The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
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As another year kicks off, the challenges facing those who desire to pursue a career in filmmaking seem greater than ever. Technology continues to shift and evolve, the economy has made even low-budget movies a risk for investors, and websites that facilitate the illegal viewing or downloading of films and television shows are making it difficult to get more daring projects financed. When studios or producers cannot earn a profit from the work they create, budgets get smaller, and the kinds of projects that are approved get “safer.” 

Lifting copyrighted material became popular when sampling exploded on the music scene and was legitimized as a form of artistic expression. That opened the door to lifting images as well, and subsequently entire movies. Such piracy has so infiltrated the mentality of the public that the suggestion that it’s wrong is met with dismissive sneers. If it’s out there, it’s mine. Why should I have to pay for it? 

How does this affect cinematography? In many ways. Most of the pirate sites do not display images in anything remotely like optimum conditions. The images might have been “ripped” onto someone’s laptop from a DVD that was created by someone crouching in a movie theater with a small digital camera. The images might be highly compressed suggestions of what they actually were. They may have been reproduced through excessive copying and duping until they no longer reflect the creators’ intent in any form.  

When someone experiences a visual work of art for the first time, they will never again be able to relive that emotional moment of discovery. It is gone forever. Yes, they may have “seen” the movie, but they have not experienced it to its fullest, the way its creators intended.  

Digital piracy is a huge international operation. It’s not just some guy in his garage with a DVD burner. In some countries, major producers and stars provide pirates with digital masters of their films, because the financial kickbacks they receive are more than they would earn from conventional means. This leads to a lack of concern about preservation. Why should a producer pay to properly store materials when there is no chance of monetizing the product in the future because unauthorized copies are flooding the market? Many thousands of movies could be lost forever. 

Please don’t support torrent sites that show pirated material, and please don’t buy cheap bootlegged DVDs of current movies. And I ask you to talk to your friends who do. Let them know that, beyond the momentary satisfaction of seeing something “first” or for free, they are effectively altering the kinds of movies that will be made in the future; they are helping to ruin the immersive cinematic experience for many others; and the movies that they love might not be available to them in the future in versions that are better than adequate. 

The history of cinema is a legacy of an audience emotionally bonding with the work of a group of artists, of creating memories that mold our perception of the world. The considerable negative impact digital piracy has on the profitability of the industry is matched by its negative impact on our love of the movies. Remember how you felt when you saw Frodo sail away at the end of The Lord of The Rings: Return Of The King, or the swell of emotion you felt at the climax of The King’s Speech, or the thrill of watching Bruce Willis get the bad guys in Die Hard? Then do your part to make sure that future audiences can also experience those cinematic highs.  


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