Piracy Endangers TV Renewals and Jobs, Says ‘Killing’ Writer (Guest Column)

The Killing nettlix

In a recent New York Times article, Hana Beshara, founder of NinjaVideo, the now defunct illegal online streaming site for TV and movies, says she is unrepentant for creating a site that chose to use other people’s intellectual property to make half a million dollars for herself and her collaborators on the site.

As a television drama writer who works mainly in the cable world, my writing partner Nicole Yorkin and I write characters like Hana all the time. Engaging characters with questionable morality who gleefully commit crimes for the thrill of it. It makes for good TV.

Hanna would be one of the archetypes — lost and without much of a sense of identity, until she stumbles into the world of online piracy. Her life changes dramatically as she becomes the “hot-tempered,” powerful Queen Phara, lording over her own online community of 60,000 devotees.

Oh, yeah. Move over Walter White. This is the stuff that cable dramas are made of, right? Sure, unless it’s your creative sweat and blood that’s making someone else money they haven’t earned. The unfortunate reality: the Hanas of the world are damaging our creative ability to tell those stories, and the entertainment industry in general, with their theft of our content.

When Hana made a TV episode available for free on her website, that was worth the equivalent of thousands of downloads that weren’t watched on a legal site. And when that happened, the entire production team that collectively created the content was adversely impacted – from the most junior production assistant on up. All positions within the hierarchy became devalued.

In contrast, when the audience pays for creative content, they are voicing their support with their dollars. They are saying: “this show/film/whatever has personal value. I enjoy it. It’s worth paying for.” That not only helps me as a writer, it leads to further investment in the shows audiences like.

For example, it was the enthusiastic and legal downloading of one of the most recent shows we worked on — “The Killing,” on Netflix — that brought it back from cancellation not once, but twice. Networks rely heavily on that type of honest feedback from the audience, in order to tailor their programming. In short: if you don’t buy it, they don’t make it.

Netflix realized their subscribers were clearly interested in the show having more seasons to conclude its story. Those two extra seasons provided hundreds of jobs, paid for people’s health insurance and pensions, and provided eighteen more hours of creative content. That benefits fans as well as the creators of the show. When a viewer accesses an episode on a site like NinjaVideo, rather than a legal site, there’s no accurate measurement of market value for that content. And that’s how shows die.

Unfortunately, when it comes to accessing creative content on the internet, the line between what is right and what is wrong has become blurred. There seems to be an almost global mindset that if it’s available and doesn’t require payment, it is okay to take it. People have rationalized this behavior to the point that it’s now the status quo — which has led to a staggering number of unlawful downloads each year.

So the problem doesn’t stop with privateers like Hana. After all, NinjaVideo was profitable because it was able to collect ad dollars from its 60,000 devotees.

Any solution will have to involve higher standards on what constitutes ethical online behavior. Just because something can be found online does not make it right to take it without financially compensating all those individuals whose efforts went into creating the content.

Patrons of pirate sites may think they are “sticking it to the man.” But they are actually sticking it to me — and all my creative colleagues. And that doesn’t make good TV.

Dawn Prestwich is a television writer and producer best known for “The Killing,” which airs on AMC and Netflix; HBO’s “Carnivale;” “The Riches” on FX; Showtime’s “Brotherhood,” as well as “Judging Amy,” “Chicago Hope,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Picket Fences.”

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  1. enlguy says:

    I agree with a fair amount of this, but take a few exceptions. For one, using money as a means of calculating viewership, or using limited sources, is a separate matter. The fight over whether or not to include DVRed shows in ratings has been burning a while now. I also have a hard time with PAs being affected by this. Yes, on a LARGE scale, fewer dollars flowing in can affect dollars flowing out, but I hardly think already underpaid PAs are going to feel this in their rates. It’s often less in the hands of the executives, if we’re going to be honest, and it’s not hurting them as much. Finally, torrenting will never make as large an impact as doom and groomers may say. The convenience of instant streaming is what makes Netflix and Amazon and the like successful. Torrents take hours to download. For what you can pay for a month of Netflix, it’s generally just a pain to torrent. Netflix has done a reasonably good job of adapting to the changing market, and that’s what any successful business does. If anything, they can use torrent download counts to find holes in their own offerings. Torrenting can’t go any further than it is. As long as media companies evolve, there won’t be an issue. Now if Hollywood can just be a little quicker to pull itself out the dark ages…

