As Ireland’s film industry celebrates another fantastic year of achievement, culminating in Ruth Negga’s Oscar nomination, it seems incredible that anyone in the country would want to jeopardise it.
Ireland has award-winning movies, producers, directors and artists who are international ambassadors and who put a spotlight on what it has to offer viewers, film and television programme makers worldwide.
Yet some unscrupulous website operators are stealing content and streaming it to Irish homes and devices on a daily basis, lining their own pockets while taking advantage of consumers who may not be fully conscious of piracy’s threat to Ireland’s creative industry and the thousands of jobs it creates.
Piracy is a stubborn problem, but one that can be curbed. Research shows that blocking the worst of the illegal sites, subject to due process, is one effective strategy. Sites in the UK lost 75 per cent of their estimated usage when courts blocked them in 2014, yielding a 6 per cent increase in visits to paid legal streaming sites like Netflix, and a 10 per cent rise in videos viewed on legal ad-supported streaming sites like those of the BBC and Channel 5.
Site blocking is, of course, only one part of a wider solution. The UK boasts one of the world's best police units devoted to fighting online intellectual property theft, and recently pioneered a voluntary code of practice aimed at reducing the availability of infringing content accessed through online search with Google and Bing.
The industry must also stand up for itself, of course. We take a three pronged approach: Make legal content easy to access, engage consumers about the negative impact of piracy, and deter piracy through the appropriate legal avenues.
In Ireland, like other EU countries, the Motion Picture Association is pursuing the worst pirate site operators through the courts. A staggering two million visits to the sites targeted in our action in the Commercial Court emanated from Ireland last October.
These pirates like to pretend they are only stealing from stars in Oscar-winning movies. That’s hogwash.
Irish independent production houses are gaining such a stellar reputation internationally, as are the 7,000 people directly employed here in the television and film industry. This figure soars to 18,000 when support services like transport, security, catering and even cinema staff are included.
These people may not walk the red carpet, but their jobs matter to the Irish economy, and piracy undermines their livelihoods. A 2015 Grant Thornton report estimated that 500 jobs were lost in the music, movie and publishing industries that year as a result of digital piracy.
The public has proven it is willing to pay for top-quality legal content with up to 200,000 Irish subscribers on Netflix and others availing of the hundreds of television shows and movies accessible on Amazon Prime Video, Sky and Volta. Ireland has a strong culture of cinema-going, with one of the highest rates of cinema attendance per capita in the EU at an average 1.25 million monthly visits. Consumers also have a great resource in www.lovemovies.ie, which highlights where people can buy or watch the latest releases.
When we speak to children in the course of our educational work, they are quick to understand who piracy affects most - aspiring actors and those behind the camera and providing support. These young people, who may one day be trying to carve out careers in the media and arts themselves, instinctively recognise that the pirate site operators are bathing in profits without paying a penny to those who do the work.
Pirate sites are also fertile ground for identity theft, viruses, malware or spyware. Is the owner of an illegal site, who already ignores legislation and rules, likely to have measures in place to make your experience safe and secure?
Our strategy of better access, consumer engagement, and deterrence aims to safeguard creators’ rights and boost the creative economy, while helping consumers find legitimate and safe content which will maximize their viewing experience.
It also aims to invite the minority of consumers who are engaged in piracy to reflect on how copyright infringement impacts on their friends and neighbours working in the industry.
Opting for genuine, legal sites over pirated content shows respect for the hard work of our friends and neighbours in Ireland and around the world. And what a fitting example it sets, since respect for hard work is one of the values that Ireland has helped to teach the world.
Stan McCoy, President and Managing Director at the Motion Picture Association in Europe, Middle East and Africa