Many Film Students Pirate Films for Their Courses

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New research shows that piracy is a common habit among film students. Not just for pleasure, but also to obtain mandatory course materials. In fact, obtaining films illegally is more common than getting them through university reserve desks.

Hollywood leaves no opportunity unused in stressing that piracy is hurting the livelihoods of millions of people who work in the movie industry.

Despite these efforts, many people who have or aspire to a career in the movie industry regularly turn to pirate sites. This includes film students who are required to watch movies for class assignments.

New research by Wendy Rodgers, Humanities Research Liaison Librarian at Memorial University of Newfoundland, reveals that piracy is a common occurrence among film students in Canada. This is the conclusion of an extensive survey among students, professors, and librarians at several large universities.

The results, outlined in a paper titled “Buy, Borrow, or Steal? Film Access for Film Studies Students,” show that students know that piracy is illegal. However, more than half admit to having downloaded movies in the past because it’s more convenient, cheaper, or the only option.

“92% of students know that downloading copyrighted films through P2P or other free online methods is illegal. Yet 60% have done it anyway, reportedly turning to illegal sources because legal channels were inconvenient, expensive, or unavailable,” Rodgers writes.

The students are not alone in their deviant behavior. The study reveals that 17% of librarians and 14% of faculty have also pirated films.

Moving on, the students were asked about their methods to access films that are required course material. P2P downloading is popular here as well, with 42% admitting that they “always” or “usually” pirate these films. Using “free websites” was also common for 51% of the students, but this could include both legal platforms and pirate sites.

Buying or renting a DVD is significantly less popular, with 8% and 2% respectively. The same is true for lending from the university library reserve desk, which scored only 22%.

For staff and librarians, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many students download content illegally. They think the majority of the students use pirate sources, and one of the surveyed professors admits to having an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy

“I have made it my policy not to ask HOW the students are viewing the films, since I know most are doing so illegally. I do not encourage this, and I ensure legal access is available, but many students are so used to illegally downloading media that their first instinct is to view the films that way.”

Among librarians, the piracy habits of students are also well known. The paper quotes a librarian who sometimes points out that certain films are only available on pirate sites, without actively encouraging students to break the law.

“If a film is out of print or otherwise not legally available in Canada, and if the film might otherwise be available online by nefarious networking means, I will inform patrons of the fact, and advise them that I would never in good conscience advise them to avail themselves of those means.

“You catch my drift? If they’re looking for the film it is because they need it for academic purposes, and our protectionist IP regime is sometimes an unfortunate hindrance,” the librarian stated.

The paper’s main conclusion is that piracy is widespread among film students, in part because of lacking legal options. It recommends that libraries increase the legal availability of required course material, and lobby the movie industry and government for change.

“Librarians and educators need to do more to support students, recognizing that the system – not the student – is dysfunctional,” Rodgers notes.

While students certainly have their own responsibilities, it would make sense to increase streaming options, digitize DVDs when legally possible, and screen more films in class, for example.

“Buy, Borrow, or Steal? Film Access for Film Studies Students” was accepted for publication and will appear in a future issue of the College & Research Libraries journal.

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