  2. eric says:

    this editorial is understandable, and certainly makes a reasonable plea, but it fails to look realistically at illegal downloads (in my opinion). I would be very surprised if ANYONE downloading illegally has a “sticking it to the man” mentality… As far as I can tell, the characterization of people who see that something is easily accessible online and therefor feel no guilt in downloading it, is a much more accurate portrayal of the mindset of downloaders. But this editorial ignores the very likely possibility that, were downloads NOT so accessible, the illegal downloaders would simply forgo downloading at all. As such, episodes downloaded illegally do not represent “lost income” for show creators, as much as they represent “people who do not value the shows enough to pay for them, regardless of circumstances”… In fact, I would go so far as to say that the illegal downloaders may potentially increase the “legitimate” viewership of a given show, by increasing word-of-mouth exposure…. Granted this is a gray area….

    But a similar (in practice, if not in specifics) situation occurs with “freemium” download apps for smart phones…. you could easily argue that people who download free games which have various types of pay content, are not supporting the makers of the games if they refuse to buy the ad-free version or if they never purchase in-app items that enhance game-play while supporting the game designers… and you would be right. Those people are NOT supporting the game designers, even though they selfishly decided they wanted to play the game enough to download it…

    Bottom line, you will have to convince me that the majority of illegal downloaders would become paying customers if downloading were not an option. Otherwise I will never buy the argument that illegal downloads hurt the creators in every case, or even in most cases. I know plenty of people who have, upon downloading a movie, gone on to enjoy it so much that they went to the theaters to watch it TWICE, and possibly even brought their friends along. And I’ve seen people who’ve downloaded a movie or tv show, watched 10 minutes of it, and deleted it from their pc because they felt it was garbage.

    Equally, I cannot count the number of shows I’ve seen with really vocal and supportive fans, that got cancelled in spite of being beloved.

    The tv/movie production scene is *probably* much less at the mercy of pirates than is commonly argued by the producers, writers or actors, with very few exceptions. Certain types of shows may get squeezed uncomfortably, but not the majority… And I would not be surprised if someone discovered that pirates actually had a slightly beneficial effect overall, on many tv shows and movies’ exposure and profits.

  3. Julia LeGath says:

    If The Killing hadn’t heavily promoted its first season around the eventual reveal of who the killer who did ‘the killing’ was and then chosen to not reveal the killer in the season’s finale they might not have had to work so hard to get three more seasons out of two different distributors.

  4. np says:

    There is no difference between what the founders of NinjaVideo did and someone stealing DVD’s from Best Buy and selling them at the flea market.

  5. David N. says:

    Comment threads relative to editorials would be much more potent and effective if those who felt inclined to comment stayed on the point of the editorial. But yes, our freedom of speech is alive and well, regardless of the forum or propriety.

    To return to the principal issue of piracy, first it’s not about technology per se; it’s about lawful commerce. Entertainment content is lawfully created product.
    The basic model of free-world commerce applies to all, and the recognition of the fact that entertainment content of all pre-recorded varieties is a lawfully created product is ground zero. The making of any product is a process, whether executed by an individual or a business conglomerate.

    All production or manufacturing processes first require some type of creative design or architecture of some sort to generate the plan, model, mold, or schematic to use as the map, blueprint, or prototype to then begin production. There are laws that protect inventions-they are called patents; the laws that protect the creative content prototypes are called copyrights, whether it is for the script, the score’s notation, first folios, whatever. There are additional copyrights assigned to the completed works as well, produced from those original blueprints, to protect that produced construction so that it can be monetized.

    Does the process of production really need to be explained as to why it must be monetized to support itself? I think it is important to note that all those who toil in the creation of entertainment product are entitled to the fruits of their labors, as are all workers attached to any and every industry. How else can they ultimately be self-sustaining? Regardless of the combined sources of those monetization streams, manufacturing product still requires monetization. As per entertainment product (and we all know it), piracy raids that stream.

