As I wrote on Dec. 21, curious about the quality of the merchandise for sale on the street, I shelled out five bucks for copy of the movie "District 9," which was still days away from being available in your local retail store.Hiltzik correctly notes that claims of piracy losses are imprecise (as are estimates of any illicit activity). But there is no question that sales of pirated DVDs represent sales taken from the legitimate market. By definition, the purchasers of pirated DVDs (as opposed to some portion of Web pirates) are willing to pay money for product, and a dollar paid to the criminals who sell pirated discs is a dollar taken away from those who worked on and invested in the film.
As I've been informed, quite properly, by readers in and around the movie industry, that casual act made me part of a global problem that is killing jobs and eliminating opportunities for creative people everywhere.
Consider this the other side of that column.
What I expected to find in the case I bought from a street vendor was a traditional crummy camcorder copy, providing the view and sound of a screen somewhere on far the horizon but of the audience too, chattering, coughing, and getting up to go to the bathroom. Such low-quality copies are among the largest single categories in the international film piracy trade, especially overseas, though digital copies or online files made from stolen prints or discs are posing an increasingly serious threat.
Indeed, but what I got was a high-quality digital copy with up-to-date trailers, a navigable menu that (mostly) worked and even some special features. Plainly the source was a DVD diverted from the retail stream -- stolen from a warehouse, perhaps, or slipped to a gang of copiers by a confederate at a DVD factory.
In other words, the pirates have really got their act together. Product like this has a real, and frightening, capacity to take a bite out of the legitimate retail market.
One last point: the record $10 billion-plus earned at the US box office in 2009 is certainly to be celebrated, and is obvious evidence that piracy has not killed the theatrical business, whose unique experience can't be replicated in all but the fanciest living rooms. But the biggest film piracy threat has always been to the home entertainment (not theatrical) sector, where revenues are "plunging." The last thing the home entertainment business needs is for piracy, via hard goods or the web, to provide an accessible alternative to legal product.