Sunday, April 28, 2013

Editorial: Watching Out-of-Production, Unavailable, or Hard-to-Get Films on YouTube: Illegal? Unethical?

Full-length films are starting to show up across YouTube as piracy continues to soar at an all-time high. The films - uploaded by users - range from the latest blockbusters to the most adored classics. I don't support piracy in most cases and this topic isn't supposed to be taken as an advertisement - I don't want you to rush over to YouTube to check out their selection. I want to discuss the viewing of out-of-production, unavailable, or hard-to-get films using this method. Do you think it's illegal? Unethical?

Most of the time, it will be considered illegal - someone likely has to own the rights to the film and likely didn't release it for free. However, there will be occasional cases where the film will be legal to watch. For example, a public domain film, like Nosferatu, can be watched by anyone.The main discussion of this article is morality and ethics of viewing the films you cannot purchase. These films are available on an extremely popular, mainstream website - almost anyone can find and watch these films, without even having to sign-in. So, should you feel dirty, or guilty, for watching these films?

Although some OOP films can be purchased (usually at ridiculously high prices), what about the films that were never released. For example, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a 2006 horror film, has never been released, but it has been uploaded on YouTube. Is it unethical to watch this film? On one hand, it's 2013 and the film has not been released nor does it have a planned release. On the other hand, plans always change and by watching it, you may devalue the film for yourself - in turn, causing the company to lose money due to piracy. Ju-on: The Curse and Ju-on: The Curse 2 - the original films before Ju-On: The Grudge - are other notable examples of films that are out-of production/unreleased and unattainable, unless you watch them on YouTube or download from other sources. Should we be punished for watching these films?

Also, the issue of region locking comes to mind. There are many films that have been released exclusively in specific regions. This has stopped many customers from purchasing and consumers from watching many foreign films, unless you're one of the few that own a region-free DVD or Blu-ray player. A notable example of this is Noroi: The Curse, a film I've wanted to watch for years. It's on YouTube and I haven't watched it yet as I hope it gets a proper, high-quality release in Region 1/A format. I believe the very promising Thailand horror film, Alone, also had a release in the foreign market and does not have a release date for the Region 1/A market. Both films are region-locked and would have to be imported to watch. Would it really be illegal or unethical to watch these films? I love supporting the filmmakers and genres I love, but what if they don't let me?

Watching out-of-productions, unattainable films on YouTube: should it be frowned upon? Is it our drive for instant gratification - that is, we can't wait for a domestic or re-release of the film - that should be examined or even blamed? Should YouTube be partly responsible for the availability of these films? I'd really like to get a wider view on this subject, so please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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