Spain on the lookout for movie pirates
Film screenings tighten security due to sharp rise in illegal copies.BARCELONA – The figure stands at 240 million. That's the number of movies that were illegally downloaded in Spain between May 2007 and May 2008.
In April 2008, the magazine Variety announced Spain had been added to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) blacklist, a governmental body dedicated to the protection of US intellectual property rights throughout the world.
The reason? "The lack of willingness on the part of the administration to enforce the laws," among other details. Uzbekistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Kuwait, the Dominican Republic and Malaysia were also on the list.
Fast forward to the Sitges Film Festival in October 2008 where the film Repo! The Genetic Opera, a production of Lionsgate was due to be given its world premier.
Ángel Sala, the director of the festival, arrived unexpectedly in the cinema, and asked all attendees to leave the room and return in 45 minutes. Three-quarters of an hour later, a spokesperson announced the screening has been suspended due to "a lack of security measures".
This is most likely the first time in the history of film festivals that someone has cancelled a screening due to the fear of piracy. "The multinationals have been gripped by a psychosis," some said among the assembled crowd, with a clear note of irritation.
"People are making bets to guess how long it will be before someone uploads the film onto the internet."
To drive his point home, he produced a document on a successful film, Enchanted, released in 2007. The document revealed the number of worldwide downloads of the film as 3,723,504.
In the centre of the page, a pie chart breaks down the percentage of downloads per country. Spain heads up the list by a clear margin, with 24 percent. Only France comes anywhere close.
No one seems able to deal with the problem of piracy, with "civic education" campaigns falling flat, the country having one of the most permissive laws in the West, and Spaniards utterly indifferent to the fact that the number of cinema-goers has dropped by more than 30 million since 2004.
The last resort, then, is to increase security, but at what cost?
"Infrared goggles, security gates, metal detectors... These days you can find all these things at press screening or preview, because that is when the film is most vulnerable - when it's not yet on the streets," said Javier Vasallo, the president of WDSMPS.
Journalists are often registered, obliged to leave their cellphones at the door and are then observed by security staff with night-vision equipment.
One representative from a US multinational, who prefers to remain anonymous, said: "We even send plain-clothes staff to the riskiest screenings, and a while ago we even started differentiating the prints with watermarks on the image and the sound. That way, we can work out which cinema was used to create the pirate copy with 100 percent accuracy."
These new security measures, however, have their critics. "This psychosis among the distributors sometimes seems more imagined than real," said Carlos Marañon, the editor of the magazine Cinemanía.
"As well as the difficulty it causes journalists, who are increasingly restricted as to which screenings they can go to, as well as the screenings being closer to release dates, there is also the fact that pirate copies will appear anyway, regardless of the security measures taken."
But José Manuel Tourné, the general director of the Federation for the Protection of Intellectual Property has no doubts.
"Security works," he said. "Warner used these measures worldwide for the first time for the release of the last Harry Potter film. Instead of reaching the internet in the usual time of 24 hours, the film took four days. That means that it works."
Piracy in figures
The percentage of movies copied in commercial cinemas has risen to 92 percent.
About 240 million films were downloaded between May 2007 and May 2008 in Spain.
The rise in downloads for 2009 in Spain is 25 percent or 300 million.
The countries included on the Priority Watch List (list created in the United States, which establishes the countries with the biggest problems related to piracy) are: China, Russia, Argentina, Chile, India, Israel, Pakistan, Thailand, Venezuela and Spain.
4 March 2009
text: El Pais / Toni Garcia / Expatica