Piracy - Eba
It’s well known that Spain has a problem with internet piracy, but the sound of multinational corporations complaining about sales is falling on deaf ears, too far away to distract someone downloading a Hollywood movie or a CD here in Barcelona.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in March 2010, Michael Lynton, the chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said “People are downloading movies in such large quantities that Spain is on the brink of no longer being a viable home entertainment market for us.” Such attitudes suggest that Spain could soon follow the fate of South Korea, which has seen film distributors withdraw from the country because of its rampant piracy.
File sharing of films and music across the internet is not illegal in Spain if it isn’t done for profit and the habit has, in the last couple of years, proliferated here to extraordinary levels, with knock-on effects for the shops on Barcelona’s streets and the artists who sing in the city’s clubs.
Eba Peransi is a Catalan artist who has been singing professionally for the last 10 years and has recently begun playing shows around Spain. “There’s no greater hope than for an artist to know that their music is heard, but the problem [with piracy] is that artists must continue investing in their art, which requires a team working with them: other musicians, technicians...” More pressure is being put on live concerts to recoup the investment that is required to produce an album, and while Peransi is able to see how illegal downloads may expose her music to potential audiences, it’s certainly nice when someone buys a CD. “We are a self-funded group, so selling CDs is an important part of our future.”
If Eba wants to sell her album at Revolver, one of the record shops lining Carrer Tallers, she may have to release a vinyl copy. The record section at Revolver is one of the few bright spots at the 20-year-old store, which has weathered declining sales over the last six years. The last two have been especially bad. “The way people consume music has changed,” explained Jordi Jover Gavilan, a manager at Revolver for eight years. “Free music on the internet has allowed people to forget that behind an album is the work of an artist…the music industry has been sacrificed —the government has ignored this problem and hasn’t legislated on these matters.”
The recent plight of Revolver mirrors that of CD Drome, says Albert Salinas, an employee at the latter for four years. “We had some very good years even in 2006,” Salinas said on a recent Saturday evening. “In 2008, sales started declining and 2009 and 2010 have been really bad for us. On most Saturdays it would be full in here. Look around now—we’re empty.”
Piracy hasn’t only affected music. La Papaya Verde Video Club is an independent rental store that boasts a customer database
of almost 18,000. However, Zaida, sister of the owner, says that can be misleading: “In the past our normal customers came in, for example, five times a month. Now they come in once.” Like CD Drome and Revolver, Zaida agrees 2008 was when things got significantly worse.
According to Nielsen NetRatings, internet usage in Spain jumped nearly 23 percent between 2006 and 2008. Then the global financial crisis started in September 2008. “People still want to listen to music and to watch movies,” said Albert Salinas. “But now they don’t have as much money to spend, so they download them.” Compounding the crisis, says Jordi Jover Gavilan, is that music companies haven’t lowered prices. “They maintain a very expensive product instead of prices closer to social reality.” Economic upheaval combined with the growing availability of broadband, which has put popular file-sharing sites at the fingertips of 27 million Spaniards, contributed to an environment where piracy now flourishes.
The most recent attempt to regulate internet downloads came during a vote by the Spanish Congressional Economics Committee on December 21st, 2010, regarding the proposed Ley Sinde, part of a bigger piece of legislation known as the Ley de Economía Sostenible. The Sinde Law would have forced Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to share information about sites suspected of violating intellectual property rights. A new governmental commission created by the Sinde Law would have reviewed each site and forced the ISPs to block those which violate rights.
However, Sinde was finally defeated in a very close vote, 20-18, so file-sharing sites have gained a reprieve, although it may be temporary. The Spanish Senate took up the debate last month and it’s possible a provision similar to Sinde may gather enough support to sneak back into the legislation.
In the grand scheme of things, the financial impact of a single person downloading a single movie may be small. But millions of people downloading millions of movies? According to an industry report by Tera Consultants, 2008 saw Spain lose €413 million and €675 million due to piracy of music and film, respectively. The country lost over 13,000 jobs specific to production and distribution of music and film. And all these numbers are expected to rise as consumer internet traffic increases.
Jordi Jover Gavilan is attempting to offset such losses at Revolver by boosting sales of t-shirts and other merchandise, holding more sales and cutting stock. “Decreased sales have already forced us to reduce our inventory—we can’t carry as many international artists now, and we’ve dropped from six employees to three over the last couple of years,” Albert Salinas observed.
Things aren’t all doom and gloom, however. Elisa Lupion has been a manager at the Renoir Floridablanca cinema for the past nine years and says that her audiences numbers haven’t changed significantly. She points to two reasons. Firstly, the experience; it’s nigh on impossible for most people to duplicate the huge screen and surround sound of the cinema when watching a pirated movie on a computer. Second, are the cinema’s selections. “We don’t concentrate on mainstream movies, although sometimes we have one or two. We show more independent films. The cinemas that focus on the commercial movies are seeing a decline because their audience isn’t as dedicated. Our films generally appeal to a certain group of people, and they’re the ones who are coming in every month.”
This niche approach is clearly important in offsetting the impact of piracy. Txaro García Rivera and David Cabrera have operated Ciclic Video Club for the past five years, and in September 2010 they upgraded to a larger store to accommodate their library of over 6,000 videos. While García admits they’ve been affected by downloading and the crisis in the last two years, it has been less than expected, partially because customers from smaller clubs that have closed have migrated to Ciclic. “People still rent movies for the quality of the image and for the ease of watching them in original version,” said García, “and because of their conscience. It’s also for the experience: customers come into the store to interact with other customers and to explore.” In a move similar to that taken at the Renoir Floridablanca, she hasn’t focused solely on Hollywood blockbusters. “We’ve got a huge variety—the popular new releases, sure, but there’s an entire section devoted to international directors. We stock documentaries, animation, video art…there’s something for everyone here, and our inventory is a big reason for our success.”
The majority of the people that Metropolitan spoke with remain cautiously optimistic about the future, even with the uncertainty of downloading and the lingering global financial crisis hanging over them. Elisa Lupion believes as long as her cinema continues to show quality movies there will be a paying audience. Eba Peransi will continue to perform and release music, hopefully having many opportunities to sign a CD for a fan, a moment which she describes as one of the best in the world. Albert Salinas believes CD Drome will last, partly because companies are becoming more innovative by offering extras such as MP3 downloads with the purchase of albums, and partly because the shop offers music for DJs as well as customers who want to pick up the latest indie record. Zaida, who has watched most of the movies in Papaya Verde, shares Salinas’s sentiments: “I think our store will survive because of our selection, personality, and because people still like to browse.”
No one thinks piracy is going away, but there is an impact behind it. Every click of the mouse on the ‘Download File’ button affects someone: a shopkeeper, a delivery truck driver, an artist. As Eba Peransi said, “I think it’s most important that people like our music above all else, but every legal download or every CD sold is a gesture of support for our project.”