In the age of the internet, rampant piracy of content is simply unavoidable.
The question isn’t WHETHER your film or content will be pirated, it’s more a matter of WHEN and TO WHAT EXTENT.
Distributors will tell you that piracy isn’t a big issue because the people who pirate will not otherwise pay to watch your film on a traditional platform anyway. In theory, this is actually true.
Where Piracy Can Actually Hurt a Film…
If piracy becomes rampant, it could dissuade foreign distributors from picking up a title in the first place.
Territories such as Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia tend to be the places where most piracy originates.
The key is to try and not let piracy from happening until your film has been sold to or acquired in those territories.
Piracy is a problem in the United States as well, so more than anywhere else, you want to try and prevent piracy from occurring until your film has a US release.
Since most major US distributors require an international holdback, this makes it manageable. That means that most US distributors want to be the first territory in the world to release your film. Once the film is released, chances are it will end up on torrent sites around the world.
Simple Piracy Can Be Combated Pretty Easily…
If and when your content ends up illegally on YouTube, there is a built in mechanism to report the link directly to YouTube. Simple ownership information is provided and within a day or so the link is removed.
After you go through the process once or twice, YouTube begins removing the reported links within hours.
However, when the content lands on the torrent sites, there is little that can be done except to send threatening emails to the site and hope for the best. Overseas torrent sites like The Pirate Bay unfortunately are not threatened by emails.
The silver lining to piracy is that an entire industry has arose to not only combat it, but monetize it.
It’s a double-edged sword of course because if the piracy is widespread enough to monetize it means the reality of your film’s piracy is a problem. The down side is that if it cannot be monetized, then your film does not have much interest or momentum for viewers.
The way monetizing piracy works is pretty simple.
Piracy combat companies will take on a film title and do research to see the actual extent of piracy. They track the biggest torrent sites around the world to see if the title truly is getting significant hits on the pirate sites.
If they determine the film is in fact being mass pirated, they will officially take on the title. Once that happens they have a team who tracks and collects individual IP addresses that are pirating the film from the big torrent sites.
These companies retain large legal teams who in turn send out threatening literature to the individual offenders. The legal threat basically says, “You downloaded X title on X date at X time from X IP address at X physical address. Then they provide an option to pay a one time fee or risk being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The threat is more or less a bluff, and most of the offenders disregard it and call the bluff.
But roughly half of one per cent of the offenders who receive the threat pay the fine and that can equate to significant revenue. For a smaller independent film it can equate to one hundred thousand dollars or more.
Once those revenues are received, one third of the money goes to the legal team, one third goes to the piracy combat company and one third goes back to the content creator.
The Good & Bad News…
When the piracy combat company decides not to take on a film it’s a little bittersweet.
On one hand it proves that the extent of piracy that is perceived may not be anywhere as rampant as you might think. That also means that the film itself is not hugely in demand.
When the piracy company does take on a film, the bad news is that the pirates are watching your film for free in droves, but the silver lining is that it can be monetized.
I often see filmmakers on social media complaining that their film is losing huge sums of money due to piracy, but the reality is that they likely are not. Just because your film pops up on a torrent site or YouTube, the reality is that it does not mean that significant numbers of viewers are actually watching it.
Most major distributors track piracy and do their best to prevent it and combat it. Most distribution contracts even include clauses about the distributor’s best efforts to prevent it. But ultimately, the reality is that it is not entirely preventable.
How to Safeguard Your Film…
There are also ways to safeguard the integrity of your film from pirates.
Often foreign film festivals in small corners of the world will solicit producers to send their films to their festivals.
This is almost always a path that leads to piracy.
Not releasing your film in territories where piracy is rampant prior to the major territories like the US is also another way to safeguard your film from early piracy.
The great news about digital distribution is that today there are enough places for viewers to see independent films on legitimate platforms resulting in generated revenues.
Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) platforms like Amazon Prime have so many subscribers that most people will go there to watch your film. They feel like they are watching it for free because there is no transaction or investment on the viewer’s part specific to your film, but they are paying for it.
Ad Based Video On Demand platforms like Tubi TV and Hyvio are also great resources for viewers because it literally costs them nothing to view your film, yet revenues are generated through ads and ultimately come back to the content creator.
As an independent filmmaker, you should educate yourself about the realities of piracy so you know how to navigate the distribution process in a way where piracy will not inhibit the effort.
Ultimately, you should not lose sleep over the perceived loss revenues from piracy because fortunately the industry has evolved to combat it and make money from it.
If you’d like more information about Film Distribution & how you can improve your chances at getting the right Distribution deal for your film, check out my free class, Demystifying Film Distribution.