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The Pirates are with Us
by Becky Tan

Film festivals are open to theft. A disgruntled festival employee could steal a well-protected, virgin film nestled in its high security safe. This is every festival director’s nightmare, especially at festivals with much to lose if, for example, a high profile festival film should suddenly pop up on the internet to be downloaded worldwide. This would be the end of that festival and possibly festivals in general. The Federation Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films (FIAPF) invited top-notch experts (see below) to discuss this worst-case scenario.

Security über alles
In Berlin each film is clearly marked with bar codes and registration in order to trace exactly who has handled the 4000 films, as well as when and where. At the Locarno festival in Switzerland the original copies are kept in a secure underground building, which was originally built to protect against nuclear wars. More than 8000 people watch world premiere films, open air, at the Piazza Grande. Security personnel wear identifiable garb, and often spectators will point out illegal actions and the perpetrators are escorted from the premises. Other precautions would be to ship films reel by reel, but not the entire film at one time. Also, they could be made to play only on designated projectors. Films today are watermarked, so that a black-market copy can be traced back to its exact point of origin. Films must be guarded like diamonds, and the idea of using military technology which can identify snipers many miles away is not a joke.

The human factor is still the biggest risk. Organizers can do bag checks, confiscate mobile phones or make spot checks with night vision cameras. Camcorders smuggled into cinemas account for 87% of all illegal copies.

Why download?
There are two groups of people who release illegal films on a professional basis. One group is from the original computer generation of Commodore and Omega or the old school, good guys. They are highly competitive and consider it sport to put up the newest films, music, games, etc. quickly; profit is unimportant. They have their own set of ethics, much like graffiti sprayers. The second or new school group consists of parasites who are purely interested in profit; they have no scruples and steal from each other.  

In many countries, the price of a cinema ticket is high, while a downloaded, illegal film, even if bought on the streets, is much cheaper. Whole families can watch one illegal DVD. The internet is available 24/7, and, with the flat rate offered by many servers, as good as free of charge. There are 132 million downloads in Spain in one year.

What to do?
Besides inventive security, downloading can be discouraged by lowering the costs of cinemas. Perhaps the new digital projection will be cheaper in the long run. Legal DVDs could partly pay for themselves with advertising. One could cut out the middlemen of distributors and public relations. This would enhance the role of the film critic whose reviews would entice people into the cinema, along with word of mouth.

There is no sense in bemoaning the lack of respect for the creator of art, i.e., film. We must understand the pirates and their customers and act accordingly.  

Panel Participants

Frédéric Maire (Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland); Stine Oppegaard (Norwegian film institute); Guido Rud (Filmsharks International, Argentina); Christian Sommer (Warner Bros, Germany); Joachim Tielke (GVU German anti-piracy association); Johannes Wachs (Manager, Berlinale).