Australia is the latest in a long list of countries to ban Pirate Bay, one of the many illegal download portals that have allegedly placed the profits of the entertainment industry into soup strainer for the last few decades.
The court ruling, delivered on Thursday, was the first legal action taken to the Federal Court under the Copyright Amendment (online infringement) Act passed by Parliament last year, the victorious companies being Village Roadshow, Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal, Sony, Disney and 21st Century Fox, and Foxtel, the losers being The Pirate Bay, Torrent Hound, IsoHunt and SolarMovie, with rolling injunctions in place to catch new domains as they spring up.
But the ruling raises more questions than it answers about the illegality of today’s culture of sharing, and the limits to which intellectual property can or should be protected.
It is not known, for example, what the courts of the world presume to do about VPN (Virtual Private Network), which has long been used to circumvent internet blocking initiatives and will no doubt continue to do so.
Nor is it known what the court intends to do about the cassette tape, the blank CD and USB stick; the eye-patch, cutlass and parrot of the intellectual-property pirate.
But more prevailing than any of these ills is the “spoiler”, the revelation of an important plot point or climax that can ruin a film or TV program for one who doesn’t wish to know. Spoilers are in the air, in print, and sometimes even in the stupid trailers and promotional posters the film companies themselves use to market their films. Whole sites exist wherein spoilers are the currency that brings visitors to the shop, and even terrorists have begun using spoilers as the latest weapon against infidels in the west. There seems to be no legal or moral limit on how a spoiler can be trafficked.
Yet spoilers cause unknown damage to the entertainment industry. While it’s impossible to calculate box office losses due to big-mouthed gossips who spill the beans, Hollywood clearly takes the matter seriously enough to insist on cast and crew members signing non-disclosure agreements, with heavy penalties awaiting those who blab to the media. Despite desperate attempts by some to claim that spoilers actually enhance the viewing experience (which is a bit like arguing surprise parties are better when the guest of honour is tipped off), a recent study showed that spoilers significantly decrease the enjoyment of a film, which is bad news, surely, for any industry that relies so heavily on word-of-mouth promotion.
Some spoil films out of spite, because they know it hurts. The late, great Roger Ebert argued that many critics deliberately spoil films that don’t pander to their particular moral or political agendas. “The outcome of the movie does not match their beliefs,” he wrote. “They object to it. That is their right. To engage in a campaign to harm the movie for those who may not agree with them is another matter.”
Aside from the damage spoilers do to business, they also result in non-punitive damage to individuals.
“For some people, the events that happen in Star Wars or Game of Thrones become important moments in their lives,” Kyle Vierow, CEO of Silver City Movies and Games, told me recently. “They become so invested in a show that those fictional events have the same importance to them as a birthday or a first date – they remember those moments as happening, as being crucial moments in their lives. So when someone blows one of those moments for them, it’s serious. They’ve taken something from them that they’ll never get back.”
Game of Thrones might be the most spoiled TV program in history, and producers HBO have been known to legally threaten spoilsports, going so far as to take down a YouTube video of a dude who did little more than dress up as a Mexican wrestler while discussing what would happen in an upcoming episode. Ironically, the TV show itself has been accused of spoiling, Chris Jager at Gizmodo arguing that the TV series is actually spoiling George R.R. Martin’s books, HBO filming plot arcs they know to be in Martin’s head but which haven’t yet appeared in print. “If you're an avid reader of A Song of Ice and Fire, it's time to decide which you love more: the show or the books,” wrote Jager. “Forget about winter. Spoilers are coming — and they suck”!
Of course, none of this explains how Game of Thrones can be the most illegally downloaded show in history while at the same time breaking viewer subscription records. Perhaps it’s the case that the potentiality of spoilers is what drives people to see the show as soon as possible, before some nerd can ruin it for them.
If that is the case then the banning of Pirate Bay might itself have been a spoiler.
Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.