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August 26 2009

Cold Open talks about Dollhouse in internet piracy debate. The UK governments wants to disconnect file sharers, which causes this publication to ponder things from a TV fandom perspective.

Excellent post.
If, as they say, I am able to have access to an unedited Dollhouse ep in a TIMELY fashion after its original American airdate, EVEN if I had to sit through a few minutes of ads, I WOULD BE HAPPY TO DO IT. As long as it is NOT (Omega, for instance only aired THIS WEEK in Australia) I will happily torrent. And I will not feel even a small bit bad.
Indeed, ditto.

I BitTorrented all the episodes illegally. I've no problem with saying that. I mean, it's not because I'm cheap - I got the DVD too (even though I had to hack my DVD player to play it, since I live in the UK and it's region locked to the US).

Sooner or later business models will catch up in big media. And with big media, it'll be way later than makes any kind of sense.
The thing is in the UK, US shows are not that popular in terms of ratings. So I'm not sure why networks should bend over backwards just to please some online fans. If their business model says something is more profitable in that timeslot then fair enough. But I will say that SciFi UK has lost major props for its editing of Dollhouse.
Dollhouse shouldn't have even been sold to Sci-Fi really. They (20th) sold it as part of the Angel renewal for beer money. If they had put it on iTunes directly and charged for it, I bet you anything they would have made more money than the licensing deal.

Of course, that business model doesn't always apply. For example, Sky One pay a lot of money for Lost. That is why the networks sell shows internationally rather than worrying about streaming directly.

[ edited by gossi on 2009-08-26 09:33 ]
Sky's Lost deal was a wonderful loss-leader for them. Certainly did hurt E4 and Channel 4's fortunes. It would be interesting to see if SciFi UK paid more for Dollhouse this time round or if a second season was included in the original deal.
That's a good point, Simon. Bet you anything they're paying much more for season two. It's been good ratings wise for them, however.

Ultimately, it's about profit. And there's still more profit to be made right now selling Lost and Fringe and such to UK networks than there is to be made with online streaming I suspect. As a result, people will torrent. If the UK government cuts me off from my internet provider, I'll just join another provider.
I don't think the disconnection thing will ever happen, it would backfire something shocking on the ISPs.
The EU has already said it shouldn't happen. Don't know what Mandelson is thinking. The problem is, perhaps, he isn't.

The government want to set up a database of people who've been disconnected, to make sure they don't reconnect elsewhere. There's so many problems with that idea I don't even know where to begin. I don't see it ever happening.
Thanks for this post. It says what every online fandom member(any fandom, not just this one) knows, in a way that can be legally understood..
Coming from yet another part of this globalized world, I have to wait even more for getting not only a cut version, but also a translated one on tv (even though Fox Italy might give you the chance to see the original, so the advent of terrestrial digital service might help).
Some Huluesque international service, some online legal tv is the answer, IMO.. Personally, I'd rather pay for an international tv service than being forced to pay for a one choice national tv. Of course my grandma wouldn't much agree with that, but I believe it's time to give a legal choice to everyone.. Cause if there's no choice but piracy, then piracy it will be..
Hulu.co.uk is coming soon from what I've read. I wouldn't be surprised if the service was going to be rolled out to the rest of Western Europe.
I download and will continue to download until FOX8 “fast-tracks” Dollhouse and shows it within a week of it airing in the US. Ghost didn’t air in Australia until June but it aired in the US in Feb. Am I honestly expected to wait 4 months to watch something I had been looking forward to for months when I can get it the following day after it has aired?

I don’t feel bad about downloading because I’ll always buy the DVD and I’ll even watch it when it airs on television just to off my support. I belong to a number of Joss-related forums and I want to talk about the episodes as they air, not 4 months down the track when nobody gives a damn.

Until they air Dollhouse at a more suitable speed or until Hulu lives up to their promise and becomes available in Australia, I will continue to download.

