Piracy Killed The Video Store

20/01/2016 5:03 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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My mate is very proud of his rectangle box, roughly the size of a cigarette packet. "Two terabytes," he's told me more than once. This device houses about five hundred illegally-downloaded movies, most of which he will not watch. But he's got them.

Leaked from flashing websites, converted and painstakingly renamed -- committing virtual thievery from nameless victims is often self-pardoned under the 'ole everybody's-doing-it defence.

In fairness, almost everybody is pirating. In June 2015, the final episode of Game of Thrones was illegally downloaded 1.5 million times in the eight hours following its US premier; 14.4 million times in total, making it the most pirated TV show in history. TorrentFreak smashed the record for 250,000 people sharing a single torrent.

I need to see Making a Murderer. And while I could get a Netflix subscription, could I justify it for just one show? I'm considering illegally downloading it, something I've never done before. While I'm not above sneaking a Subway into Hoyts, pirating (they still call it that?) is one line I'm yet to cross.

My 10-year-old self says I don't download movies because I love video stores.

I'm a defender of the old, smelly video store. From the carpeted isles thick with Coke syrup to the pimply-faced attendants with one eye on the dusty corner TV. Last week's movie posters rolled up into tattered tubes in a bin marked "Please take one". Mum calling out the password from the car window. The confusing transition to DVD where the box underneath the display case held the rental copy. VHS costing $10 for five and then $5 for 10. Watching stoners squirm out of late fees.

The video store was my cherished Friday-night ritual, an organised family argument of selection, parental negotiation (guidance rating and confectionery), and leaving with Mighty Ducks, again.

And future kids will trade all of this for their own rectangle box library.

Video stores are dying by the minute, decreasing in revenue by 19.5 percent per annum, estimated IBISWorld's Video and DVD Hire Outlet 2015 report. The study found that 125 video and DVD hiring businesses still exist in Australia, employing 2,175 people. The battle isn't over yet.

While I'd hate to deprive someone of another golden toothbrush, I get why leaching movies from gazillionaires seems like a viable option. But illegal downloading screws the little guys, too.

Photographer Rudiger Wasser once owned Late Nite Video, the busiest video store in Byron Bay, boasting a catalog of 25,000 DVDs. "You'd be committing suicide," said Wasser, on the idea of opening a video store in 2016. In 2011, he sold his video empire for one dollar.

The past 12 months have been huge in piracy reform. Last year, the government introduced the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 attempting to make it difficult for Australians to access torrent sites. Since 2012, the UK has blocked Pirate Bay (and 19 other major torrent websites) to no major reduction in piracy -- research showed punters simply went to new sites.

Even filmmakers have rolled up their sleeves and jumped in the ring. In April 2015, DBC, the film company behind the 'Dallas Buyers Club' petitioned the Federal Court of Australia, and won the right to obtain the contact details of 4,762 iiNet account holders said to have downloaded and shared the movie illegally. Unsatisfied with DBC's plan to recoup its lost millions, proceedings will be terminated next month, unless DBC appeals.

And when Netflix came to Australia, it still wasn't enough. We're still 'geo-dodging', goofing around with proxy and DNS settings to gain access to the US library. Even when we pay for it, we still demand unlimited access.

So why schlep to Vide-O-Drama when you can get all 10 hours of Making a Murderer right this second? Because there's a price to pay. I'm not afraid of government crackdown, or James Cameron banging at my door. I fear of contributing to a scarier reality, one without video stores.

"It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet, you don't stop when you're pleasantly full," said my friend, the pirate, of his prized torrents.

But when you don't pay up, who exactly foots your bill?