Almodóvar, piracy and a tontería

El Deseo

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I am going to discuss here Pedro Almodóvar‘s opinion on piracy. Yes, piracy. And before everything else, I must say: Internet needs no regulation. Please don’t “regulate” the Internet.

First, I want to state that I absolutely and unconditionally love Almodóvar’s cinema. I consider him one of the film directors who have made (and continue doing so) the history of cinema. His latest movie, The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) was precisely the subject of an interview with him (El abismo Almodóvar; The Almodóvar Abyss -English Translation by Google) that Ángel Harguindey published on El País of 21st August 2011. If you read the Google version please exchange “Abyss” for “Gap”.

Almodóvar expresses quite a marvelous set of ideas, here. His quotes of Hitchcock are remarkable, and I love them, but I am digressing. I really want to focus on this line:

All this [Internet] is wonderful, but there are aspects of the network that need regulation.

Almodóvar first talks about the unique and great virtues of the Internet, but states later that it needs “regulation“. He admits he understands that it would be very difficult to convince the youngsters to begin paying for something they take for granted can be had freely and instantly. And advances the idea of the moral rights of authors: the rights of having a movie shown as it was created by its director. He finishes off with the magic sentence:

For the film industry, the [illegal] downloads are a true cancer.

I need to discuss first the initial part of Almodóvar’s argument. Indeed it would be very difficult to convince people used to not paying that they suddenly have to begin spending money on their movies. Still, Steve Jobs disrupted the blind and arrogant music industry by doing exactly that. With the iTunes Store and the iPod, Apple convinced people to pay for the music they download. And they’re trying to do the same with movies. So far so good! Still, the film industry is not as easygoing as it portrays itself. Every time I try to legally view some episodes from AMC TV in Puerto Rico, for instance, I am told I cannot. Many times I try to view or download (and pay) movies from another country’s iTunes Store, I am told I cannot do that. Can you really blame me if sometime I just use a torrent to download the movie or episode and forget about the legalities of the matter? Why is it so extremely difficult, in this global world of ours to do so? I have no problem to pay for some movie I want to watch: thus please, let me!

However, this bring us to a compartmentalized world of artificial creation –markets divided and organized by the big industry– according to its own needs, which not always coincide with customers’. Also, with this lamentation, the film industry is crying much like its predecessor in demise, the music industry, which always refused –until compelled– to view reality under another perspective and to seek novel business models. The music industry is finally finding new models –with the help of the Internet– think Pandora or Spotify. The film industry will be compelled to do so, soon. It’s not my or anybody’s wish. It’s just the way things are. Either they develop a new business model or they are out of this world. What a pity if it were so, because, as Almodóvar says, this industry is home for many critical players, besides directors, actors and cinematographers.

Pedro Almodóvar certainly thinks in his brother’s words about illegal downloads, which place Spain as one of the countries with the highest number of movies obtained without paying. His brother estimates over 311,000 copies of the movie “Volver” were downloaded illegally from March 2006 to February 2007, 85% of which from within Spain. Agustín Almodóvar says some 1.6 million euros were so lost.

Thus, Almodóvar states “For the film industry, the [illegal] downloads are a true cancer.

They may be: then what? I believe education and sensibility may help reduce that number. A cultural policy in towns everywhere may also help: Film Festivals, Films in schools, in public plazas, etc. may all be efforts to promote, more than protect, one country’s film industry. But they will not be enough. The film industry will ultimately need to change. How? Where? I have no idea. If there’s a solution, they ought to find it, or another Steve Jobs will find and impose it upon them. But I may suggest that the solution, if any at all exists, may well live in the newest Internet terrains, precisely the same they see so menacing today. Their nightmare will be new opportunities, I am convinced.

As for the “moral right” that an author has to have people watch a film exactly as the author wanted… well, it seems naive at best to believe so. Do Mozart’s or Shakespeare’s works get performed “exactly” as they wished? And how that may be? Do the various interpretations, changes and mashups done with works of art, not add actually a new layer on top of the original?