I have heard that FOX8 plan to air s2 “shortly after” s1 wraps up so I can only hope that means within a week or two of “Vows” premiering in the US. Epitaph One (sorry.. The “Future Project” heh) airs next week (Sept 1) so that sounds about right considering season 2 airs in the US on the 25th. Hopefully FOX8 will get their act together.
Sadly it seem like a whole new generation of media execs are needed for change to actually happen, would not be surprised if a Hulu-Europe shows up and the smart people running it decides that the content should be even more time delayed and limited than Hulu-US.

Signed Been disappointed before, Voted Pirate in the last election.
It really frustrates me how the Government ignores all the moderate advice it gets (e.g. Digital Britain reports), and instead proposes a lot of knee-jerk schemes as a result of, most probably, back-room deals (anyone following British news at the moment will probably know who I'm talking about). It's not the way democracy is meant to work.

The Internet's a very new and precious thing, and I fear it's going to be devastated by ill thought-out anti-piracy plans. It promises to create a more open world that surpasses international barriers, and here people are trying to destroy it: the reason I say this is that piracy will not go away through legislation, and the only way to really get rid of it is by changing the way the Internet works forever, and I can't see how any good can come of that.

As far as Dollhouse goes, I bought the DVDs (inc. American shipping, I might add). Just because someone downloads, doesn't make them dishonest. Another excellent example, in my opinion, are Japanese anime fansubs: they allow niche programming to be experienced in the West that would never be experienced otherwise, which I genuinely believes creates a richer culture all round. Most Japanese anime that gets commercialised over here is only of the very mass-market sort. If illegal downloading was stopped, it would genuinely feel like we were suddenly cut off from entire swaths of foreign culture.

[ edited by MattK on 2009-08-26 10:49 ]
Ironically where 'Dollhouse' is concerned, I (hypothetically speaking) may have broken the law in order to pay for each episode as it appeared on iTunes US. And buying R1 DVDs for UK use is also legally dubious.

They actually don't need to change the way the net works IMO, fining people consistently and the prospect of court cases and criminal records would put off the vast majority of illegal file sharers (stress on the illegal BTW, Bittorrent is a useful way of releasing large files without incurring huge server loads and bandwidth expenses, banning P2P full-stop, regardless of content, would put extra strain on free software distribution - i'm cynical enough to see that as an intentional, welcome consequence to the people pursuing a blanket ban). The surveillance apparatus needed to do it is already largely in place in the UK. Or ISPs could just agree/be forced en masse to cap downloads at some sweet spot between heavy user and file-sharer.

It'd be a legal and investigative nightmare because of the prevalence of shared connections, NAT and open wireless points (i.e. you'd somehow have to pin it to an individual or have some incredibly unfair system of penalising the person who the ISP has as the registered user) but it'd be doable. Not saying should BTW, just saying could.

The government doesn't get it basically, few governments do. They're used to throwing their muscle behind a problem to fix it whereas this requires finesse and a change in attitudes as well as international law. Personally I suspect so called "darknets"/"covert channels" or grass-roots mesh networks will just become more popular if and when measures like those proposed come into play and I really think the government wants to avoid an "arms race" against a large group of people who are willing to devote hundreds of thousands of person-hours to creating and maintaining free (as in speech) internet access. They'll lose and it'll be politically embarrassing and expensive, for once we have a form of asymmetric warfare where the asymmetry works against nation states.
Yeah, I also got some episodes 'illegally' on iTunes US by paying for them from the UK, Saje.

It still amuses that a Warner Bros exec openly talked about posting an episode of Pushing Daises (the first one) to BitTorrent to try to get people to tune in. It was a smart move - it got people talking.
It looks like in Australia at least, it's pay-to-view stations like Sci-Fi that are going to end up winning out. In their great wisdom they've secured Stargate Universe to air it just a week after it airs in the US which is completely reasonable. The free-to-air station that has been showing Stargate at least up to this point (Channel 7) are still two seasons behind in Atlantis, they haven't aired season 4 yet and season 5 finished airing in the US many months ago (they also air it really late at night when people aren't able to stay up and watch). If Fox8 takes the same approach with Dollhouse and airs it a week after it airs in the US then I think a lot more people will watch rather than download.

I really don't understand why we can't all have access to pay-to-view or advertising supported internet television in countries outside the US.

