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Paid versus Piracy: An Experiment in Online Movie Distribution

by on Feb.08, 2010, under Distribution, Projects

Want to watch Full Disclosure for free? Someone's pirating it on YouTube...if you can stand the quality.

Want to watch Full Disclosure for free? Someone's pirating it on YouTube...if you can stand the quality.

I’m very interested in the future of in online distribution for independent films, so I’m trying a quick experiment. (This experiment isn’t pure science.  It has the potential benefit of clearing out a box of DVDs under my desk.  But mostly, it’s science.)

The other day I found a pirated version of Full Disclosure on YouTube.  It’s a really bad version shot with a camcorder off Italian television.  The sound is horrible, as is the image, (on the plus side, however, there are Italian subtitles!).  YouTube has a procedure for removing pirated content, but it’s arduous and I don’t have the time at the moment.  Besides, it’s the free availability of this pirated version that makes the experiment possible.  So for the moment, I’m going to leave it there.

There’s this theory going around that people pirate what they like but can’t buy when, how, or in the format they wish to.  Mostly, this theory comes from people trying to justify their illegal downloading of content, but it also comes from some really smart folks who think a lot about all things digital, like my friend Fred Chong Rutherford.  Personally, I have my doubts about this, theory, but hell, the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know everything.  So I’m going to try an experiment.

I’ve had a pretty good response from people when they watch film Full Disclosure.  It played in a lot of festivals, won a lot of awards, and has been the #1-selling short film on the iTunes Store for a while.  I think people like the film–especially when they’ve seen it.  Some portion of those people even want to pay to own it.

But I admit, while people (in the US at least) do have some options for ways to buy the short, those options are not exactly comprehensive.  People can buy it on iTunes, but the segment of the population that buys any films on iTunes is pretty small, let alone short films.  The film is also available as a bonus short on the Entry Level DVD from Porchlight Home Entertainment.  But that DVD is hard to find in stores.  (Without going into a lot of detail, let’s just say that Porchlight’s market penetration is not what I had hoped.)  Full Disclosure is also available on three great short film collections from Official Best of Fest.  I highly recommend them.  Still, these collections are each priced at about $45.  (Great value, except for someone who specifically just wants my short.)

So here’s my experiment.  I’ve just put the first third of Full Disclosure on this site for free in good quality.  I’m also going to tell you where you can watch the lame pirated YouTube version of the entire film for free in very poor quality. (From YouTube search for Full Disclosure. *)  And I’m making the film available on DVD from this site as well.  The price will be under nine bucks (+ cheap shipping) which seems like a good rate for a DVD with three festival shorts.   The DVD has three of my short films: Full Disclosure, Trailer: The Movie!, and Back Up, Please.  But really, most people are going to buy it (or not buy it) for the headliner.  A complete version of Trailer: The Movie! is available on this site for free, and people don’t really know anything about Back Up, Please.

(*  I do not condone or endorse the ripped-off YouTube version of the film.  So I won’t post it on my site.  However, I am providing the information and waiting on pulling down the video in the interest of science.)

For the next couple months I’m going to look at how many hits that YouTube pirated version is getting and compare that with the hits on the video on this site.  I’ll also compare that with the DVD sales and the iTunes statements.  It’s going to be interesting to see if people will pay for a higher quality version of something they can have for free.

I’ll report back with results as I have them.  What’s your guess?  Will the pirated version beat out the legal options?

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5 Comments for this entry

  • Sonya Yonash

    Very cool idea Doug – I’m looking forward to your findings. I must say, as a film festival it has been extremely frustrating the influx of short films on the internet…people don’t want to come and see them at the festival if they’ve already ‘google’d or you-tubed the video (or watched it on Sundance’s website, but don’t even get me started on that). But we also have a ton of people asking where they can find the film after the festival (they liked it so much they want to share it with everyone they know). They often can’t get the films but for pirated versions…so I love the idea of your experiment – and finding a mutually beneficial solution (for filmmaker and cinephile).

  • photomatto

    Great idea for an experiment. There has to be a new way to make all of this work so that short films can thrive, festivals can thrive, and decent law abiding citizens can watch the films they want to watch without resorting to pirated (italian language) version of the film. I’ll be interested to hear how it’s going. Oh and I want one of the posters from the film for my venerable “man cave”! I’ll have to order one this week so I can start a collection!

  • Clint Bagne

    lol… this is something ive been looking for today.. thanks dude

  • Sergio

    Hi everybody!
    I’m writing from Italy and just bought the dvd!

    I discovered your precious film via italian cable tv and then I spent almost 1 year searching for the dvd (also because I didn’t see the name of the director and the italian translation was “All my lacks”! So when I found it on YouTube, well, better than nothing. At last I had the way to spread it to my friends!

    Actually I think that your idea is pretty good. Radiohead already did it few years ago. Do you know the results? Pirates beat legal options.
    I know … man is strange … :-)

  • Lacy Halladay

    What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & help other users like its helped me. Great job.

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