The last points I need to address here are connected to the concept that an author (or an entire industry) must get paid for the “creative” work they produce.

In the article Are books dead, and can authors survive?, from The Guardian of 22nd August 2011, Ewan Morrison makes a compelling case of why it must be so if we want the publishing industry –and its most glorious artifact, the book– to continue in existence.

He states that writing is a profession and that ebooks mean the ends of that profession, unless writers continue receiving advances and salaries from publishers: Which is being phased out. He says that Dostoevsky and Dickens received a living wage to write. He doesn’t mention the hundreds of poets, writers, painters and musicians who never did; and those who don’t get it even today.

I don’t agree with Morrison. Even in a world of “Everything for Free”, where intermediaries are but disappeared, this does not necessaily mean writers cease to have their particular writers’ itch. Painters will keep on painting, and musicians composing and playing music. And many –I’d say most– writers will not abandon mainstream writing at all. The blogs and wikis show this is so.

Morrison states that “Very few writers and independent publishers can survive in the long tail” produced by the digital market, which prefers selling few copies of many different books than many copies of one particular book.

That may be true, but still, it seems everything in music is returning to work, and musicians are as creative and productive as ever. Better still, we discovered the lies of the music industry: musicians actually do not gain much from royalties (only the very famous do), but from the concerts they do. We also appreciate that, again, the status quo needs not necessarily be the best for our digital world. In fact, again and again we are being shown examples of why it must change. So, may it be the case that we need to go back to other business and life models? Should we reconsider the model of yore of the artist supporting herself through other professions? Perhaps, but not necessarily. I have seen new ideas of business propositions that seem to work: we have to check whether they are sustainable and work in the longer run. The important thing I believe is that the business model must follow suit: if the digital model has changed, the former must do so, soon!

Of course, the film industry has one big difference. It is very, very expensive to make a movie. Thus, we need investors, we need to raise money, we need to pay the many technicians, professionals and artists who otherwise may not be able to join one proiect, even if the author was willing to. The movies in fact would not exist today without the film industry behind. No movie would, not even the indies. But things are changing. New distribution channels open up. The digital format –a curse for many who fear downloads– may be the panacea for others. We may well see this change in business and consumer model soon.

A simple strategy may be one track in the right direction. Instead of closing down the pipes of the downloads, let us open them up. And let’s have the Internet providers add little “creativity taxes” to all services. Instead of paying $40 a month, I am willing to pay a little more, say $45, provided that the $5 extra go to the music or film industry, and, in return, I can watch all I want, legally and without restrictions. Am I too naive?

In any case, do we need to regulate the Internet? No, we don’t, thank you. I think the Internet is like the Printing Press in that respect: nobody would even think of regulating the press, except of course in China or Cuba. We got this marvelous invention, we created it, we made it open, and free. It needs no regulation. This is why we need to watch over it, especially when someone –as famous and brilliant as Almodóvar– says some tontería.

–Minor editing done today, 31 August 2011–

Following paragraph added today, 31 August 2011

I forgot one last issue to mention about the downloading matter. It is the mythical equation

Illegal Download = Stealing

It’s not necessarily so. In fact, when I’m stolen my money, I’m left with none. When I’m stolen my car, I’m left with no car at all. When you steal in the physical world, you deprive somebody of something. This is actually the basic reason why stealing is prohibited in all cultures. Not so much because you get something “for free” with no permission, but because you take that something from those you steal from.

That doesn’t happen in the digital world. If I get one copy of your music track, or movie, you are still in possession of your own!!

So, we may want to change our definition of “stealing”. We may conclude that getting illegally some digital artifact is not actually equated to stealing. Examining its effects now, what does it really mean that a producer does not get some amount in lost revenue? Did those lost revenues impede the realization of a movie? Or did they impede the work of artists, directors, etc.? It does not seem so in the case of Almodóvar, nor in the case of the big film productions. And what about the small, the indies?

