Hollywood Whines About Mandatory Release Windows (Which They Used To Support) Fueling Piracy

from the hypocrites-all-around dept

This is all kinds of hilarious if you’re aware of the history of the Motion Picture Association (MPA), formerly the MPAA. Basically, the group’s entire existence has been built around lobbying government for ever more ridiculous laws that protect the bottom line of the movie studios. In the late aughts, the studios decided they needed to fight for special “release windows” to make it harder for people to rent movies (this was the pre-streaming, DVD era).

Specifically, Hollywood had a pretty clear release window schedule (we’ll leave aside how the industry fought the existence of a “home” movie market all the way up to the Supreme Court, where they lost): movies get released in theaters. Many months later, DVDs (and VHS tapes) would be available to purchase at inflated prices. Many months after that, you could finally rent them at your local rental store. The issue in the late aughts was that a new entrant, Redbox, was bucking that last window by buying the DVDs… and just renting them out, relying on the first sale doctrine.

And, hoo boy, did the movie studios lose their shit. 20th Century Fox declared Redbox a menace and ordered its wholesalers not to sell to the company. Redbox and Universal went to court after Universal demanded Redbox wait 45 days after DVDs were released for sale to rent them. Warner Bros. then blocked Redbox (and Netflix, long before Netflix became a member of the MPA) as well. The studios insisted that these windows were vital to their own business interests.

How things have changed.

DVDs are now relics. Streaming rules the day. Netflix is a member of the MPA and one of the biggest “studios” around.

And… now, the MPA is freaked out about release windows. And how they might increase piracy. Gee, that kinda sounds like the thing we talked about a decade ago, when we pointed out that all these release windows that the studios demanded, were contributing to piracy.

So I find it absolutely hilarious that, as reported by TorrentFreak, the MPA is fuming at laws in France and Italy (almost certainly pushed for by theater owners) that require mandatory release windows. The MPA filed its usual overwrought list of concerns about “trade barriers” (historically, this has always been “copyright laws that are too weak”) to the US Trade Rep (USTR). And these mandatory release windows are part of their concerns.

In France, where the ridiculous “media chronology law” was recently updated so that streaming services had to wait 15 to 17 months after a theatrical release to stream a film (before that it had been three years). But now the MPA is suddenly concerned that these laws lead to piracy there:

Release Windows – France mandates the chronology of how cinematographic content is released. The media chronology was last updated in January 2022. However, several international and local stakeholders have argued that the chronology lacks flexibility, that the mandated release windows are too long, and that such windows exacerbate piracy. There are ongoing discussions to re-update the media chronology.

They’re similarly concerned about a release window law in Italy, which is currently at 90 days and is looking to extend it:

Release Windows – In 2022, the Italian government considered extending a 90-day mandatory release window to all theatrical films, including foreign productions. The Italian government introduced a mandatory window for Italian subsidized motion pictures in 2018. MPA is concerned about the impact of such an extension on a broad scale, as this mandatory window would have serious repercussions on producers’ ability to adequately market their works. It remains unclear at this stage if the new government elected in October 2022 will further pursue plans to regulate theatrical release windows.

So, everyone agrees with the MPA here that these mandatory release windows are really, really silly, and serve no one’s interests but theater owners’. But I find it pretty rich that the MPA is running around calling these “trade barriers” when it was just over a decade ago that they were fighting for the same sort of release windows, when they (falsely) believed they benefited the studios.

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Comments on “Hollywood Whines About Mandatory Release Windows (Which They Used To Support) Fueling Piracy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

DVDs are now relics.

Indeed they are. Relics of a time when you actually owned the movies that you bought, that you could watch whenever you wanted, on whatever hardware you could get to play it.

Nowdays, you are at the mercy of whatever streaming service, or DRM-locked file download site you get them from, for however long they allow you to watch them (or retain them on the device you downloaded them to).

Not everything about the old days was bad.

FeRDNYC (profile) says:


And that’s what the MPA will never understand about piracy, and why they’ll never get anywhere trying to fight it: Pirates don’t just get something for free, they get a BETTER PRODUCT than the official studio releases.

Forget the money, the money is irrelevant. Even for someone who has all the money in the world — especially for those people, in fact — what scenario is preferable?

  1. You settle for watching whatever random, incomplete smattering of content you can find on various streaming services; have to use their janky player/app; get subjected to poorly upscaled, weirdly framed, or blockily-digitized conversions of older content; and you’re forced to cram your viewing opportunities into arbitrary availability windows dictated by the provider’s latest spin of the catalog roulette wheel, because if it’s relatively obscure content and you miss this chance, there’s no way of knowing when — or even if — another one might come along.
  2. Or, you obtain a lovingly curated library of the complete works, including any ancillary or supplemental content from past releases that the studios decided to just leave out this time; it’s all stored in file formats optimized for viewability instead of commercialization; everything is presented at the highest technical quality obtainable (a bar that’s constantly being raised by superior replacements, which are immediately available should you choose to upgrade); the presentation includes the complete set of scenes/episodes, all in correct order, as determined by consensus within the fan community, instead of arbitrarily shuffled around at the whims of some marketing intern; your viewing is never interrupted by an unskippable copyright harangue or a ten-minute-plus block of trailers/ads clumsily staple-gunned onto the beginning, end, middle, or (D) all of the above; and you can view whatever you want, anytime, anywhere, and using whatever device and/or software you choose; …oh, yeah, and no credit card required, unlike the alternative where you’re afforded the privilege of paying handomely for their massively inferior product. (“Lucky you!”)

