Our horror film, “Crazy Bitches,” was released on Valentine’s Day 2015. We invested in an online marketing campaign that resulted in two times the industry clickthrough rate and 2.6M social media impressions in the week leading up to the release. So, we had reason to expect a successful return.
What we didn’t count on was a reality more frightening than the movie. In the hours and days after it became available online, pirated copies spread like wildfire across platforms ranging from KickassTorrents to YouTube. We tried to take them down by filing DMCA notices, but when we clicked through a torrent site to find out where to send the notice, we were exposing our computer to viruses.
We finally found a takedown service and in the first week of release a total of 725 URLs were removed. Each one of these links was an invitation to thousands of potential viewers to watch the movie without paying for it. And while we lost revenue, pirates were making money on the back of our hard work.
Horror comes from a terrifying feeling of helplessness and that’s how we felt watching our passion project being stolen again and again. We hoped that the slaughter would subside after the first week. But, every time we removed a link another appeared. 550 links were removed after week two and it took months to get it to a manageable five or six per week. Meanwhile, we spent money to issue the takedowns, with little money coming in.
Through our film’s production, we employed dozens of crew members and our production helped local businesses. In our opinion, the finished movie was a fun fast flick and we were prepared to shoot a sequel.
However, piracy was devouring the “Crazy Bitches” earnings. Without a worthwhile return on our investment, finding outside investors for the sequel was impossible. They didn’t care that there appeared to be great interest. Having fans means nothing to an investor if they aren’t paying for the film. For the other creatives – the actors who rely on residuals and the musicians who rely on royalties – fans are lovely, but if the movie doesn’t make money, they don’t either.
It’s been a little over four years and, as of six months ago, there were 400+ illegal URLs of “Crazy Bitches” back up online. As you can see, indie filmmakers like us have little recourse to stop the digital theft of our works. However, we are encouraged by the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019 (CASE Act), which would establish a small claims board within the U.S. Copyright Office to settle infringement cases.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright, and it costs an average of $278,000 to litigate a copyright infringement case. That’s more than our entire budget! For most individual creatives, that amount means most of us have to let the theft go unchallenged.
The CASE Act will give independent creatives a voice when their copyrights have been violated. It limits the total amount of damages that can be awarded in each case to no more than $30,000 (in Federal court, a successful plaintiff may be awarded up to $150,000 per infringed work), and it streamlines the process so that plaintiffs don’t have to pay for an attorney.
Small businesses battle the scourge of piracy, too, and happen to make up 84% of the creative industries in the United States. They don’t usually have $278,000 lying around either. Our company, for instance, employs around 50 people with each production we make, and we’re a drop in the bucket of the core copyright industries, which provide jobs for 5.7 million Americans. From film to music to video games and beyond, we are a nationwide community that contributes more than $1.3 trillion to the GDP – more than the aerospace, agriculture, and pharmaceutical industries.
We would never have been able to stop every pirate who stole “Crazy Bitches” and made money from it. Piracy is a problem that the CASE Act alone will not solve. However, the CASE Act provides creatives with a tool that we do not have today and if it had been around in 2015, we could have at least recovered some of our losses.
The creative community that we are a part of is one of America’s mightiest economic drivers. But, we cannot continue doing our job and employ people in the process, when it is nearly impossible to make a living or a return on an investment.
Horror films are fun to watch because even though we may jump out of our seats, as many did while watching “Crazy Bitches,” we know that the danger exists in a fictionalized world. But the monsters that threaten our livelihood aren’t characters on screen. They are real life villains putting our films online for free and getting away with it. That’s why we invite you to join us in supporting the CASE Act, legislation that will enable creatives to defend their work and protect their livelihoods. Please urge your elected officials to support it too by clicking here.
Jane Clark and Bob Tourtellotte are owners of FilmMcQueen Productions and have produced numerous projects – including the feature films “Meth Head” and “Crazy Bitches,” and the “Crazy Bitches” web series.
This piece was submitted by CreativeFuture, a coalition of 550 companies and organizations and 220,000 individual members that advocates for the rights of creatives. The CASE Act was first introduced in 2017. It has since been amended to address some concerns and reintroduced.