Internet piracy was firmly identified as the bogeymanthreatening the future of the creative process and the livelihood of the filmindustry, at a high-powered conference organised by the Cannes film festival onTuesday.
Numerous speakers railed against the growing electronictrade that bypasses traditional distributors and funds organised crime.
"The expansion of broadband is synonymous with the growth ofillegal downloading," said Cannes president Gilles Jacob. "Let's not be naïve.The biggest hurdle to internet viewing of films is not people's concern aboutlegality, it is download times. And those are shrinking fast."
The afternoon sessions took on a particularly French flavourwith a frontal attack on the telecoms, cable and internet service providers which are rapidly turning France intothe European territory with the highest broadband penetration. They weredescribed as profiting from provision of access to film content, but doingnothing to share revenues with rights owners and content creators.
Director Luc Besson said there is a need for education and achange in attitudes, likening the problem to driving on a motorway. "With theinternet, people have the impression that once they have paid for access theycan do anything they like. Really, they still need to respect the rules of theroad and know that they will have to pay the price of breaking the law."
Gaumont chairman Nicolas Seydoux focused more on opticaldisc piracy and described an axis of evil. "In South East Asia there isscarcely a legal disc to be found. Russia has a disc replicating capacity thatis ten times that of its domestic market."
But, in a powerful rallying cry, UK Film Council chief JohnWoodward warned that film has yet to learn the lessons of the "nightmarescenario" that the music industry is already suffering. "There is a huge amountof growth left in the DVD market. But there is a danger that the problems ofinternet piracy will not be addressed until the [DVD] goldmine is seen to beexhausted. By then it will be too late."
The proceedings, however, were given a surreal twist byCannes jury president Quentin Tarantino, who appeared on stage at the end ofthe day. "Piracy is not 100% black or white," he said to gasps of bemusement,before explaining himself. He said that the film business is being hurt bypiracy and that Kill Bill was the first of his films to have its releaseaffected by piracy. But he also said piracy could be a force for political goodand freedom of expression. "None of my films has ever been allowed a theatricalrelease in China - even Kill Bill, which we shot there for three months.I'm glad it is being pirated in China." His own film education was assisted byillicit copies of Shaw Brothers films with picture quality he likened towatching a film through an aquarium. "I should say, this is not a simple blackand white issue - not for film buffs."
Piracy's scary numbers
"Over one million feature films are down-loaded every day inFrance. That compares with theatrical admissions averaging 477,000 and legalDVD sales of 186,000 per day." Benoit Danard, CNC
"Some forms of FTP software can now download a feature filmin one or two minutes." Frederic Delacroix, ALPA.
"Some UK producers are now unable to sell certainterritorial rights because piracy has destroyed the value of those rights."John Woodward, UK Film Council.
"Our members are losing $3bn-$5bn a year to optical discpiracy. We cannot even quantify the figures for internet piracy." DaraMacGreevy, MPA.
"It is not just the big films which are pirated. StefanArndt claims to have lost Euros 3m to piracy in Germany of Good Bye Lenin!"Jean-Paul Commin, International Video Federation.