Since the dawn of the Internet a tidal wave of cyber-crime has emerged and thrived. In the world of content and film distribution, piracy has become a mainstay. But piracy is not a new concept.

I recall early in my career, in the hey-day of DVD distribution, when a colleague of mine bought a bootlegged copy of one of my films on the street in Indonesia. Now piracy is even easier and more rampant. Sites like The Pirate Bay and even YouTube are meccas for illegal streaming and downloading.

There have been attempts at legislation to curb piracy but with very little effect. Even recently, the newest US stimulus legislation included some anti-piracy measures. 

The Problem is That Piracy is Global Issue

The biggest problem with piracy legislation is that piracy is a global issue, not a domestic one.

Most of the sites that steal our content and offer it to the public are overseas, outside of the jurisdiction and influence of our government. The hope is that at some point, there will be government cooperation globally to take on the problem.

Before movies were mass pirated online, the music industry felt its effects most painfully. Sites like Napster changed the industry, and at that time, law enforcement actually went after users in addition to the sites themselves.

With movies, however, although there are stern online warnings, the users are rarely pursued or prosecuted. Law enforcement instead focuses on going after the source. Like going after the drug lords rather than the drug dealers and drug users. The movie industry has at least learned a lot of valuable lessons from watching the music industry.

The Silver Linings

I’d like to share a different perspective on piracy with you, as I see some silver linings.

Film piracy is a double-edged sword. On one hand, if nobody pirates your film, it’s a pretty clear indication that your movie isn’t worthwhile or very under the radar.

On the other hand, if you produce a film that is mass pirated, that means you made something mainstream, worthwhile and with an inherent value.

But how much does piracy really affect the return for the film itself?

I am going to surprise you by saying – not very much at all.

Distributors have adopted the attitude that piracy doesn’t have a hugely negative impact because the people who pirate films are not otherwise going to pay for it anyway. They are correct. In 2021 there are so many legal and free avenues to stream films through SVOD and AVOD platforms that it doesn’t make much sense to pirate. The people who continue to illegally download, are not typically going to pay for those services otherwise. 

When It Becomes An Issue

Where piracy really becomes an issue is in foreign territories where your film has yet to be released – or for one reason or another will likely never be released.

This is why domestic distributors usually insist on releasing a film first. That way the film has not ended up on the internet illegally before it’s released at home.

Another option is to release your film on an AVOD platform in those territories so that it’s available to users for free on a platform that pays you.

How to Monetize It

Like any action, there is an equal and appropriate reaction. Few people outside of the distribution world are aware that an entire industry has emerged that monetizes piracy.

There are several of these companies, mostly located in Europe, and the way they operate is great and can be a steady revenue stream for a film – even more so than a traditional distribution deal.

What happens is these companies retain large legal teams and track IP addresses on films they represent that are being mass pirated. Then the legal team sends a threatening letter to the violators that they track stating that a specific person, located at a specific address, from a specific IP address, at a specific time on a specific date illegally streamed a specific film. Then they are given an ultimatum: Pay a one-time fee or risk being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The letter is more or less hot air, and most individuals who receive such a letter call the bluff and disregard it. But a very small percentage pay the fee, and those fees can collectively add up to hundreds of thousands of euros/dollars. The company takes one third of the collected money, the lawyers take one third and the final one third goes back to the Producers. It’s found money, and it can be significant. 

When I submit my films to one such company, I always have conflicted feelings. I never want my film to be pirated, however, if my film is picked up, it means it’s successful enough to be a victim of mass piracy, and now there’s a means to monetize it and profit in a market that otherwise would be detrimental.

Final Thoughts

I will never sit here and tell you that piracy is a good thing. I will, however, try and convert you to an optimistic perspective on it.

Mass piracy can often be the mark of true success.

Distributors like myself can always combat piracy on a local level, removing links from YouTube, etc. Overseas there is little that can be done to combat it directly. The best you can do is control where and how your films are released. It should be part of your risk management plan.

But regardless, like any new industry, it is evolving and in the case of film piracy the evolution is giving way to new and potentially lucrative revenue streams.

If you would like to learn more about Film Distribution, take a look at my free training, 6 Ways to Not Screw Up Your Film Distribution Deal. In it, I share 6 Distribution Deal Killers to avoid so your film can have the best shot at success. Click here to get instant access.