We haven’t been shy in talking about our plans to self-distribute our next couple films. Successes like Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and recent Sundance winner Indie Game: The Movie have shown that technology + great idea = awesome. However, the naysayers are quick to bring up the bane of the modern artist: online piracy.

I have mixed feelings here. Part of me is terrified that taking on the enormous financial risk of making a film will lead to complete and utter ruin an account of piracy. The other part of me wants to give the internet the benefit of the doubt.

The online community has the power now to fuel all kinds of crazy awesome, or become the very thing it hates: a corporate tool. Allow me to explain…

Is Wal-Mart is The Devil?

A while back I worked for a client that wanted to take down Wal-Mart with his futuristic supermarket concept. A lofty goal perhaps, but he had the best of intentions. He told me once of a privately owned factory that produced a popular local BBQ sauce. So poplar in fact that all the mom and pop grocery stores in town sold it. When Wal-Mart moved into town, they stocked the local BBQ sauce prominently in their stores at a discount.

Eventually all the mom and pop grocers (who couldn’t compete with Wal-Mart’s everyday low prices) went out of business. As soon as that happened, Wal-Mart dropped the local BBQ sauce and raised prices on all their groceries. And as you would expect, with nobody to sell their BBQ sauce, the local factory closed down. Many jobs and businesses were lost and consumers were now dependent on a soulless corporation selling goods at inflated prices.

I wish this was an urban legend, but it’s not. There are countless reports of Wal-Mart’s cut-throat dealings with suppliers. News headlines are peppered with stories of Wal-Mart management bullying and intimidating employees suspected of unionizing. One might be tempted to criticize Wal-Mart’s greedy corporate tools, but in American capitalism there is one other group who should shoulder the blame: consumers.

If consumers are the ones enabling and fueling corporate greed at Wal-Mart, are they not the real corporate tools?

What Does This Have to do With Online Piracy?

A few days ago I came across a few Technologically Impaired Duck memes that got me asking some questions. When did paying for things become uncool? If piracy is so destructive, why aren’t technology companies and internet providers doing more to stifle it?

Technologically Impaired Duck
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • reddit
  • Google+

Tuns out a lot of people are getting very rich off of online piracy. Allow me to break it down.

In order to pirate something, I’d need:

  • A Computer: That’s on average $1000 to Apple, Dell, Toshiba, whoever…not to mention money shuttled off to Microsoft if I’m running Windows. Computers, by the way, are built with parts from Samsung, Intel, Linksys, Western Digital…just to name a few.
  • Internet Access: That likely means $50 or so a month to a (douchebag, kitten-murdering) company like Comcast (who would just as soon spit in my face than help me with anything). Even if I’m using a neighbor’s, school’s, or cafe’s WiFi, the internet provider is still getting paid by somebody.
  • Electricity: Often generated via environmentally destructive means.
  • Telecommunications Infrastructure: My internet query travels over infrastructure and satellites built and profited from by telecommunication giants and governments.
  • A Remote Server: The files I wish to download are stored on very expensive servers built by IBM, DELL and the likes, all running software developed by Oracle and others.
  • A Website: Websites like the ill-fated Megaupload rake in MILLIONS from Google ads selling everything from Nissan cars to shady prescription drugs.
  • An iPod, DVD burner/player, TV, Car Stereo, etc: You know…to enjoy my downloads on.
  • A Red Bull: Probably.

All told I’d wager no less than 15 corporations profit from my single act of piracy. The person (or company) that created the object of my desire? Not a penny.

Who’s the corporate tool now?

So What?

The corporate greed of the 90’s and the irresponsible piracy of the 00’s created a perfect storm that has forced record labels, movie studios, and game developers to focus solely on the lowest common denominator. The major upshot of that, however, is there is now HUGE opportunity for independent artists and developers to fill in the gaps, flourish, and offer kick-ass niche content.

This also means that you, me, or anyone can do what we’re meant to do without having to sell out or sell ourselves short. It’s a beautiful thing.

I have faith in you, dear internet. What some perceived as immature greed may well have been impatience with an old, broken system that needed to go. Louis CK and Indie Game: The Movie have proved that people will pay for quality content offered at reasonable prices.

The quickest way for all that awesome to go away is if piracy continues to ravage the independent niche markets. Don’t be Wel-Mart. Don’t be a corporate tool. Take pride in supporting the small guys.

Agree? Disagree? Think I shouldn’t be drinking Red Bulls? Leave a comment!

Dan Baker

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Dan works out his social anxieties by producing and directing films. He's a proud New Mexican, and prefers green over red.

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