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Ritter, Tim Rages over Bootlegging! PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Tim Ritter   
Jun 02, 2004 at 02:00 AM
So you\'ve finished your movie. You\'ve suffered through to the end. Your credit cards are maxed and you owe every relative in your family a chunk of change. Now at the tail end of your journey, you\'re distributing your movie to the video market. You\'ve either landed a distribution deal or you\'re hawking tapes out of the trunk of your car. Maybe you\'re giving the DVD market a shot as well, and what an expense that was!
Finally, the blood, sweat, and tears are about to pay off. Your work will be seen all over the country, hopefully in as many rental outlets as possible.
Your boxes have been printed up and you have a snazzy cover that delivers all the elements. It\'s very probable that you\'ll make back that micro-budget you had and get on to your next project within the year.
This is it! The moment you\'ve been waiting for. Sales are brisk for a few months and you\'re on a roll. Distributors and consumers dig the packaging and the product within. The reviews from even the harshest critics are all excellent. Then you run into an unexpected snag.
What, you ask? Piracy? That only happens to the big boys, you say. The BATMAN and STAR WARS movies, where people sell movies they\'ve taped off the silver screen with camcorders. They peddle them at flea markets and on the streets of New York. Or score a video master and make tons of illegal dubs before the official \"street date\" release. It\'s mainly big-studio fare like Disney and Warner Brothers that get hit with those types of problems, you say.
Guess again, indie filmmaker. There\'s a better than average chance that if you make something that people want to see, it will happen to your movie, too! Even if it\'s shot-on-video.
Illegal duplication is virtually impossible to stop at every level. Sometimes, it\'s even flattering to a microbudgeted filmmaker that fans are actually making dubs of their flicks and trading with others. It\'s positive word-of-mouth and can lead to even more legitimate sales. Take Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, for instance. It was available on the bootleg market years before it was officially released, and the positive word-of-mouth spread like wildfire. It eventually sold over 30,000 copies when it was released in 1990 and most of the fans that purchased bootleg copies updated their collections with the official MPI release. However, it doesn\'t always turn out like this. Sometimes the movie never makes it out of the bootleg stage!
Although all illegal duplication hurts filmmakers and distributors, if someone dubs off a copy of a shot-on-video flick and makes an even trade with another person for a different movie, that\'s just the way it is. As independent filmmakers, we don\'t particularly like this to happen, but it does occur. We\'d rather see everyone buy their own copy, but let\'s face it. Even \"B\" movies are an addictive expense and you\'re never going to stop people from trading dubbed tapes. We just don\'t want to see people who don\'t have a financial interest in our projects profiting from them (for no reason other than that they liked the movie!) while us creators struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. You are actually hurting people when you do this type of thing, whether you realize it or not. It\'s no different than robbing someone of their wallet in a back alley somewhere.
Some people rent videos and record them to watch at a later date. While technically an infringement of copyright, everyone is still making money. The filmmaker received payment from the distributor or retailer that purchased the movie to rent it out. The customer is simply \"time shifting,\" so to speak. I personally don\'t have much of a problem with this as long as the filmmakers made some money and the individual isn\'t selling dubs from his dub for a profit.
Myself, if I enjoy a movie and want to own it, I usually end up purchasing a boxed copy when the title reaches a \"sell-through\" price, which can be anywhere from $12.00-$20.00. I like to have the whole package, including the artwork. Most consumers are like this as well. It\'s all about entertainment value and how many times you plan to watch and enjoy the movie. You might want to add it to the collection. It\'s all a big business: videos, DVDs, books, and CDs.
Some people feel that when they buy a movie, they own the whole ball of wax, including the copyright! From there, they transgress into making dubs of that movie and sell it to consumers at a discounted price. This is where your movie is pirated, and it hurts everyone involved, particularly the filmmaker who\'s trying to make back that budget!