    Buying the product does not give you dominion over the design, or the specific version of the product itself. You actually can resell it; you just have to license it to do so. You aren’t buying their script or their prototype, just a version, and that version is protected. Like a soft-drink manufacturer: you could analyze Dr. Pepper. You could then synthesize your facsimile and re-label your version of that product as say Dr. K, and sell it forever. No harm no foul, provided the ingredients don’t exactly match the original’s patented formula.

    I have never seen one episode of The Killing. Whether you or I like The Killing is not the point. The real issue is that legitimate firms like Netflix are trying to generate, produce, and secure content that fits the specific demand of their subscription base. Period.

    As a lifetime member of the entertainment industry, I DO agree with the points made by this writer, relative to the issues and the direct effects of piracy, prompted by the NY Times article about NinjaVideo and Hana Beshara. (Beshara wasn’t singled out incidentally because she was a woman-she was singled out because she was a flagrant pirate). But piracy does devalue entertainment product through trickle-down economics, and it doesn’t take Jacob. J Lew to educate us of that fact.

    If you are complaining and whining about the quality of our entertainment product, then that is a different issue, although directly connected to content piracy. The equation is simple- you want better quality entertainment product, then don’t devalue the market that supports it. Or of course feel free to create your own…

  6. Don Brown says:

    Hogwash. Game of Thrones is the most Hogwash. Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in history but is doing fine. The Killing suffered from misdirected plotting. it was also a pale copy of the Danish original. It is ridiculous to blame pirate copies. It has been shown in fact that people who download illegally are super fans and end up buying the product in other formats anyway. Must be nice to have a whipping girl, but Hana was singled out, from the legions of male pirates because she is a woman, and her success irritated them to the degree that they betrayed her, and set her up. Ninja video was much more than a pirate site, it was a giant forum where fans freely discussed and argued endlessly about every kind of artwork and about every social and political situation imaginable. Not only that but it existed at a time when nothing like Netflix existed. If anything it moved companies to create a legal downloading alternative. Clearly Netflix would never exist without the success of sites like NinjaVideo and the vision of people like Hana.

    • np says:

      Horse hockey.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Don, I am curious if you have any data about “super-fans’ being the ones who download and then buy DVD sets. I actually think there is a lot of truth to that, but I’ve never read anything convincing about it.

      The Killing was a bad remake and the writer of the bad remake whining about not getting to make more bad episodes just annoys me to no end!

  7. John B says:

    Bull. How about instead making the content available (even if for a small fee) in a way that anyone in the world can watch it whenever they want? This is the one thing that Hollywood *REFUSES* to acknowledge. Most people don’t want to pirate, but for many – particularly because of international copyright and distribution issues – piracy is the best or even ONLY way to watch.

    The correct way to get rid of (or at least dramatically reduce) piracy is to remove the idiotic blockades that studios put between themselves and people who want to pay. Stop pandering to Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner, and just go straight to the customers.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      The networks and studios are parts of huge conglomerates that can’t turn on a dime (or even a quarter!!) Recently, they were still spouting nonsense like “Blu-Ray will be great because it will allow us to charge more for each movie because we deserve more…” (I am rewording, but frankly not that much).

      They are faced with the fact that anyone can download a new episode of a TV show and watch it in BETTER quality of presentation than on a network and for free!!

      Part of the problem is piracy, sure, but the piracy makes the self-inflicted issues (like the logos, on-screen ads, the shrinking of shows to put more ads etc…) more harmful.

      The logic of the conglomerates should be to make their legal product more attractive and be creative to regenerate enthusiasm, instead, they produce worse product and keep the presentation as awful as ever… They may be on the right side of the copyright law (and I’m not saying that’s not important) but I think they are missing the real message of the marketplace, which is their product is valued at a lot less than what they think (see the way they sabotaged Blu-Ray by not offering enough product and making the product too expensive when they’re sitting on tons of already paid for product!)

