Movie Piracy: Surprising Tips from a Hollywood Insider

My recent post, The Movie Studios: Blinded by Piracy, generated many public and private comments.  One very smart one came in an email from a highly placed executive within the movie and television business. He has allowed me to quote him as long as I do not reveal his identity.

He writes,

 “Unlike the vast majority of my colleagues, I believe that the anti-piracy crusade (irrespective of where you stand on the issue morally) is practically futile and akin to “the war on drugs” or stopping people from speeding.  Earlier in my career, like most lawyers brought up in pre-21st century media, I was all gung-ho about enforcement and the sanctity of private property.  Although I still believe that respect for intellectual property laws is foundational for our industry, I am also a pragmatist, and I have come to believe that our biggest problem is ourselves, not the pirates.”

“It is the lack of creative marketing, pricing and windowing schemes that service and entice the customer that give the mainstream entertainment industry its biggest problem.  This is a social phenomenon, not a legal one, and, therefore, needs social solutions.” 

 This is a point that needs to be repeated and restated over and over. 

 Hollywood is radically out of sync with its customers, who now live in a hyper connected world.  These are the people who love movies and TV programs. They want to watch them on every screen they own.

It is Hollywood’s refusal to change its business model and learn how to entice its customers that is the problem.  Not piracy.

A purely legal point of view on piracy prevents Hollywood from finding a solution that brings in these customers.  Another frame is needed.

This Hollywood executive proposes one.

 “I analogize to other social issues such as traffic law violations where researchers have discovered that the answer isn’t changing the law, stricter enforcement or better education but actually better design of roads, intersections, stoplights and street signs to entice people to actually drive more safely. 

 The decision to use pirated content is not made in a vacuum.  It is a complex social transaction like any other in which the user takes into account his or her options and the costs and benefits of each. 

If the industry offered more people more convenience and better pricing and availability schemes, they would not turn as often to illegal content (which is not always easy to find and not always “free” – viruses, hassle, time, bad quality, etc.).  No solution is perfect – a certain percentage will always “cheat” or game the system (just as retail understands that there will always be a certain base level of shoplifting), but such an approach would pave the way for new markets and innovation.

The single-minded focus to hold onto today’s market share and today’s pricing schemes is folly that will eventually lead to long term loss.”

 Hollywood believes that its obsession with piracy is good for business.

 In fact it is really bad for business.

 As this insider states so eloquently,

 “I have come to believe that our biggest problem is ourselves, not the pirates.”

Imagine how different Hollywood could be if a major studio head possessed the insight (even courage) to utter such a line.

Hollywood should heed the advice of one of its own insiders as it wrestles with its future.  Perhaps then it can “pave the way for new markets and innovation”.

But will it choose to?


About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • how about I put it simply, hunters (pirates) will always hunt (piracy), however, if you hunt seven days a week, always kinda looking over your shoulder, the prospect of affordable room (cave) service is appealing, however it has to be offered, which requires empathy (in Hollywood?) and intelligence (in….:)

    • chrisdorr

      Richard, Thanks for your comment. Very aptly stated!

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  • Lauralee

    This is completely accurate. I admit to piracy but only when I can’t find the film anywhere else; or it’s available only for purchase, not renting; or I have to pay *and* go through more hassle in order to watch. If I want to watch a movie, I’ll check Netflix then Hulu then Amazon. If I can’t find it in any of those places – and this often happens with recent films, films just released on VOD – where can I go?

    Pirating is risky but sometimes there’s no other way to see a film.

    I feel like if there was more carrot and less stick (an easier and more effective way to find the film I’m looking for), there’d be much less of people like me doing this like this.

    • chrisdorr

      Lauralee. I agree. Hollywood must learn how to adjust to its customers–just like every other company has to. As its audience changes, so must Hollywood.

  • Marc Schiller

    great post. combatting piracy is indeed akin to the war on drugs. futile, costly, and a diversion from the real challenges the industry is facing

    • chrisdorr

      Thanks Marc, and the industry faces some real challenges.

  • TheDoctor09

    Thank you for this post because I need this for my paper

  • Glenn Stencell

    Incredible!!! I was beginning to think that nobody in the movie industry was going to get it. It isn’t that a solution to movie piracy isn’t available, it is that there are way to many closed mined so called “experts”, who do not even understand intellectual property, that are gate keepers and prevent anyone from talking to the people that need to be contacted. Watch “moneyball” (legally of course), and notice that it was not the new idea and approach to solving a problem that was the Oakland A’s obsticle, it was the so called team that actively resisted any change that was the biggest obsicle. If you could forward my e-mail to your contact, it would be greatly appreciated. Glenn Stencell @