If Joe Blow from Florida buys ONE title of your movie at $20.00 and puts it on the Internet at $12.00 a piece for dubbed copies, you\'re screwed. He might sell twenty units of your video, which translates into $400.00 that should have gone back to your budget! In some cases, that might BE your entire budget!
With a small market to begin with, soon your minuscule budget seems impossible to pay back as more and more of these \"sellers\" start to do this. Lately, there\'s a trend in the business, especially on the Internet, to do just this. I have seen my own movies as well as many other filmmaker\'s being sold illegally. Some of them even have clamshell packaging that\'s quite good.
All you need is a scanner and the video box these days…
And it\'s a crime. Contrary to common belief, even low to no-budget movies are not public domain. They are copyrighted through the Library Of Congress and it is ILLEGAL to make dubs of them to SELL to ANYONE.
This original copyright lasts for TWENTY-SEVEN years and can be renewed by the original owner when that time comes up. That means that anyone doing this can be punished to the FULL EXTENT of the COPYRIGHT LAWS, the same laws that punish people who are bootlegging studio features!
We all understand that fans love to trade tapes and talk about the latest Z-grade flick, especially aspiring moviemakers that want to get into the business. It\'s fun.
But taking that next step into SELLING someone\'s copyrighted product and effectively stealing money from them (which those relatives are still waiting for!) is indeed a CRIME and you can be PROSECUTED for it. Doesn\'t make a difference whether the budget was $2 dollars or $200 million dollars!
At the very least, the F.B.I. can be dispatched to your home and they will confiscate your computer, your VCRS, and the tapes in question. Then you\'ll have to go to court to defend yourself, which is a LONG process. There\'s always fines involved for all this, and occasionally, restitution has to be made with the filmmakers and/or distributors. So whatever money you\'ve made off those shot-on-video movies will quickly be removed from your pockets by the law.
Not to mention the issue of quality. When you make a dub from a regular VHS copy of a video movie, the image often suffers. All us independent moviemakers are neurotic about the picture quality as it is, and when you sell an inferior product like that it hurts the whole business. We strive to keep the image quality the best that we can, and that can only be done by making sure all copies sold are made from a master quality tape. The bootleggers don\'t care about this at all, they\'re only after your money.
So if you\'re into the B-movie scene, please support the industry by buying the movies from the proper sources and don\'t get involved in the selling of dubbed copies. You can usually tell who the legitimate sources are: they offer shrink-wrapped, factory sealed copies of the movies they sell, and more times than not, the company name you\'re making the purchase from is on the video sleeve.
A sure-fire way to tell if someone is dealing in illegal tapes is if they ask you to write a check out to them personally (e-bay auctions aside, of course) and they are not the filmmaker. Another dead-giveaway to product being sold illegally is the ridiculous disclaimers that state \"ALL TITLES IN THIS SECTION ARE BELIEVED TO BE IN PUBLIC DOMAIN.\" That is basically someone who knows they are in violation of copyright laws and are trying to hide behind the fabrication of jumbled words and false innocence. Don\'t fall for this!
It\'s bad enough that the moviemaker of today must face insurmountable odds, dishonest distributors and a shrinking marketplace. It\'s even worse when alleged \"fans\" decide to go into business for themselves, selling dubbed copies of the movies they claim to be so dedicated to. They are actually helping to destroy the market that they profess to love so much. It\'s quite an oxymoron.
Please don\'t be a part of this. Rent or buy legitimate copies of the B movies you want to see from their legitimate sources, and if you see someone selling illegal copies of a movie, notify the legitimate distributor of the situation. They will know how to handle the situation within the parameters of the law. Otherwise less movies are going to be made and prices are going to continue to ascend! It will hurt both the moviemakers and the fans in the long run.
It\'s time to take out the crime and look out for one another! No one in the shot-on-video industry is out to get rich (right away, anyway!). We\'re all just trying to break even on a project and move on to the next one. That\'s what it\'s all about. And paying off those relatives…and credit card bills…you get the picture!
Help us and help the industry. Avoid the illegal sales of copied videotapes all together!

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