The fight against piracy: response and responsibility


“The film industry has to come up with new strategies to fight piracy“, says Torsten Frehse, CEO of Berlin-based distribution company Neue Visionen. Since films can be reproduced digitally, piracy is no longer an issue that only affects the major studios. Independent European distributors report growing damages because their art house titles are pirated. “The dubbed German version of the Norwegian comedy A Somewhat Gentle Man by Hans Petter Moland was streamed illegally between 500,000 and 600,000 times”, reports the German distributor. “When a popular film is already released on DVD domestically, the pirates use the video track from the DVD and record the dubbed version in the cinema with their smart phone.” Therefore, Frehse changed his acquisition policy. “We don‘t need any films that have already been released on DVD in any country before we open it”, underlines the art house distributor. The world sales but also the producers need to understand that they have to develop different strategies in the digital age in order to fight piracy.

Furthermore, it doesn‘t make sense to compare the piracy of film and music. “You wanna listen to your favoured song about fifty times and you still want to have it”, points out Frehse. “But if it comes to film, the average audience wants to see a movie only once to make up its mind.”

The illegal download of films, music and video games has a tremendous impact on the global economy.  According to Christopher Elkins, co-founder of British service company MUSO which developed a software that can track and remove illegal content on the internet, the financial loss through piracy comes down to $ 775 bn per year and is expected to be redoubled through 2015.  “22 percent of the internet bandwith is used for piracy”, accentuates Elkins. “67 percent of the illegal file hosters are based in Western Europe and the U.S. They look at the release schedule ahead of time and build their website remarkable sophisticated around the film websites.”

In 2012, when 30,000 users at the age of 18 to 34 were asked why they are downloading illegal files, 24 percent mentioned the convenience aspect as the principal reason. 15 percent of the users stated to download illegal content unwilling and 40 percent only occasional.  “The main problem is the availability of films”, states Daniela Elstner, CEO of Doc & Film International. “If people hear about a hot title in Cannes, they want to see it right away.”  If a film is pirated, it gets harder for the world sales to sell it. “It is difficult to track films”, underlines Daniela Elstner. “We have to work together.” Therefore, the European organization Europa International sealed a partnership with MUSO in November 2012 in order to offer their members anti-piracy education and training. Meanwhile, the British anti-piracy platform provides services for more than 1,000 small, medium and large companies globally and removes illegal content from cyberlockers, P2P torrent sites, streaming sites and illegal search listings on Google.


“The illegal source is the problem, not the downloading”, emphasizes Olivier Maeterlinck, supervisory board member of the Belgian Anti-Piracy Federation (BAF) which tackles audiovisual piracy since 1985. In Belgium, the organization tracked 500,000 uploaded files, among them 78,000 films. “The content is hosted on different computers and Torrent helps you to find it”, says  Maeterlinck. “The operators of those servers are looking for money. They put ads on their website but don‘t pay VAT. They spam you and sell personal data. Google puts advertising on illegal sites too”.


Olivier Dock, Deputy Managing Director of the Motion Picture Association (MPA) in Belgium, commends three ingredients in order to fight piracy. “We need a legislation that is sanctioned by the European Union, education of the younger generation what it takes to distribute a movie, and a legal offer. Education doesn‘t work without a legal offer.”

But distributors such as Torsten Frehse argue as long as users have the opportunity to download or stream movies for free, some of them will actually do it. For this reason,  Munich-based Constantin Film and Wega Filmproduktionsgesellschaft from Vienna claimed for an injunction against the Austrian internet provider UPC Telekabel Wien that gives their customers internet access to a website where users are able to view films for free via download or streaming. The two film companies asked for specific measures to block the access to the illegal website. UPC made clear that they don‘t have a legal relationship with the operators of the website and made neither internet access nor storage space available to them.

The legal dispute was taken to the Supreme Court in Austria that sought guidance from the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to determine whether an internet service provider that gives its customers access to websites with illegal material could be regarded as an intermediary.

According to Advocate General Cruz Villalón an internet provider can be required to block access by its customers to a websites which infringes copyright. But he also pointed out that the provider of the user has no connection with the operators of the website that infringes copyright and has not itself infringed the copyright. The opinion of the Advocate General is not binding on the Court of Justice, the judgement has still to be given.


“The government should think differently about piracy”, states Daniel Melamed, CEO of Israeli art house distributor New Cinema. “There should be rules when you are surfing on the internet. When you are driving a car you have signs in the streets but the internet is like a jungle without rules. A provider can easily know if someone is downloading a lot of content if he is supplying internet to him.”

But the art house distributor is not afraid about piracy. “Even if the films are online, the exploitation from my target audience is very low. It is true that there are people watching the movie via download or streaming without paying anything but these people wouldn‘t come either way to the cinema”, stresses Melamed. “I could never make them buy a ticket, they are just spreading the word-of-mouth if the movie is good.” The distributor is convinced that sometimes it is good for the buzz even if people are pirating a movie. “I am more afraid of piracy if a movie is not good and there are people who saw the movie online and dislike it –  that can be a big problem”, concludes the art house distributor. “I don‘t care about the revenues, I care about the buzz.”


Birgit Heidsiek