Watch & Learn: Steal This Film

Hollywood is a business. The ‘War on Piracy’ is a war to preserve profit.

What is Steal This Film about?

Steal this Film is a two part docu-series that discusses the legalities and social attitude towards file-sharing, torrents, piracy and copyright. Produced by Jamie King, Steal this Film uses interviews with a number of individuals affected by and influencing the culture of sharing content. Included in the list of interviewees are The Pirate Bay members Fredrik Neij (tiamo), Gottfrid Svartholm (anakata) and Peter Sunde (brokep); MPAA’s former chairman, Dan Glickman; professor Yochai Benkler; Reddit’s Aaron Swartz; and Alternative Law Forum’s Lawrence Liang.

This documentary is divided into two parts, released in 2006 and 2007. Part I focuses on discussions relating to file sharing and torrents, and their impact on the contemporary entertainment industry. Giving viewers a walk-through of the first ever raid on The Pirate Bay, the first part pits the views of advocates of torrents and free file sharing against the opinions of members of entertainment industries like Hollywood. Part II attempts a deeper, more fundamental understanding of the links between creativity, ownership, expression and copyright, with a heavy emphasis on exploring the entertainment industry’s resistance to new technologies and new definitions of content sharing.

Is there an underlying tone to this docu-series?

Although the docu-series presents a biased view on the subject of content distribution and accessibility, it provides a logical connection between all arguments. By beginning with the case of The Pirate Bay, the first part finds a comfortable context for understanding file-sharing by situating it in the perspectives of people who do not believe that torrenting is illegal and rely on it since it makes media accessible. It draws analogies between the music and movie industry with movie industry professionals fearing piracy as a step towards the same fate as the record labels. Oscillating between the merits and demerits of piracy, the first part makes it clear that The Pirate Bay represents a new wave of criticism of copyright law — one that is less academic and jargon-oriented than its predecessors. The second part really digs deep into the philosophy and origins of copyright law, connecting copyright politics to censorship and the idea that publicly accessible media only contains government-authorized content. In other words, how free is our freedom of expression, and are we using it the way it was intended to be used?

Why watch it?

Watch it for the arguments that are clearly based in law and presented without much legal jargon. This is a rather chatty docu-series, essentially presented in accord with the situation it envisions — where information is shared and accessed in easily understood and hassle-free formats. Watch it for some compelling snippets of interviews with some expected and unexpected participants of the copyright-piracy debates. If you are in the mood for more, do check out Good Copy Bad Copy, another film about the mashup culture and copyright policy previously featured in our Watch & Learn series.


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