      That said, my point is that people who make bad shows (like The Killing) and then whine their shows aren’t doing well so they can’t keep getting the Big Bucks just don’t have my sympathies.

  8. Waah!Poor Billionaires says:

    Boo-hoo. Here’s a thought: Drop the prices for movies/DVD’s, actors’ multi-million dollar salaries for Godawful movies, and maybe more people would think twice about it. I’m so sick of hearing millionaire movie execs and mainly the other overpaid entities in the entertainment industry whine about this—“THINK about the “little guy” starving because of it—“—CRAP. They don’t care about anything but their own multi-million dollar lifestyles–they couldn’t give two shakes of a rat’s butt about the “little guy”. The movies and shows they make are 80% garbage anyway. And having to pay to watch COMMERCIALS on top of everything else makes me feel little sympathy for the industry in general. Cry me a river…

    • Rena Moretti says:

      I totally agree. That bad writer is just thinking of her big paychecks going away and trying to blame someone other than herself (or the awful notes she accepted incorporating in her scripts).

      To me, those people just aren’t credible!

  9. aser says:

    give a service were there are no bs ads, were i can watch something anytime anywhere (outside the USA), were a show has all seasons available, available in HD, not overpriced, and has a reasonable selection of shows and movies, until that service exists im sticking to downloading torrents.

  10. Marco S. says:

    Pity… there are a few reasons why I’d download stuff… 1. I missed the initial broadcast. 2. I don’t know whether the content is worth the buy. 3. The content is not available at the retailer. 4. The content is region protected, thus useless to me. 5. The content isn’t available (anymore) anywhere in the world. 6. The content is overpriced at 40 bucks for a movie, 70 bucks for a CD or 80 bucks for a tv show season. 7. It’s not available in the quality it deserves. (Or 8. I don’t have a huge budget to be able to buy 6 new movies per week, without knowing whether I’d like it.

    Nowadays I have a huge collection of legally bought blurays. I’m still waiting for bluray releases of Stargate Universe, Free Willy, Hackers and others that have an illegal HD download available, but are not available anywhere legally.

    Besides, downloading is practically free publicity. The start ups benefit greatly of the free publicity. Oh and don’t forget: of all the legal sales, all the money goes to the studios/massive corporations. The actors and the producers will get revenue for only a year or so, by quitclaim. Any profits made by sales after the agreement in the quitclaim expires, go to tje studios anyway. And don’t think that those agreements are fair, if a producer doesn’t think it’s fair enough for him, the company will go to some other producer who is less demanding.

  11. Rena Moretti says:

    Funny… I thought TV shows died when bad writers made bad shows like The Killing… ;)

  12. What absolute Rot.
    You might have a mostly ‘safe’ audience here, but the problem isn’t piracy, it never has been. You’re a TV scriptwriter, so you’re probably as knowledgeable of the details of ‘piracy’ as Ted Stevens was about the ‘series of tubes’.

    Ask any independent researcher, from almost any university, or government research arm. You’ll find they’ll all say the same thing – if piracy has a negative effect, it’s incredibly small. Why do you think anti-piracy groups keep releasing studies which get smacked down any time some form of peer review is attempted? Remember the big MPAA Lek report of 06? The one that said downloading was costing $6 Billion? Well whoops if they didn’t find out a year later that some of the figures were not just wrong, but MASSIVELY wrong. Or when individual figures were checked, they were discredited. The British Video Association (kinda like the UK’s MPAA) head called the figures inaccurate (if you weren’t aware, the ‘you wouldn’t steal a car’ video came from their ‘piracy is a crime’ campaign)

    Or how about last month, boasting about how most new releases are available legally, except when you study things closely, they weren’t WIDELY available, they were scattered among a few poorly used services.

    And I do understand the industry. I’ve worked for Comedy Central and TechTV in the US, and Channel4 and the BBC in the UK. I used to be a copyright enforcement agent for a UK record label.

