Dear Movie Fan…

Here’s the thing: I LOVE films.

There’s something magical to me about getting caught up in a story on film, especially in a darkened cinema, with the sound all around you, and nobody to interrupt you and break your concentration. TV box-sets are another guilty pleasure.

I’m not picky when it comes to watching movies – my collection includes everything from French indie films to Gossip Girl downloads and Vampire Diaries box-sets. This weekend I sat in a packed-out cinema to see Les Miserables – it was fantastic!

But every single one of those items is legally purchased. I buy DVDs from HMV, my downloads come from iTunes or Amazon, and I pay an annual subscription to a TV streaming website. I have a loyalty card for my local cinema and know exactly which showings are cheapest to attend.

I cannot STAND the idea of illegally downloading content. I saw something on Facebook this weekend where some friends were celebrating Oscar season because the films up for awards are sent out to voters to review, and inevitably leak online – where we can download them. Seriously? How is that okay?

I know that one in six of us downloads content illegally. Many of my friends have done it. And I try (honest) not to get all preachy about it, but as someone who’s earned a living from creative endeavours for the past 20 years, I just get so sad about the philosophy of “It’s on the Internet so it ought to be free.”

My view is that downloading films illegally is theft. By downloading a film from a file-sharing site, you’re depriving the company that made the film of income. And that means less money to make new films. Let’s face it, Tom Cruise isn’t losing too much sleep over this sort of thing, but the people down the food chain are the ones losing out.

For me, film piracy and illegal downloading is part of a wider culture that doesn’t value creativity, when that creative work is online. “The Internet is free, it shouldn’t be controlled,” people tell me, as though downloading a dodgy version of the latest Twilight movie is striking a blow for libertarians everywhere. It just makes me sad. Films are made by people’s hard work and skill and talent – and that deserves to be valued. Doesn’t it?

It’s not just about films – it’s music, and words, and pictures. These things are all produced by people who use their skill, talent and time. And they deserve to be protected. I’m happy the UK and US government are bringing in  new laws that will track and identify Internet users who download illegal content. Because maybe, over time, that will do something to address the view that online content doesn’t need to be protected.

I’ve been banging on this particular drum for more than a decade – as a journalist, I watched first-hand what the “It’s online so it’s free” philosophy did to professional writers – many of whom are now writing for rates that are less than half what they were 15 years ago.

As a blogger, too, I understand the value of content. My words and pictures are my own and if someone wants to use them – I expect them to ask, and potentially pay. Certainly, as a writer, I charge for my services. Someone paying for my words isn’t just paying for those words, after all – they’re paying for 15 years of professional experience and all the skill that I’ve accrued in that time.

Ultimately, then, I can’t bring myself to play pirated video games or watch pirated movies. Because how is me stealing someone else’s content different than them stealing mine?

What do you think?

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