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I found Steal This FIlm to be both incredibly interesting and highly problematic, mainly at the intersection of its role as both an informative document and a work of art. The film presents some of the key issues in the fight for free culture, where cultural artifacts such as films are not traded with respect to the value of their production, rather the principal that culture should be shared as long as it does not degrade the original product. More than the Jackie Chan commercial, I think of this one.

I remember the jokes about this commercial, whose assumptions are fundamentally traditional, part of the established industry, which seemed almost unintelligible to the generation that was actually pirating. “You wouldn’t download a car.” Well, why not? That was the general response. If I could download a car, make a copy without exploiting the labor of those who produced it, why wouldn’t I? There was a fundamental disjuncture between the traditional corporations – who failed to establish any nuance in piracy – and the pirate generation – who failed to make any connection with theft.

 

To be honest, I understand both sides. The case against piracy is easy to see when piracy is taken to the extreme – in the film, Dan Glickman, the head of the MPAA, is asked why he has a problem with giving movies away for free. His answer is blunt and realistic, something along the lines of, are you kidding me? I would just give my product away for free? That would erase the production money of movies across the globe. Part of the piracy debate stems from the fact that we assume movies can only be made by huge corporations with incredible budgets. This is, of course, not true. Piracy can propagate a movie’s cultural impact and relevance, even add to its importance. With the music industry, it wasn’t just that people weren’t buying CDs. That was a result of another fact – people didn’t need big record deals to make music. It undercut the power structure while maintaining music in our culture.

 

The flip side of this, however, is apparent in the aesthetic of Steal This Film. It was ironic to watch a movie about the people in control (by which I mean, the pirate distributers) of more movies than anyone else, but the movie seemed as if it was made by someone who’d never seen a movie before. Its aesthetic was irritating, filled with awkward pauses and poorly framed head shots. I felt an extreme sense of cognitive dissonance; I feel strongly that current copyright laws strangle creativity, but if this is the future of movies, I’m not necessarily happy about that. Of course, this movie served more crucial informative purposes than aesthetic ones, but separating those purposes is quite problematic.

 

It seems as if the corporations are trying to meet the pirates halfway, with the proliferation of sites like Hulu and the fact that most major networks stream their own TV shows online, erasing a need to pirate TV shows. The film industry seems like its lagging in this development.