    The reality is though that despite growing ‘piracy’, the industry has never been healthier. During an economic downturn, industries continued to grow. But to look to the tech world, the anti-piracy fight is like the anti-vehicle fight of 150 years ago. the UK, and some states passed strict laws to protect the horse industries from ever-evolving technology, and they did it to protect what they thought was right for the 1860s. Look back now. Think of all the farriers, saddlers, livery stables etc. the demise of the horse made unemployed. Smithing as an industry is gone, relegated to Ren-Fairs, and Williamsberg, and yet civilisation didn’t collapse.

    Would you, right now, go back to animal-powered instead of automotive power? No? It’s the exact same argument as for anti-piracy: We need to restrict technology, so that this industry can continue to make money.

    Would the politicians have 1860 have envisioned the world today? Can you imagine what would have happened had the traction engine, and thus the car, been legislated out of existence to protect the stagecoach and the carter? Are you willing to go back to that world, or will you keep your gas-guzzler?

    You can’t say ‘stop that technology because I deserve to be paid for what I do’. No, you don’t. No more than any other business man has an entitlement to be paid. Piracy is just a scapegoat for the real problem, poor products and mis-management, same with any other business. You can say ‘I deserve to be paid’, and so can any other person who starts a business. If no-one wants to buy your product at the price you’re offering, thats your bad business then. Bad business decisions are yours to deal with. And there are more industries going under as well. My wife’s retraining for a new career, because her field, graphic artist, is over-run with people ‘doing it themselves’. She worked for Time, People, Sports Illustrated, and now even local newspapers don’t see a need for her. Should we ban new software, or is it only Hollywood and Nashville that gets this special treatment?

    Your answers will be very telling.

    • jp says:

      You can never stop piracy the way the laws are done currently because you can’t make the behavior of downloaders criminal. Any cases brought currently are civil which cannot carry the penalties needed. If they tried to charge downloaders criminally they would have to prove they caused harm to the studios. The downloader having a copy does not inherently hurt the studios because the data itself was not taken from them. My having the data in no way uses up or effects the original. The property the creators have is unaffected. The only argument for harm is they no longer have the money you would have had to pay them to obtain it legally but that argument could never hold up on the scale of an individual when subjected to the requirements of criminal trials. They would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that that downloader would have purchased it legally and had no intention of doing so after it had been downloaded. Unless they can prove that then they cannot establish any crime. The answer is we need a total revamp of civil law removing any distinction between it and criminal law. Once they are able to go after individuals with threat of significant jail time many will cease downloading removing enough of the market for piracy that it will cease to be a significant problem.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        Of course… Let’s make our audiences into criminals and put them in jail!

        That’s brilliant!!!! Let me add that we should have an informant in every family reporting on the downloading activity of their relatives and friends.

        That way we can be really sure the problem is circumscribed.

        Better yet, let’s ban computers, or at least throttle internet access to dial-up speeds so you can’t download anything as big as a movie.

        Now THAT would really do it!!

        That way we won’t have to think about how to monetize our property in a way that works in the 21st Century and aligns our customers’ desires with the need for the people putting up the money to get it back (with profits if possible).

        No that’s just too difficult. I agree, download a movie, off with their heads!!!

        [please read the preceeding with the sarcasm of James Spader in Boston Legal]

    • Rena Moretti says:

      That article was just a self-serving excuse for having made a bad show that flopped.

      If Chuck Lorre was saying that, it’d have more weight, not the writer of a bad show people don’t want to watch…

      • Sure bill. Want to download my book? You can buy a copy from Amazon, or you can download a copy from The Pirate Bay (or the book website -www.nosafeharbor.com)
        99% of my work is ‘given away for free’ under creative commons licenses (like my research back in 2007 which started the whole Net Neutrality thing, released under a CC-BY license)

        I suggest you check out what I do, before you try to score points, especially when it’d not make you look a fool.

