Fox has begun, with theatrical release of Taken 2, placing end cards on its movies with the message: "The making and legal distribution of this film supported over 14,000 American jobs and involved over 600,000 work hours." The implication is clear: illegal distribution through video piracy puts those jobs at risk. Fox says it will include similar messages on the importance to the US economy of video production and distribution on all future releases, based on an idea voiced to the board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) by vice president Joe Biden at a meeting earlier this year.
The MPAA has, for several years now, published an annual assessment of the economic value of the film and TV production and distribution industries, but this appears to be the first organized effort by a member to spread the word.
The latest version (based on 2010 data) cites the industry's value to the country's economy by several metrics:
The industry is a nationwide network of nearly 95,000 small businesses, located in every state in the country, and made $37.4 billion in payments to nearly 278,000 businesses around the country in 2010.
The industry generated $15.6 billion in public revenues in 2010 from federal income taxes, including unemployment, Medicare and Social Security, state income taxes, and sales taxes on goods.
Balance of Trade:
The industry is one of the few that consistently generates a positive balance of trade for the US; there were $13.5 billion in film and television services exports in 2010, down 2% from 2009, but up 6% over 2006. That produced a positive services trade surplus of $11.9 billion in 2010, or 7% of the total U.S. private-sector trade surplus in services, larger than each of the surpluses in the telecommunications, management and consulting, legal, medical, computer, and insurance services sectors.
Pointing out the economic damage intellectual property theft does to the US economy is not going to end video piracy in the US (to say nothing of overseas); but this approach of simply providing the facts of positive economic impact is at least an improvement over the standard FBI warning or some of the more hectoring "hey it's illegal, don't do it" announcements that we've heard theater audiences actually boo in the past.
The problem, as evidenced in many focus groups surrounding this topic we've participated in over the years, is that most of those who pirate don't care that it's illegal - or at least only care in the sense of vaguely worrying about getting caught. And several recent social science studies have shown that people make their decisions about issues like this - political, moral or social - on the basis of intuition, then use reason to develop arguments supporting that intuition, rather than the other way around.
It's clear in a focus group setting that they know they are indulging themselves with illegal activity at the expense of its producers, and some of their reasoning as to why 'piracy is OK' is pretty tortured: Musicians already make too much money with concerts and endorsements... their illegal downloading and copying isn't "hurting" the artists... the music industry should look for other ways to make money. They even justify their sharing of music as a means of "helping artists get their music out there." There is strong agreement with the idea that artists should be compensated fairly for their work, but they show far more sympathy for those who work in industry production or for the smaller unknown bands trying to make it.
Hence, underneath the rationalizations lies varying levels of genuine concern about the people who produce the content, not so much the stars (who are widely thought to be over-compensated) much less the companies who finance and distribute content (ditto), but the support teams and production crews. That suggests that a jobs-based pitch in these post-recessionary (and pre-recessionary?) times, while it may not stop piracy activity by those who do a ton of it and insist there's no harm done, may prompt some to get more of their content legally.
In any case, an argument based on economic facts of life is bound to have more impact around the margins than one based on challenging people's integrity by pointing out "it's stealing!" Because several key things emerge as you listen to people talk about their media consumption - legal and illegal:
- Only a small percentage of content stolen truly represents a direct lost sale. Many of the heaviest downloaders are what you might call "sportsmen", in it simply for the activity of amassing huge collections, often admitting they are not big music or movie fans and would not otherwise be collectors.
- College students often plead poverty, suggesting again that what they download free would not otherwise be bought, and that when they get incomes they will become buyers of at least some of the content they currently steal.
- Almost all are aware of, and many are at least somewhat concerned about the economic impacts. On the music front, most at least claim to buy the music of indie bands and newcomers whom they know are not rolling in money.
- And they understand that there are differences between music and movies that make stealing the latter more problematic, making comments like, "I downloaded a movie for the first time, but felt like it was wrong. Music is one thing, it's just a song, but movies are different."
Among the things that make them different are the number of workers involved in creating a film v. an album, and the status of Hollywood - and therefore the USA - as the source of most of the high-profile content worldwide. Obviously there are many factors that help explain why the music industry has shrivelled by more than half since it's 2000 peak while home entertainment is down just 23% from its 2004 peak, but certainly people more freely pirating music than video is one reason. Bandwidth, file size, storage limitations, and the lack of PC-TV connectivity have all played a role in limiting video piracy compared to music downloading, and hence the damage to the film and TV businesses compared to the music industry. But part of it is also a different mainstream consumer perception of the two industries.
In the wake of an election year spent focusing on the strength (or rather weakness) of the US economy and employment, anything studios can do to educate the populace on the facts about the importance to the US economy and employment of the film and TV businesses is, at a minimum, well-timed. Studios will never eliminate piracy, but post-film bumpers like this could be useful piece of a comprehensive education+enforcement piracy-management strategy that helps them avoid a music-industry-like collapse.