In those cases, I believe the download issue is actually quite irrelevant. On the contrary, downloads may trigger a viral distribution of one’s work, as it happens now with music and video. If I step down from the idea that I *must* be compensated for my creative work, everything fits into place, doesn’t it. A last example from the Open Source community. My friend Martin Dougiamas has spent his life and an awful lot of hours to produce (in collaboration with tens of programmers) the LMS Moodle. Still, he does not believe he must be paid for that. He is not starving, either. And neither are his programmers, who work for free.

I do not mean everybody must believe in this model, but it is a viable one. There are certainly other models to be found in the realm of artistic creations that may sustain the creator and the public wish to get works of art cheaply or freely and quickly. Working with myths however, will not help neither creators nor consumers!

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About Antonio Vantaggiato

Professor, web2.0 enthusiast, and didactic chef.
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5 Responses to Almodóvar, piracy and a tontería

  1. Antonio Vantaggiato says:

    Hey Marisol! I love you and the passion which you put in your reply! Thanks, I appreciate a good argument when it comes around!But I can't agree with you, except in some sense.

    Of course, i agree that going systematically against the anti-download laws is not good. But please, differentiate the individuals doing that (even if millions) from the mafias who cultivate completely parallel and illegal distrubution channels. They are two different stories.I believe we cannot use the word “stealing” for the reasons I expressed in my post. Regarding all those workers who would lose their “residuals”, I already wrote that we need to find a **new** business model, since it makes no sense to fight a lost battle against downloading: it is a lost battle because the industry's business model is lost, exactly as the music industry's was.

    I wrote: “Thus, we need investors, we need to raise money, we need to pay the many technicians, professionals and artists who otherwise may not be able to join one proiect, even if the author was willing to. The movies in fact would not exist today without the film industry behind. No movie would, not even the indies. But things are changing. New distribution channels open up. The digital format –a curse for many who fear downloads– may be the panacea for others. We may well see this change in business and consumer model soon.”

    I mean, we have to protect that industry, but they are doing it (with the campaigns you refer to in the article you point to) in the worst way.

    In regard to that article, I need to address it in a whole new post, since it deserves it and it is already mixing up my vibrations and hormones.

    You say that artists need to be assured their “fair share”. What “fair share”? Artists (and engineers) were never assured that in history. At best they got some “protection” from the lords or popes or patrons. There is no moral right to a “fair share”. It is an agreement that we as a society set up. And which I agree upon. But again, I believe there's no moral right there. James Joyce, perhaps the greatest writer of the 1900's moved within Europe as an English teacher! He even worked in a bank…! What was his fair share? 

    I think Almodóvar's film-making was never jeopardized by the millions allegedly “lost”  to piracy. Neither were his co-workers. So, what are we talking about? What does it really get “lost” to piracy? Can it be documented? The “lost revenues” discourse makes no sense.

    It's like I was to sue for lost revenues every jibaro who copies my tomato seeds and replants them in her yard just to sell the ripe fruit some time later. And poor me, I invested so much in the trouble of developing that seed! So many people worked in my yard, who will now lose their job! And the investors? They will leave me. Hey, this is Monsanto logic.

    Please, read this very argument which was given to Javier Bardem when he too, poor guy, protested against piracy, some time ago (…. The comments to that article were pretty interesting:Javier Bardem: Dejémonos de estupideces, ¡es robar! (….

    But: How come I never hear Polanski or Redford cry about piracy?Last, I love to pay for the movies I watch. I love cinema. So, are we talking about the same Netflix here?Because this is the message I get in my browser:

    We're not sure you will be able to sign up for Netflix from your area.
    You will need a valid U.S. mailing address to sign up for Netflix. Also, you will only be able to watch instantly if you are in the 50 United States or Washington, D.C.