BTW - looks like Australians won't be getting Castle season 2 any time soon - I've heard that it won't air until some time in 2010. Balls!
And buying R1 DVDs for UK use is also legally dubious.


I didn't realise this, I thought it was fine as long as you weren't reselling them? I pay import duties on everything I buy from abroad anyway, so the Government's still getting its tax out of it.
(obligatory rant: the post office changes standard £8ish "handling" fees for calculating the import duties you owe even if said import duties only come to £1.50..sigh)

[ edited by MattK on 2009-08-26 12:43 ]
I haz money. Networks haz showz. Why is this such a difficult concept to align? In a global world, trying to enforce region restrictions is just an enormous waste of resources.

There really should be a competitor for itunes- an online TV, Movie and Music store, open to international customers and not controlled by one company who is trying to push usage of their products.

Until they give us a real alternative to pirating instead of threats and hyperbole, the song remains the same.
Being a Doctor Who fan, I've had to resort to less than savory methods to get my fix of episodes. It's not as bad with that show any more, due to the influx of new fans in the States (same with Torchwood). But even if you do wait the extra week or so to watch it legally, you still have to contend with the editing for time (or in Torchwood's case, censorship). But those are the best case scenarios. Shows like Being Human or Ashes To Ashes still take forever to get here, and you can forget about DVD. Hell, the Beeb just recently released Life On Mars as a Region 1 DVD, and I have to wonder if it would have even happened if the US version hadn't been aired. Until stations and governments begin to recognize that there is actually a demand for overseas television, stuff like this isn't going to change anytime soon.
Living in Germany, I have the additional problem, that, when a show finally airs here, it is dubbed, and usually badly so. I'd much rather see the english version. So, I'd always have to wait for the R2-DVD, if I didn't download. That takes about a year for a usual show - the Dollhouse-DVD hasn't been released yet.
Sorry, that is not acceptable. Give me a timely fashion to watch stuff and I will pay for it. Until then, I will download and by the good stuff later.
Speaking as someone who works in the ISP trade, the digital Britain report is a very clear indication that those in charge are not in the know. To be honest it's pretty farcical, so I don't really think all the threats of disconnecting people can be taken seriously. But that's a side issue.

It's not the case that we are entitled to these shows when we want them, it's the case that it is truly to the networks advantage to make it available to us as early as possible through a revenue generating stream.

If they keep the arrangement as it is, then what happens, thousands upon thousands of people download whatever they want. A few people might get prosecuted, but this is never going to generate the revenue that selling the product to the people will, or even streaming it with ads.

The best chance we have of getting a simultaneous global release is by somehow making the networks realise that there is a way for them to make more money in doing so, until we can make this point clear to them, we can moan all we want, it wont happen.
Dollhouse still hasn't flighted in South Africa. Hasn't even been advertised. When Buffy was busy finishing up, I basically had to avoid this website for 6 months while I caught up.

Yet I'm internet active. I had disposable income. A VISA card that works anywhere around the world. Why can't I buy this show? Nevermind that the unfavourable exchange rate means that I'm paying more than anyone else would be. Nevermind that expensive (and slow) bandwidth means that the opportunity cost is higher too.

No, instead if I want to see Dollhouse, I have to pirate. And, especially when you want to see a second season, that's just not a 'good' thing to do.
Can't stop the signal.
I didn't realise this, I thought it was fine as long as you weren't reselling them? I pay import duties on everything I buy from abroad anyway, so the Government's still getting its tax out of it.

I think we're probably OK MattK and since someone's eventually getting paid, I suspect grey import DVDs are pretty far down the list (if they're even on it). But technically, "hacking" your DVD player for multi-region play might count as copyright circumvention (i.e. i'm not sure it's explicitly allowed).

