What Is Movie Piracy: A Complete History of Hollywood Getting Ripped Off

What Is Movie Piracy: A Complete History of Hollywood Getting Ripped Off

One of the biggest trends that we are seeing is the rise of movie piracy. Of course, this piracy doesn’t just extend to movies. It also includes television, video podcasts, and any other form of media.

But what is movie piracy? What does it entail and what do we need to know about it?

This article will have us look at the history of movie piracy and what you should know about it.

What is Movie Piracy and What to Know About It

You may be familiar with Steven Spielberg’s great film Jaws, released in 1975. It was a unique story for the time. It was one about a shark that terrorized beachgoers. Naturally, with the success of Jaws, there were many copycats.

In the 1980s, an Italian film called Great White had a similar plot to Jaws. Universal studios claimed that this film infringed upon the Jaws copyright. As a result, Universal sued Film Ventures International and prevented them from releasing Great White.

But, this incidence was unusual for the time.


Early Hollywood

In the early days of Hollywood, the various studios wanted to make films that were based on traditional genres or traditional stories. These included classic plays, Westerns, hard-boiled detective fiction, etc.

Often, these Hollywood studios were sued by playwrights, novelists, short story writers. They felt Hollywood was ripping off their stories and stealing their profits!

This began the conversation surrounding intellectual property. Piracy and copyright infringement can include the stealing of ideas and stories. Film producers are protective of the stories they produce.

If another producer were to produce a film with a similar story, they want to make sure they are getting a cut of the profits.

But it was also during the early days of cinema, that another controversy surrounding piracy arose.


Duplication and Intellectual Property

Thomas Edison, Siegmund Lubin, and other film pioneers would make copies of the negatives of films. They would print new versions of these films and sell them at lower prices.

Not all of the negatives were of their own original films. They were involved in the unauthorized distribution of other films.

This was a very early precursor to duplicating CDs, DVDs, or digital files. It was in 1903 when a court stated that duplication of film negatives (and their subsequent distribution) was illegal.

Thomas Edison, however, didn’t seem phased by these court decisions. He continued to engage in practices that infringed on copyright. He would adapt novels, plays, stories, and make films from them.

He did so without paying royalties to the original authors. This practice continued for many years.

It was in 1907 when Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes decided that a Hollywood studio – or any film producer – had to first obtain the rights to a published work before making a film from it. This decision came with the release of the film Ben Hur which was based on a popular novel.

What Hollywood Decided

In the decades after the 1907 court decision, Hollywood decided to self-regulate on these issues. They decided to settle any copyright infringement issues in-house without having to go to a court to settle any issues.

Many films then and even today would make films based on works in the public domain or those that have had their copyright protection expired. This makes it easier for independent filmmakers to produce a film based on existing popular works.

Hollywood also decided to protect its own intellectual property. Once a film was made from a particular work, only the film producer or studio had rights to that work. Others would have to pay up if they wanted those same rights.

One other protection also came during this time. It was that of preventing duplication of movies – or what we now call movie piracy.


Movie Piracy

Movie piracy is the unauthorized duplication of a movie. This can range from duplicating the film negatives (as Edison did), making copies of the films’ DVDs, making copies of a digital file, or even filming the screen displaying the movie through your smartphone. Distributing the film, whether for profit or not, is also unauthorized.

Movie piracy, along with other forms of media piracy, really skyrocketed in the 2000s with the advent of file-sharing applications such as Napster, Kazaa, and BitTorrent.

The movie industry reacted by suing these applications, movie-sharing websites, companies, and individuals – all who were involved in the unauthorized distribution of movies.

But one thing became clear – the demand to see movies-on-demand, online, and as cheaply as possible was not going away. Though it took some time, the movie (and other media industries) industry decided that it would make it’s content available online. Many movies can now be purchased digitally – often with a DRM protection so that it can only be seen or shared on a limited number of computers.

As a side note, one of the most popular websites for streaming movies and television shows is the Putlockers website – though there are many great alternatives.


Movie streaming has become the most popular way of watching movies. Through services such as Netflix, Hulu, BritBox, and many more we can now have a library of movies to watch on demand for a low subscription fee.

While piracy still exists, these streaming services have done a lot to stifle piracy and the incentive to pirate any content. Still, watching a movie for free is still better than paying a low subscription fee. Other alternatives have been to show films for free and intersperse them with advertisements.

Another challenge is to find a way to distribute content internationally. One movie can stream in some jurisdictions but cannot distribute to others. As a result, those inhabitants who live in a jurisdiction where a movie cannot be distributed may resort to pirating the content.

Watching movie

Keep Watching

Now that you know what is movie piracy, what do you think can lessen movie piracy even more? Are copyright laws too restrictive in producing movies? What can we do to distribute movies more widely to other jurisdictions?

Be sure to read more great content on entrepreneurship and technology.

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