      • Bill says:

        Andrew Norton, waiting for you to give away what you do for a living for free; I’m sure there are those who “want it” but aren’t willing to pay…

      • J Bergqvist says:

        Andrew Norton, First an foremost, Dowling vs USA is a 30 year old case, we could agree that technology has changed a lot since then? A copy today, isn’t what a copy was back then.
        Still I am not anti tech, not at all and I agree that the film business has a lot to work on when it comes to the business model.
        Nevertheless, the problem here is people making money on materials they have no right to, not the downloader but the people taking in hard cash on adds put on the download/streaming sites.
        I’m not for going after the little people, the regular Joes/Janes, I’m for taking down illegal streaming sites and torrents sites, you might not like this.
        The base of the matter is – if I have a commodity to sell – be it smell-o-vision or what ever, and you can spin it any way you like theft or no theft etc. etc., if i put up a play or say a book reading – and I charge for it… It is up to the customer to decide if he want to pay and go and see this event or not, and my right to charge what ever i damn pleases for it (then for sure, no one might come and that’s my problem for charging to much, advertising to little or what ever the problem might be, and that is my bad) But if Peter, the neighbour kid, is drilling a hole and the wall and leading all my costumer to watch through this hole and charging 0.50 for this… Then Peter is stealing from me. It’s as simple as that. Peter should pay me 0.30 of every 0.50 he earn, that would be fair. He is at least inventive, I’ll give him that, but still a parasite.

      • J Bergqvist says:

        you make some interesting points. Apparently though people want the product – they just don’t want to pay for it… Problem here is that there will be less product if this continues. How can you legitimize stealing? I don’t think it’s legal to steal a horse even though they are outdated. Someone still owns it, someone still paid for that horse.
        But you think it’s ok? Just because this is outdated tech? To steal this horse, go out and use it to take $2 in fair for fun rides? I don’t know if I should lough or cry at this…

        The problem isn’t the tech – the problem is people wanting stuff, and not paying! Films and TV series are not an old tech… but maybe the delivery systems are.

  13. you make a very good and valid arguement, but it’s not one that hasn’t been said and voiced before. the problem here is that audience that should be reading this aren’t. the people who were members of videoninja (and any current piracy website like that) don’t care about what you’re trying to tell them.

    our current generation has been taught that they’re entitled to have anything they want immediately, thanks to twitter, ondemand, streaming huhu/netflix etc. and of course the internet has given them now the ability to hack and pirate anything they want. the idea of temperance never entered anyone’s idea when they designed all these things- so why should anyone consider it when requested to police themselves from pirating the latest tv show for free?

    • You atomic are so mistaken. Pirates and former pirates read Variety and for that matter have instant alerts set to facilitate said reading.

      the problem here is that audience that should be reading this aren’t

    • Rena Moretti says:

      atomic, if you re-read me, you’ll find I never said, nor did I imply that there wasn’t a problem with illegal downloads.

      My beef is with the bad writer of a bad show blaming illegal downloads for her unhappiness.

      My other point is that the trouble caused by illegal downloads was caused also in great part by studio and network policies that are driving people there, in part for quality and ease of use reasons, partly as a rejection of the huge price increases in cable packages (I am personally thinking of cancelling my cable package because it’s way too expensive for the few things I watch!)

      The studios and networks are faced with an economic problem that (barring enforcement that at this point is illusory) they want to solve by hectoring people.

      I just think they are (again) making a very poor decision.

      It doesn’t mean pirating is right.

    • TVRambler says:

      I live in a small community in Minnesota. I admit that I have watched content online without paying more than a few times. We who don’t live in an urban area aren’t as fortunate as those of you who can access tv and film however and whenever you want. I am at least 30 miles from any city with more than 20,000 people. It not only takes time-at least 1 1/2 hours just getting there and back-but also extra money for gas. Add to that the fact that I am disabled, so my income is very limited. Don’t get me wrong-I have purchased more than my fair share of film and TV show DVD’s, but I have to wait for it to be on sale as the price tag for newly released content is vastly overpriced.

      And as for the police mentioned in the post above from atomic studio, they are a joke in this area of the country when it comes to enforcing piracy laws. In a town just 7 miles up the road from here, the local county sheriff’s officers were caught RED HANDED duplicating and SELLING DVD’s using police equipment and at the police station! Someone called the FBI on them, but guess what? They were not charged with anything, they were not fired, they were not even fined. So much for temperance.

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