  2. Marisol says:

    If people think that
    there is no profit made from piracy, read this interesting who profits
    everybody but the artists since its in the black market, the creator has no way
    of defending themselves. “tonteria” de Almodovar. I think the
    “tonteria” is to think that downloading illegal content is not the
    same as purchasing merchandise from the black market. To continue with the car analogy
    if you buy auto parts from the black market you only encourage car theft those
    car parts come from somewhere. You are only making it profitable for someone to
    benefit without having to pay the creators any of their fair share. Some one
    stole the copy of that film somewhere…and you have no idea how they got it…

    By the way now you can stream films in Puerto Rico
    through Netflix… only catch you have to pay.

    Please read the following…
    “Online piracy isn’t about altruism, it’s about income. “
    “It’s difficult enough to see one’s film being pirated widely online what is most disturbing is that everyone is making money, it seems, except those who own the rights to the film… For content creators, it’s bad enough being ripped off by online pirates–but to be further ripped off by established companies is truly stunning. “
    “Online piracy isn’t about altruism, it’s about income. “

    By the way now you can stream films in Puerto Rico through Netflix… only catch you have to pay.

  3. Marisol says:

    “When you steal
    in the physical world, you deprive somebody of something. This is actually the
    basic reason why stealing is prohibited in all cultures. Not so much because
    you get something “for free” with no permission, but because you take that
    something from those you steal from.”
    If you understand how the industry works you would understand that you are
    stealing from all the people that worked to create the work that you ” got
    for free”
    What are you stealing their residuals. What are residuals nothing less than
    their salaries. Most people who work in the arts don't have a full time job
    with benefits like most in a traditional work structure like academia. They are
    freelancers without benefits like paid vacations, health insurance, maternity leave,
    retirement, social security etc. The majority of actors are working actors not
    the celebrities that get most of the press. These people depend on residuals.
    They are not getting rich they are just making do.
    Furthermore you are making the assumtion that most artists hold a full time job.

    Second of all, if only objects and physical items are what matters then what is the use of the arts.

  4. Antonio Vantaggiato says:

    Wow, Santia!! That was really good!
    Thanks for your comment. I agree: pirates are necessary. Which is also a very beautiful sentence.
    And you make some very good points here. I am quite sure it's not in the intention of Almodóvar to criminalize anybody. It's is in the genes of this society, however, to blame the Internet for something that is not working, and to believe the Internet is a wild West with no rules. 

    I'll go watch La piel que habito as soon as it comes out. Or, thinking about it, I may download it, since as it happens, it will be released here only much later than in Spain!

  5. What an incredible post, hats off! 

    Very occasionally I take my time to participate answering posts, I must confess. But some how this one has kept my mind and my eyes engaged until the end. I am passionate about piracy, copyright, copyleft, copyfight and everything related to it. Now, more than an answer to what you have greatly written I would like to start with some questions to Almodóvar: 

    1. Why blaming “piracy” when the biggest kleptobbyists were in the industry (SGAE, for example) supposedly surveilling the artists interests?
    2. Why criminalize the fans for being fans? 
    3. Why blaming them for not having the resources due to the economic crisis?
    4. Why can't he question the obsolete and inefficient distribution systems? 
    5. Why do we have to support censorship or net regulation when it was originally created OPEN and for the benefit of mankind?
    6. Why do we have to accuse “pirates” when we have the empowerment to break or reconfigure what it's already outdated? 

    Pirates are necessary, they foster social change and just like them I support this model.  I believe in artists, not in industries and I am sure artists will survive without labels, but not the opposite.  Steve Jobs once said: “If you want to stop piracy, you have to compete with it”.  And this is true, it is all about innovation and competition, but Matt Mason also stated: “Competition has to compete with COOPERATION”. It is not about who blames or sues the most, is how we can work together for the benefit of our culture, education and society. Once more, thanks for being the voice of lots of people out there trying to defend themselves. Two thumbs up!!!

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