Normally that'd be fine because, being a UK citizen, if I haven't committed a crime in the US I shouldn't be subject to US law but with the lobbying power of the entertainment conglomerates, little things like legal jurisdictions and sovereignty don't always seem to count for much (see e.g. 'DVD Jon' or the recent Pirate Bay case - both fairly clearly brought due to pressure from the MPAA etc.).
I know I for one when I download a show and like it I buy the DVD when it comes out later. I honestly have no real life time to sit down and watch it or record it. For people from other countries who want to watch a certain show that only airs in one country ahead of another downloading helps them interact in the online community - the online community and discussions of these shows create fans and new viewers - ergo more clients with free publicity. Most of these shows already air on free networks who rely on advertizing. For people abroad ads are meaningless, but DVDs sell - and I know for me and for many people like me, we don’t buy DVDs of something I don’t know if I want to keep.

I watched Buffy/Angel on TV - caught up through the net and own ALL the DVDs with safety copies (what? I’m not he only one!). Recently, the lovely comics joined them. *crosses fingers with the soon addition of Dollhouse to the glossy family*

Re: fan-subbed Anime. If they take away my fan-subbed anime I would die!!! *glares at Tokyo TV, should-not-be-named-anymore-back-stabbing-“fansite” and evil commercial-sub/dubbing* ;)
The Foundation Against Copyright Theft says that it's fine to play R1 DVDs in the UK:
http://www.fact-uk.org.uk/site/about/faq.htm#15
I can't see this happening. It would just piss off WAY too many people in an Orwellian kind of way.

Although if it did happen I'd be fucked. Im fine to wait a few weeks for something, but Englands half a year behind on Ugly Betty at this point and Weeds doesn't even air in England anymore. Plus my brother constantly watches football on cable and screams at people for trying to change over so I really would be buggered without torrents.
I agree, it's too overt. Better just to keep back-dooring anti-piracy measures in the form of (equally Orwellian) anti-terrorist surveillance measures. Like boiling a frog.

The Foundation Against Copyright Theft says that it's fine to play R1 DVDs in the UK

Cool. I'm gonna play all my R1s tonight to celebrate ;).

(ta for the link)
In these days of twitter and e-mail and facebook, it's difficult to remain unspoiled once the signal's out. So ironically the more I care about the show, the more likely I am to pursue extra-legal avenues of watching it sooner. And yet the shows I love I'll support as much as I can because I want them to thrive so they make more.

Even when the wait is only a few days, it doesn't help much. Spoiler chat by its nature is almost instantaneous, and besides, if consecutively-aired shows like 24 or Lost are 6 days behind that means I'm going to be behind my American friends 86% of the time during the year, and the fun of speculating and gossiping with other fans on fan forums is largely lost to you.

I also find Itunes frustrating because you can't top up your episodes by buying the DVD features for download. I have to buy the set separately, effectively paying for episodes twice. Why not sell the DVD extras for download too?

The irony is I'd very happily pay more if the circumstances were right. Compared to a pack of cigarettes, a decent magazine or a 22-page comic, £1.89 for a 45m episode (£2.50 in HD) isn't a bad value vice.

Instead of one-price-fits all, what about charging a premium to own an episode the week of its global release. I think you'd see a lot of bubble shows with cult followings really mop up from a system like this.

And instead of interrupting my viewing with annoying ads, offer me cashback on my purchases in exchange for me watching a series of ads and answering a pop quiz after. I'll even tell you when you're barking up the wrong tree because I don't even drive, when I may be in the market for a new laptop, and when I'm off to the supermarket and wouldn't mind being recommended a good pasta sauce. Whereas I couldn't remember a single ad that's played on Sci-Fi offhand because I mute it and put the kettle on or check my e-mail.
I'm another who will be reluctantly BitTorrent-ing Dollhouse in a few weeks. I just can't wait until they air the (badly dubbed) version here in Spain and the DVD isn't released until next month. I don't feel guilty about it though as I know I'll buy the second season, just like I'll buy the first. Also as an extreme spoiler-phobe I would have to avoid the internet* for 6-12 months, as I used to do when they stopped airing Angel in Ireland and I had to wait for the DVDs.


