There’s been a lot of feedback and reaction on this site and others about my c’est la vie attitude towards The Nines showing up on BitTorrent. Some felt I was tacitly endorsing piracy (no), while others wondered if I’d feel the same if I had financed the movie, rather than writing and directing it. So I thought I’d address and clarify some of these issues.

I’m not bouncy with joy over my movie getting torrented, but I think it’s a stretch to equate unlawful downloading with traditional theft. As many commenters have pointed out, The Nines isn’t available in any legal form in many countries around the world, nor will it be in any foreseeable time frame. So I have a hard time arguing that a reader in Germany should pay for the movie when there’s no way he could.1

But I’d draw a distinction between an individual downloading an otherwise inaccessible movie and the business of piracy.

I get pissed off when I see blackmarket DVDs sold on the sidewalks of Manhattan, because those are literally discs we’re not selling. It’s organized crime. Even the big torrent sites are essentially profiting off others’ work, by selling ads. So yes, I’m mindful that even as I excuse the individual downloader, the system which allows the individual downloader is far less noble.

The pro-torrent argument, particularly for indie films which get limited distribution (like The Nines), is that a torrent allows a lot of people to see the movie who otherwise couldn’t. And yes, a filmmaker wants his work seen.

But he also wants to be paid for his efforts. No matter where you work — an office, a factory, a retail store — you do your job with the expectation of getting paid. If your employer decided he didn’t want to pay you, you’d be upset. If the employer said, “Well, the customers decided to take the products without paying for them,” you’d rightly tell him to get off his fat ass and hire a security guard.

That’s why I have no problem with Sony and the MPAA going after bootleggers and other merchants of ill-gotten films. It’s not just the studios’ right to see that the law is enforced; it’s their job.

But I’d steer the legal machinery towards stopping the true black market — counterfeit discs and camcorder specials — and spend more time coming up with legitimate, convenient alternatives to the torrents, so that’s it’s not any more difficult to find and download a movie legally.2 Apple’s new rental deal with the studios sounds promising. That and a dozen other efforts could make the market competitive, which will be better for everyone.

On the money

The Nines was independently financed. And while the money came from various sources, it all streamed through me. I signed every check. I own the copyright through Confederated Products LLC, which in turn licenses the movie to distributors like Sony, Newmarket and Optimum.

So when I refer to The Nines as being “my movie,” I’m not just claiming artistic ownership as writer/director. It really is mine. So unlawful downloading has a much more direct effect on me for The Nines than it would for the other movies I’ve written, like Go or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

One of the things I hope to do with The Nines — sometime after the writers’ strike, when I can call Sony again — is work with them to release a low-res version of all the source material for The Nines, so budding filmmakers can try their hand at cutting (and re-cutting) a real feature. So I’m watching this first wave of torrents carefully, hoping the people who are downloading The Nines are doing it because they love movies, and not because they want to screw over some mythical The Man. Because to a very large degree, I am The Man in this case.

  1. Several commenters have suggested the “tip jar” model, where motivated viewers could contribute to the filmmaker. I don’t know of any successful examples of this form of micro-patronage, but I’d happily be proven wrong.
  2. And legally worldwide. Given the dominance of American media, it’s especially frustrating that cinephiles in Australia and other markets have to queue at the back of the line for movies they’ve seen promoted 12 months earlier.