‘Crowd’ Sticks Up For Mob

Monday, June 28 2010
‘Crowd’ Sticks Up For Mob

The IT Crowd started its latest series on Friday night (and very good it was too, one of the best Britcoms out there), but it was interesting to see comments from creator Graham Linehan here. Not that he’s pro-piracy, he says, but he is a firm believer that the current system needs to be shelved and a new one put in its place. “It’s probably not been the best thing for people to brand themselves as pirates … the image we should be concentrating on is sharing,” he says. His arguments are not always entirely crystal clear and sometimes clumsy, but where they work is in not pretending to know all the answers, as so many piracy, 0r rather filesharing, advocates and Internet warriors often do, often stating their case in in exceedingly aggressive and juvenile terms.

“The current system is broken and everybody is pretending that it’s not. Can’t we talk about this and try and come up with something that is good for everyone?” runs one line. It’s a bit simplistic and sounds like a hippy-ish anti-war mantra (“Can’t we all just get along?”), but again, it adopts a better tone than many. Again, he’s not promising answers (“It feels like you’ve bought a car and it’s not working properly. And I can’t fix the car but I can tell you when it’s fucking broken.”), but it’s interesting to see what might be a more sensible debate opening up.

There’s a slightly muddled thinking here. The public, he believes, want to cut through the marketing hype and discover things for themselves, and to be able to buy things globally on a day and date basis… “With piracy, people think it’s about getting stuff for free,” he says. “It’s not – it’s about getting rid of the middleman that stands between you and your enjoyment of the film or music.” Obviously this will take an eternity – wading through tons of self-made rubbish before potentially inadvertently stumbling across something as good as The IT Crowd. Marketing is essential to at least push or nudge you in the direction of something – even bombarded with marketing messages, hype and clutter as we are, We at The Raygun had to sift through a lot of poor sitcoms before discovering The IT Crowd (and even then, it took a few episodes to really start working and for The Raygun to “get it”.

He goes on to discuss the DVD of The IT Crowd – saying that he believes fans will download, presumably for free, and then, as fans, will go and buy he box set. Simplistic, maybe, but, yes, it could work, but it shows a heck of a lot of faith in human nature.(He doesn’t believe in pre-transmission leaks however, although curiously, The IT crowd was previewing on Channel 4’s own website ahead of its transmission…)

Elsewhere, another comic we admire, Peter Serafinowicz, expressed loosely similar sentiments here. His thinking is possibly less clear than Linehan’s, who he obviously knows, but his style is more open. He admits to illegally downloading his own shows and films he has appeared in, accepts that some pirated versions of things he is involved with creatively can act as a “calling card”. Again, he uses the argument, not necessarily backed up with facts but more from belief, that fans will go out and buy the DVD if they like it enough. He accepts that big budget shows may not be able to survive if no one buys them (yet fails to follow up that line of thinking) and even trots out the tired argument that the lengthy anti-piracy ads and trailers have driven him to illegally download promo-free product (why is everyone so down on trailers?).

His conclusion is similar to Linehan’s: something needs to be done. “I don’t understand business, but I can see that the old model needs to change. Perhaps it’ll involve direct micro-payments. Perhaps you’ll pay Apple or whoever a monthly flat fee to license all their content. Most importantly, I believe that the direct and deepening connection artists now have with their fans, be they independent bands or Hollywood talkshow hosts, will play a huge part.” He ends on a neat line – threatening to sue himself – but his witticism hides the fact that his and Linehan’s comments could be marking a change in the way “artists” view copyright.

What is interesting is the creative community, at least certain elements within the UK, are now starting to move towards this kind of thinking.

Is it borne from a deep desire to share the fruits of their labour with the public, to have their work seen?

Or is it that they don’t want to alienate their fans and potential fans by saying piracy is harming them? Internet warriors’ ire is directed towards the big corporations and money-makers. We know; we’ve read piles of this on forums and comment sections. “These big businesses won’t go bust, they’re making obscene amounts from us,” the argument runs (forgetting about the losses these people have to endure when things don’t go according to plan).

Their anger isn’t directed towards the creative community, but look at the flak Lily Allen received when she spoke out against illegal downloaders. So maybe saying that these illegal fileharers and downloaders aren’t that bad, you know, a bit like hoodies, the grown-ups don’t understand them, is the way forward. (“The world at the moment seems to be divided into the people who get it and the people who don’t, and they’re the people making the laws,” says Linehan, sticking it to the same man who pays his wages.)

Or maybe the debate really is moving to another level. Maybe we are edging ever closer to a consensus of opinion. We at The Raygun just stumbled across these two articles within days of each other and it struck us as perhaps signifying a shift in the debate.

What actually happens remains to be seen. Serafinowicz has just released a DVD of his series, while The IT Crowd will be coming out later this year, so they themselves aren’t necessarily changing the business model yet, they’re still taking money from our industry.

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