*er, well, just this site and a few others.
The difference between the UK and the US network market is that we shows shows all year round. Our channels seem to fit in both US cable and network shows as well as UK productions. It must be hard, especially since the pricing is no doubt extortionate. Sky1 are probably the smartest network airing US shows. They must have some solid sci-fi fans working for them as well. I give kudos to the BBC trying to compete as well, by showing Heroes just a few days after its originally aired (I do find it funny that BBC have to show all the seasons, because its in their contract with NBC, even though its ratings are pretty terrible. No, BBC, its not the next Lost). Every single show I watch, I watch behind time, or recorded. I've been round houses and watching some stuff live and I find adverts utterly repulsive. I'm surprised a considerable amount of people still watch it. Thank the Skies for Sky+.

I do download shows, but only shows that will never be watched in my house. A lot of shows I watch when they are aired. I waited for Dollhouse in the UK for christ's sake. I'd take talking about the latest episode of Fringe or Lost with my mate over talking about it on a chat-room or forum (which, obviously, I also do). That, also, obviously applies to shows my mates or family will actually watch - So I download all The CW stuff (since I seem to watch everything on their network, excluding reality stuff) to talk about it on the 'nets. (...or, you know, I occasionally download... older shows)

To the fansub debate. I'm so for it being wrong. I'd love for FUNi to get it their way, and the community just starts to soak up the new releases on DVD instead. Of course, it would make the anime community (because its global) vanish, without a doubt. People love talking about the new episode of Haruhi (or, rather, not so much lately. Endless Eight and all). What I do find it wrong and unforgivable though is people complain when a show gets licensed for distribution. It's so childish, its good to be watching your show, but if your a fan, please buy the DVD.
I downloaded every episode of Buffy the day they aired in the US. I also watched them when they later aired on Sky in the UK and I bought all the DVDs. So who lost out?

I download TV shows and movies. But I also paid for my DVD player to be converted to multiregion so that I could buy DVDs from the US.

Seems odd that the studios are happy to screw the writers by claiming online streaming is "promotional" but when a fan downloads an episode suddenly they are complaining about all the revenue they're losing....
I think we had a very similar discussion last year during the promotion of Dr. Horrible. Maybe even further before, during all the WGA-strike thingie. Won't get deep into this, I think I already whined about the issue here and blogged about this too.

Most of the world is simply walking like 50 times faster than the execs, which brings me back for how successful The Guild distribution has become. As the new season technically already premiered, but only for a select group, but the rest get to see it with a short and brief gap in-between.

The problem is these profits are definitely not in the same league as the what they get through the "international deals". And all they're seeing that "we're technically not paying, who we shoul,d paying".
I imagine that all the UK companies that put up legal bitTorrent files to distribute their software or files would have a big issue shutting down bitTorrent across the board. Meanwhile, I doubt that any solution to target illegal content would work in the long term, any more than shutting down Napster years ago in the US stopped file sharing. Any time something is shut down or stopped, a new solution pops up elsewhere.

I think the only long term solution to copyright piracy is as others have pointed out in this thread, provide more legal options for people to download or stream content online.
Any crackdown will only send people further underground. I'm already using a VPN on my connection. Considering how easy they are to set up and for an extra 10p a day, I'd consider it a worthwhile investment.

That said, I'd never watch half of the shows I do if it wasn't for BitTorrent, and I've bought masses of them on DVD (Dexter, Middleman, Chuck, BSG, Dollhouse, The Shield, Supernatural, LOST)
There was a case recently where DVD rental operation Red Box (no stores, just vending machines in supermarkets) had their supply cut off by the studios because they were renting too cheap and Blockbuster complained.
So you have people legally renting your movies but you cut them off to try and force them to use a more expensive rival? Wonder how many of those customers went to torrents instead?

I believe that, long term, the answer is to go to the studios releasing all their movies online for maybe a dollar a copy. So cheap that most people will be happy to pay to get a legal, genuine, copy and that the millions of extra sales will more then make up for the lower price.
Far better to sell ten million copies at a dollar a throw than a hundred thousand DVDs at ten dollars and lose the rest to illegal downloads.
I have downloaded a lot. Esp in the Buffy/ Angel still on air days. But its not just because of the not wanting to get spoiled or the dubbing thing. ( and yes 99% of the dubbing in Germany sucks. You wouldnt want to see what they did to Buffy sometimes! *sighs*) Anyway for me its also because I still have my writing dream. In the US there a writing fellowships and contests for aspiring TV writers but they all want fresh spec scipts of the current season in the US. So well, no other choice really if I dont want to give up.

