes additional costs, although even they concede they play a key role in a functioning copyright regime.

We need to start again, to redraw the legal relationship between consumers, rights holders, artists and ISPs. With the Copyright Act up for review, now is the ideal time for all stakeholders to reframe the debate so it's about finding solutions, not differences of opinion.

All of us have to get serious about creating a better, more dynamic playing field that represents and protects the interests of not just a few but everyone.

To fix this effectively, we need to look at both ends of the regulatory spectrum: copyright enforcement and content provision.

The Commerce Commission is now looking at ways to open up the market for new On Demand entrants like Quickflix in New Zealand. That's a start.

The onus from here on must be on creating a sustainable and consumer driven commercial market place, where real choice is available and artist and rights holders' right to choose how their content is consumed is respected.

I don't see the internet as a threat to our industry. It is an enabler of sales, and an opportunity to expand distribution through a new channel. Music lovers are already well served by numerous online platforms in Zealand.

But to properly service online distribution models for film content, New Zealand needs better infrastructure that can service the huge amounts of data that will eventually come in and out of our country. In that sense, the Government's ultra-fast broadband network is going to make a big difference.

The recent announcement by Coliseum Sports with TVNZ and Telecom highlights what the future holds. To get more content providers on board, it is essential that international rights holders need confidence in our country's commitment to the protection of intellectual property. At present that confidence is lacking.

A new set of rules that reflect a fair and workable regime that enables the traditional and digital distribution model to co-exist is required.

We need to start making constructive changes that empower the consumer and protect local industry or there will be a lot less to cheer about in future.

Paul Desmond is president of the NZ Motion Pictures Exhibitors Association.

- NZ Herald

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