It’s an exciting time in the creative industries – including for diverse storytellers. And on World IP Day, which celebrates the important role strong IP protections play in supporting creativity and innovation, it’s a good time to take stock of the creative landscape and the role strong IP protections play in helping to incentivize storytelling by all creators.
In the film and television industries, innovation, competition and opportunity are accelerating at an incredible rate. The “streaming wars” will soon fully commence as Disney, WarnerMedia, NBC Universal, Viacom and Apple join Netflix and Amazon (among others) in offering direct-to-consumer streaming services. This burst of innovation and competition is helping fuel a concurrent explosion of creativity. FX Research found that in 2018 there were a record breaking 495 scripted series across basic and premium cable, and broadcast and streaming services – creating more opportunities for all creators, and those who support creators behind the scenes.
Moreover, we’ve seen encouraging strides in diversity in the film and TV industries as more black and brown faces appear in front of and behind the camera. This was perhaps most evident at the 2019 Oscars where creators from underserved communities had a tremendous showing – leading the Representation Project to say: “[d]iversity and inclusion were the big winners at the 91st Annual Academy Awards.”
Equally encouraging is that for the first time in history, all five major studios have at least one film directed by a woman set to be released in 2019. Furthermore, a 2018 study found that of 40 films released, 11 contained lead characters from under-represented racial and ethnic groups, and 11 contained characters aged 45 or over. Compare this to 2017 where those numbers were four and five, respectively. Of course, more work remains to be done, but we can all celebrate the recent progress and achievements of diverse creators and stories.
However, despite these encouraging trends, piracy remains a persistent and growing threat to the creative economy. Streaming piracy has exploded along with the widespread deployment of legitimate streaming services. MUSO, an online analytics firm, concluded that in 2017 “[t]he vast majority of visits [to piracy sites] were made via web-streaming sites (96.1 percent).”
Piracy isn’t just a problem for large studios or streaming services – it is disproportionately more dangerous to smaller and independent creators. This was articulated well in a 2018 letter to Congress by 17 multicultural creator organizations that stated:
While superhero movies backed by large studios have the scale, reach and anti-piracy resources to withstand online theft, movies and shows produced with different audiences in mind often do not. For instance, According to Box Office Mojo, the 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight grossed $65 million worldwide theatrically, which translates to approximately 9 million tickets sold. From its release until shortly after winning the Best Picture Award, online analytics firm MUSO calculated that there were roughly 60 million piracy transactions – over 650% more than paid ticket sales. If 5% of the pirated transactions had been paid theatrical ticket sales, the film would have earned an additional $21 million. If just 5% of the pirated transactions had been paid downloads at a conservative price of $3.00 per download, the film would have earned an additional $9 million. Those kinds of numbers are life or death for an independent film.
Strong IP protections don’t just help creators – they help protect consumers too. For instance, there is a well-established link between piracy and malware, with one report by online safety group the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) finding that fully one-third of piracy sites contain malware, exposing visitors to the threat of identity theft, fraud or worse. This is a real problem for Latinx consumers, 84% of whom were online in 2015 according to a report by the Pew Research Center – and presumably that number has only increased since.
Disappointingly, the malware problem appears to be migrating to streaming just like piracy generally. According to Sandvine some 7 million North American households have devices configured for streaming piracy. In a recently released new report DCA has found that the piracy apps powering these devices use malware “to steal user names and passwords, prob[e] user networks and surreptitiously upload data without consent.”
What’s more, in a supplemental poll about consumer adoption of these devices it was revealed that: “of those who said they didn’t have a piracy device in their home, 7 percent reported an issue with malware. Of those who said they did have a piracy device in their home, 44 percent reported an issue with malware.”
As we celebrate World IP Day it’s important for policymakers to reflect on how strong IP protections help incentivize creativity – including diverse storytelling – and help protect all consumers – including at-risk communities. Because as ALLvanza and 80 other organizations recently wrote to Congress: “A truly free internet, like any truly free community, is one where people can engage in legitimate activities safely, and where bad actors are held accountable.”