Pirates in movies are fun, but movie piracy hurts

Wax likeness of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow character (© Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage/Getty Images)
Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean," rendered in wax at Madame Tussauds in London (© Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage/Getty Images)

When The Expendables 3 premiered a few years ago, the movie had already been watched by millions of people. Illegally.

According to Forbes Magazine, the action movie, starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, was leaked to “pirates” three weeks before its official release, leading to 70 million illegal viewings and costing $100 million in lost revenues.

People are watching movies on more devices than ever before — laptops, tablets, smartphones and gaming consoles. A lot of viewers are breaking the law by watching illegal copies of movies they’ve downloaded from the Internet, violating copyright and intellectual property laws.

“Despite the tremendous growth in online availability of films and television shows in recent years, artists and creators are still harmed by piracy,” said Dean Marks, chief of global content protection for the Motion Picture Association of America. “Last year, in the United States alone, an estimated 981 million pirated movies and TV shows were downloaded.”

Giant King Kong statue at movie venue (© VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
A giant King Kong statue promoting the film “Kong: Skull Island” in Guangzhou, China (© VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Movie piracy doesn’t just hurt big Hollywood movie studios. The revenues lost from piracy affect carpenters, electricians and other craftsmen who work in the entertainment industry as well as the economies of countries all over the world where movies are made.

Movie piracy can affect you as well, even if you’re not downloading illegal copies of movies.

Consider these facts:

  • Illegal uploading and downloading of copyright-infringing materials takes up 24 percent of the bandwidth used in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific regions. If you have a slow connection speed, it could be because of illegal file-sharing.
  • Even if you don’t download movies illegally, you probably know — and get email and photos from — people who do. According to the Digital Citizens Alliance, consumers are 28 times more likely to get malware (software designed to damage computers) from sites offering illegal downloads. So tell anyone you know who is tempted that it increases the chances of his or her computer falling victim to malware that can be used to steal an identity.
  • According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the film and television industries are responsible for 2 million jobs in America alone. And local businesses that support the industry receive $43 billion every year. Numbers like that apply to overseas filming hubs as well. If piracy reduces the number of films made, the economic effects will be felt in filmmaking countries around the world.

The Trump administration is working to protect American intellectual property. President Trump on August 14 directed U.S. officials to examine whether China should be investigated for “unreasonable or discriminatory policies” that may harm American intellectual property rights, innovation, or technological development.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, China, including Hong Kong, accounts for 88 percent of seized counterfeit goods coming into the United States, the White House noted in a fact sheet.

A version of this story was published April 27, 2017.