Can piracy be a good thing?
Medosch argues that “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfils culturally important functions” (2008: 81). I have to agree with his statement to a large extent. I am amazed with Medosch’s research trip to Brazil has confirmed how ‘pirate’ practices are carried out in the slums which Brazilians call them favelas. It appears that Brazilian favelas solely depend on piracy for survival, in terms of financial and economic sustainability. According to Medosch, everything is pirated in the slums of Brazil, “from water and electricity to bandwidth” and from “software to hardware”. I am not sure about ‘pirated water and electricity’, it just sounded like they have been stealing or illegally using water and power from elsewhere.
I have to agree with Medosch that piracy “gives people access to information and cultural goods they had otherwise no chance of obtaining” (2008: 81). Developing countries such as Brazil, Ethiopia and India (the list goes on) do not have a stable economy and government officials are often corrupted. Job opportunities are scarce, therefore, people living in the slums have to resort to exploiting copyleft methods to get their stomachs filled and make-shift shelters.
Can you really blame them? Or can you blame the government?
According to sources from the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) (2004):
- Brazil was also listed as one of IFPI’s Top Ten Priority countries in 2002/3 and is set to remain in the listing for 2003/2004.
- Brazil’s level of domestic music piracy was 53% in 2002/2003, translating to approximately 114 million pirate units.
- The pirate market had an estimated value (at pirate prices) of US$166 million
- Legitimate music sales in Brazil totalled 80 million in units
The example I would like to illustrate here would be 2007 hit movie Tropa de Elite.
Here’s a brief plot of what the movie is about.
Set in 1997, Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) has to find a substitute for his occupation for the sake of his family while trying to take down drug dealers and criminals before the Pope comes to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (IMDb 2007).
I chose Tropa de Elite as an example because of its commercial success after the film being widely distributed or sold on pirated DVDs months before it was screened in theatres in Brazil (Medosch 2008). According to Adam (2007), “a preliminary cut of the film was leaked and made available for download on the Internet” prior to the movie’s release to theatres in August 2007. The box-office success of the film was still at record-breaking levels even though estimates from research firm Ibope reported that more than 11 million had viewed illegal copies (Cajueiro 2007). Tropa de Elite was the “first film to be pirated before its release in the cinema”, constituting the first in Brazilian cinema (Adam 2008).
Despite the pirated leak, Tropa de Elite became one of the most popular movies in Brazil, and in the world. I find it really encouraging that even after 11 million had viewed the illegal copies, its box-office still enjoyed mainstream success. Cajueiro (2008) has reported a total of 743,734 tickets sold in 10 days, resulting accumulated box-office revenue of $3.8million. The word of mouth of the film had also contributed to the box-office success, “with 80% of the people rating the movie as excellent or good according to the same company” (Adam 2008). To date, 2.5 million people have seen it at the theatres.
Don’t you think acts of piracy “can be very necessary sometimes, in combination with a variety of methods of cultural resistance” (Medosch 2008: 95)? Similarly, I strongly do not support piracy. However, I thought piracy is a necessity for developing countries, such as Brazil.
If you choose to support piracy and engage in illegal downloads, I hope you get as frustrated as the guy in the poster below even when you decide to get an original copy from the retail shop in the near future.
Adam 2008, ‘Tropa de Elite & Film Piracy in Brazil’, weblog post, 23 June, Eyes on Brazil, viewed 29 May 2011, <http://eyesonbrazil.com/2008/06/23/tropa-de-elite-film-piracy-in-brazil/>.
Cajueiro, M. 2007, ”Elite’ stirs controversy, box office: Brazilian film sees high level of piracy’, weblog post, 19 October, Variety, viewed 29 May 2011, <http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117974360?refCatId=1278>.
Elite Squad (2007). 2007, The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), United States of America, viewed 29 May 2011, <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0861739/>.
IFPI Press Release. 2004, ‘Brazil’s endemic piracy problem: New report’, weblog post, 30 June, International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, viewed 29 May 2011, <http://www.ifpi.org/content/section_news/20040630.html>.
Medosch, A., ‘Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production’, in Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies, London: Deptforth TV, 2008, pp. 73-97.