But honestly, often the download is good advertising for a show anyway. Esp if the show hasnt aired in the country yet. And I think the studios etc know that as well. Still the rights thing is complicated.
They keep cracking down, but more and more people watch illegally all the time. It has gotten quite mainstream (friends who are not geeks at all are using BitTorrent with ease now). I'm lucky that I'm in the US and can watch most of my shows when they are originally aired, but I am also a huge Doctor Who fan.... There is no way I'm going to wait forever (also my cable company doesn't have BBC America). I want to watch right away while people are still talking about the latest episode -- but I assuage my guilt over the illegal downloads by the fact that I will buy them on DVD -- when they are finally available on DVD.

I don't want to steal anything from anyone, but I find that I cannot resist watching it now if I can get it now.
Y'know, people love things like "viral marketing" these days, but here's the thing: if you like the idea of "spreading the virus" so that overseas people "catch the disease" of interest in your product, don't expect them to wait six months for the ultimate innoculation/cure provided when you get around to selling the overseas rights to your product.

As far as the networks, etc., go, I see a graduated scale of ability to cry foul about piracy without seeming like idiots or hypocrites, one entirely related to the routes by which they expect to be able to hype/drum up interest in their shows. Shows like Dollhouse or Torchwood are perfect examples of a model of production that knows full well its appeal, its very profitability, is from day one inextricably linked to committed and tech-savvy fandoms, fandoms that the producing and transmitting bodies very much want to use in any way possible to help build word of mouth for their shows, to buy DVD's etc, including using the net in both top down and fandom-up ways. Someone interested in producing a show that wants to reach and build upon that audience or that market is an idiot if they think they can treat their product as anything but a global product, and they are a craven idiot if they would fail to acknowledge this AND cry foul at the downloaders.** On the other hand, there are tons of shows of great quality that don't seek to tap so directly into this market, and so can roll out shows to overseas markets months and years later without a problem (for example, BBC series that pop up on PBS a year or two later.*** The main American networks are a bit in an unusual position in that they know damn well that they are in a unique position to get attention focused on their products (as an American, I can't think of the last time I saw the hype machines of TV magazine shows or Entertainment Weekly or TV guide, etc, cranked up for brand new British product as it first came out, not even the Doctor Who or Torchwood stuff, but travelling in Europe, It wasn't hard at all to feel up to date on what was coming out of the American TV production machinery without even trying). And they LIKE having that attention/marketability/license to print money, which means, I think, the onus really is on them to either aggressively work to get their stuff aired in overseas markets more or less "in real time" with American broadcasts (even if this means selling some of their stuff to the overseas networks a bit cheaper) or to shut their yaps about losing some of their market to downloading by overseas viewers.****

** and yes, I know, the ability of the hardcore and/or online fanbases to make a show succeed is limited. But limited or no, if you are producing, say, a hardcore genre show, you know damn well you are gonna be telling your marketing lemmings to make sure the genre fandoms are talking about it, and you are hoping you luck out and the genre fandom and/or net goes wild about your show. As long as that's true, ya gots ta be honest about the game you are playing.

*** Prime Suspect, for example was damned well done, but its model of production and marketing didn't depend on viral real-time net stuff, so I think even its most eager American fans were more or less content to wait for it to arrive on PBS as long as the delay didn't get too silly.

**** Consider the reverse situation: I first saw State of Play by chance on PBS when it showed up long after its initial UK broadcast, and I have enjoyed a few BBC series like "Spooks" (MI-5 over here) or "Hustle" that I found on Netflix, but I didn't feel ill-used to have seen them at several years' delay precisely because I probably would never have heard of them at all without PBS and Netflix. If, on the other hand, I couldn't walk by a newstand without seeing a dozen cover stories hyping them or their stars and was simultaneously told I would otherwise be forced to wait years to see them, I would have felt no shame at all downloading them.

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