Bad news for pirates of the carry-bin

If you’ve ever walked the streets of New York City, you’ve probably come to regard the sidewalk spreads of pirated DVDs as part of the city’s scruffy charm. They’re the hookers of the aughts, a colorful spill of lawlessness rainbowed across the otherwise-sanitized Disneyscape. And then there’s the product itself: The surprise of seeing The Prestige already professionally packaged (kind of — hey, is that an old Van Helsing shot slashed together with Newsies-era Christian Bale?) and ready to take home… the gambler’s thrill of finding out if the movie is actually watchable or so back-row shaky-cam that it induces epilepsy… good times.

Good times that are now officially over, it would seem. Mayor Bloomberg and the MPAA are stepping up the anti-piracy campaign with a ferocity that feels very late-’80s-drug-war: Doors broken down, buildings shut — dare we hope for a little water-boarding, now that we’ve dispensed with those namby-pamby Geneva Conventions? ("Just tell us where the Little Man master is, and all of this will go away.")

Will it work? Maybe a little: The street trade will probably take ahit, and the pressure on landlords will have a modest effect. But Ican’t see it taking a toll on the larger business, which is goingonline, anyway: The overhead is too low, the hurdles too easy to clear,and the moral ambiguities just not ambiguous enough to stop NewYorkers, who see pirated DVDs the same way they see gypsy cabs: Not asparasites, but as useful, if irregular corpuscles in the city’sbloodstream.

Let’s face it: Sometimes a man needs him some Flicka at 3 a.m.And the market will furnish it. Unless the market is busy getting thecrap kicked out of it by the MPAA’s shadowy enforcement wing. In whichcase, I’ll watch Herculoids.

I turn the question over to the vox populi — is hammer-handedenforcement the way to stop piracy? And if so, should there bedifferent beatings administered for different movies stolen? Forinstance, I can’t see The Santa Clause 3 rating much more than a noogie. And while you’d think Handycamming Flags of Our Fathers would mean a trip to Gitmo, really, at this stage, shouldn’t they be paying the pirates a distribution fee?


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Comments (7 total) Add your comment
  • Allie

    You can’t pirate the true “movie theater” experience, so if Hollywood would make movies that people want to see in the theater (a communal and fully-enthralling experience), then they would not have to fight against street peddlers. As it is, Hollywood makes crap and we want to buy it for $5.00 and put it on our shelves at home for later viewing.
    Where has Hollywood’s greatness (or at least desire for greatness) gone? I still find it occassionally at art house theaters where goers will applaud a film at the end (a practice I have never really understood or participated in).
    But really, a very slight interest in a film may make me buy it on the street, but a full-on anticipation requires theater attendance. “I will fill your coffers when you give me quality.”

  • Truman Burbank

    Isn’t this America? If so, then the law should be enforced, no matter who finds it ridiculous. Piracy is theft, no matter what movie is being pirated, and those who purchase illegal DVD’s are criminal accomplices. Yes, Hollywood will eventually “get it” and move online, but that doesn’t mean we should force the industry into that corner by sanctioning criminal activity.

  • Tommy G.

    When I was in NYC in November 2002 I picked up a copy of Harry Potter in Times Square, two days before its theatrical release. I bought it for the novelty/curiosity of owning a street movie, not for quality. I did buy an “official” copy when it was released, though – better quality, better ethics.

  • Shaun G

    Up till now, NYC has given the pirates free reign. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked past a bootleg vendor in the subway — with his wares spread out on the floor, taking up space in the crowded passageways — and watched New York’s Finest walk right past. I know it’s not the most heinous of crimes, but neither is letting your parking meter run out, and you get ticketed for that.

  • brendan

    Noir by K.W. Jeter addressed piracy and copyright law in an ultimately brutal yet effective way. read it, for it illustrates one truly efficient if not deplorable way of dealing with these issues.

  • newtonsapple

    Clever title to the post.

  • Ep Sato

    First off, mega props to Brendan for menioning sci fi author KW Jeter. Jeter’s one of the kings of cyberpunk lit, and his Dr. Adder’s one of my personal favorite novels.
    Anyway, in DC we can get the pirated movies at the flea markets. While the trade may go down in NYC, I can’t imagine that the pirated DVDS will stop selling in Philly, LA, DC, Chicago, and any other town that has street vendors or at least one flea market (that’s only like every friggin’ town with a population of more than about 5000 in the USA).
    The MPAA has the same problem as the music industry. They have been unwilling to adapt their product for the new market. Consumers want that movie today, not three months from now on DVD. Some of us will still hit up the theaters for the experience, but don’t think my azz was planning on spending $11 for a ticket plus $15 in consessions to see “man of the year”. If I could download the movie on a “one time only use” download for say $10, i’d be in. As a guy who’s bought one or two of these pirated movies, I can attest to the fact that these are 9/10 movies I would have rented on DVD or never bothered to spend $25 to see. But $10 at Blockbuster or from Itunes? Dude, count me in!
    But instead of growing up, the MPAA’s doing the same thing the jackasses of america (er the RIAA) did. They are litigating. Lame as a mofo. It didn’t work for the RIAA (even after they sued an 11 year old girl for downloading twinkle twinkle little star), it won’t work for these guys either…

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