Piracy: Hollywood’s Losing a Few Pounds, Who Cares?

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Following news this week that a man is facing a custodial sentence after potentially defrauding the movie industry out of £120m, FACT Director General Kieron Sharp has been confronted with an uncomfortable truth. According to listeners contacting the BBC, the public has little sympathy with Hollywood.

factThis week it was revealed that Paul Mahoney, the former operator of streaming portal FastPassTV, is now facing a custodial sentence following his guilty plea before a Northern Ireland court.

After operating his sites for around six years, the prosecution claims that Mahoney made almost 410,000 euros ($471,500) in advertising revenue.

Extrapolating what was probably a good year for viewing numbers on FastPassTV, David Groome QC came to the conclusion that the 30-year-old potentially cost Hollywood around £120 million [$188m].

Following Mahoney’s guilty plea it’s unlikely that those numbers will ever be challenged. As a result, when the authorities and anti-piracy group FACT get their conviction, the public deterrent they’ve been looking for will be home and dry.

But despite looking forward to what is likely to be billed as a historic judgment, it appears that the industry still has work to do to get the man in the street onside. That became evident during an appearance by FACT Director General Kieron Sharp on the local BBC Radio Foyle

After discussing the background to the case, Sharp was confronted with an uncomfortable truth.

“I would imagine the problem for you Kieron in your job is that a lot of people out there – and we’re already seeing it in fact in the [listener] texts to the show this morning – is that [the public] don’t really see the victim in all of this,” the BBC presenter said.

“They see this as Hollywood losing a few pounds – who cares?”

If industry figures are to be believed, around 20% of the populations of several European countries are accessing content from sites such as Mahoney’s, so some lack of sympathy shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. That being said, Sharp’s response only raises more questions.

“Yes I know, that’s an unfortunate way of looking at things really. The big problem about this is that these people are all film fans. They want to watch films and television programs,” he said.

“The best example I can give you is Game of Thrones which is made in Northern Ireland as you know. Huge success story for Northern Ireland, for the people who are working there and getting employment in the film industry.

“They’re the sort of programs that won’t get made in the future if you think that all this is about is a few quid out of the pockets of those in Hollywood.”

While choosing Game of Thrones as an example makes sense from a local perspective, it’s a confusing selection from a piracy standpoint.

As pointed out here on dozens of occasions, Game of Thrones is the most pirated TV show in history. Yet season after season the show returns, each time bringing in more and more legitimate viewers despite smashing several piracy records. Even the show’s director thinks that piracy doesn’t hurt the production.

Nevertheless, when challenged by the interviewer Sharp maintained his position.

“An ordinary film coming out of Hollywood costs $60m to $100m to make and they have to make a return on that. If these films don’t get made then people won’t have jobs, it’s as simple as that. It’s quite straightforward, absolutely no doubt about it whatsoever,” he said.

Sharp wouldn’t be drawn on whether Mahoney should be sent to prison when he’s sentenced next month, noting that’s for the court to decide. But whatever happens to him, problems persist, not only with the countless other people like Mahoney scattered around the globe, but also with public perception. Still, FACT is hopefully that people can be persuaded to do the right thing.

“They can be [prosecuted] but we’re more interested in converting those people into paying customers,” Sharp said. “They’re film fans, we want them to enjoy the product at its best and not from some cheap ripoff copy.”

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