Watching the MPA and its members whine about piracy in one breath, then use their very next to announce some latest innovation in delivering an even less satisfactory product… I don’t think that’ll ever get old. #HILAAAIRZ

bhull242 (profile) says:

I actually agree with the MPA for once.

…That felt weird to say.

Anyways, yes, I agree that these release windows contribute to piracy. Many copyright holders and copyright maximalists fail to realize that a lot of people who turn to piracy don’t do so because they are unwilling to get a legitimate copy through legitimate means. It’s not even necessarily the case that they do not have the money to pay for it (though that can be the case for some or for cases where a legitimate copy is prohibitively expensive). Often, they do so because it is not available in a manner that works for them. Some people don’t like theaters or are unable to go to theaters, so they pirate movies during that release window.

It’s really just common sense, as literally the only ones who benefit from release windows are the theaters themselves, and whenever the consumer is inhibited or inconvenienced by such a self-serving measure, piracy will increase. I’m just glad that the MPA is finally understanding the problem, though it’s likely that the pandemic is what made them realize just how problematic release windows are for them.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Alamo Drafthouse

The Alamo Drafthouse (in the US) offers such a great experience for watching movies that they also have their cinematic back catalog available on special nights. Also, Fathom Events has special events for watching old (or older) movies at traditional movie theaters.

Maybe I’m just lucky I live in a media capital (NYC).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If I didn’t go to film festivals, it would have been several years since the last time I went to the cinema, and I used to go several times a week.

A lot of this is physical location (I currently live 20ish mins from the nearest cinema, or an hour via public transport), some is due to the vagaries of where I live and personal preference combined with cinema management (I hate dubbed movies so while I am willing to watch Spanish language movies where I live in Spain, I don’t wish to watch a movie in a different language dubbed as is common here. There are screenings of original language with Spanish subs, but these are often at inconvenient times).

I realise that my situation is relatively unique on a global scale, but that means that there’s tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of viewers underserved in my general area, so blocking them from paying while the pirates let them watch whatever they want is insanity.

I’d kill for an Alamo or similar nearby, but for the moment going to the cinema is an effort and extra expense I’d rather save for going to festivals to support independents than spend 4x what I’d ultimately pay to rent the movie when I’m finally deemed worthy enough to have the offer.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

With point one, cinemas claim that simultaneous releases kill their business. Which might have more to do with the environment provided by those venues, the lack of control of the auditoriums and lack of projection quality control than whether a film is available elsewhere, but there is a small amount of truth to it. But, if your cinema is going to go out of business unless your suppliers block anyone else from accessing the product, it’s clear that your cinema has no additional appeal and maybe you deserve to go out of business.

World wide releases are more common than they used to be, but the industry still makes a lot of money by parcelling up the world and selling regions piecemeal, which obviously results in piracy (for example, while movies released by Fox and screened on Hulu in the US such as Prey and Barbarian went to Disney+ outside the US, the new Hellraiser is nowhere to be found because they distributors only did a US deal. Most people I know have seen the movie now, even though there’s still no news of a release where I am. Some people used a VPN to bypass restrictions and paid. Some didn’t.)

John Robinson says:

A humble correction

In the VHS days, tapes were initially released at super-expensive prices (~$75 – $95) by wholesalers, for video rental retailers. The (absurd) idea was that studios would get a cut of rental profit. Then, as you said, many months later (and sometimes never) the price would drop to anywhere between $17 – $30 for consumer purchase.This was called “sell-through.”

DVDs were released first at “sell-through” prices — to be purchased directly — and after they proved to be a hit, distributors tried exactly once to go back to the inflated prices for rental retailers. Obviously, it didn’t work, and rental stores just skipped that release (it might have been a couple titles).

Trade catalogs would regularly try to frame release windows as beneficial to rental shops, with pitches like “90-day PPV!!” (90 days from home video release until availablity on pay-per-view).

PaulT (profile) says:

Well, they’re sort of correct, in that if a person is being artificially blocked from paying for the thing they want to watch, they will seek out alternative means to access it, with zero moral issue since their offer to pay was refused.

If you wish to reduce the piracy effect from these windows, try considering “yes please” when someone asks to pay, and not the traditional “maybe we’ll think about it in a few months”. Not everyone can (or will)make it to the cinema, some people are still willing to pay for digital purchase or physical media, and are asking to pay. If you turn them down because you think you get more money from other people, don’t whine when you turned down the offer.

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