The Fox News All Pirate Review.

This morning, a brief moment of culture shock when I read that Fox News’s Roger Friedman was fired for downloading, and reviewing, a copy of the yet-to-be-released summer blockbuster,  Wolverine. If my American readers don’t feel similar shock at this relatively minor news, I suspect that – unlike me – they haven’t spent most of the decade in a country, and an expatriate media environment, where media piracy is socially acceptable. Just how acceptable? Well, for as long as I can remember, most of the English-language expatriate magazines in China have included reviews of the pirate DVDs widely available here. For example, the April 2-15 issue of City Weekend (a publication for which I’ve freelanced in the past) includes a sidebar column named “STREET DVDS – The best discs from the streets of Shanghai” with reviews of Revolutionary Road, Defiance, and Watchmen. City Weekend is no fly-by-night outfit, either: owned by Swiss publishing conglomerate Ringier, it claims qualified circulation of 95,000.

So let this particular incident, and the astonishment which I suspect it engenders in other expatriates (not to mention, China’s vast and enthusiastic pirated film base), serve as an interesting marker for Hollywood as it assesses China’s potential for media priced as if it’s being sold in Manhattan (I’ve written about this topic, elsewhere). And, in solidarity with Roger Friedman (who, from my reading, sounds like a real piece of work), I’ve just gone downstairs to buy a copy of Wolverine, and I’ll offer my review in coming days. Take that, Rupert Murdoch!

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And if that wasn’t clear enough: for the record, I find nothing wrong with reviewing pirated DVDs.

[UPDATE 04/08 – Hugh Jackman says that he’s “heartbroken” by the piracy of the film. That may be the case. I don’t know. But I bet he’s not heartbroken by all of the publicity being generated by the piracy story. If not for Roger Friedman, who, other than (the very large community of) Wolverine aficionados, would be talking about the film at this point?]

10 comments

  1. Adam is always welcome at Ringier events! For a long time we only reviewed officially released DVDs. Problem with that was there is very few legally available DVDs in China and all our competitors were reviewing anything. Ironically our own content is pirated by a range of publications and companies. In China it is very difficult to build a business based around IPR.

  2. Hi Tim – Really pleased you stopped by, and hope that you didn’t take this post as a shot across the bow, or anything like that. As I said, I see nothing wrong with reviewing pirated DVDs, and I merely used Ringier as a convenient example of how commomplace it is here.

  3. Who is Roger Cohen? Roger Friedman??

    I can understand a casual attitude toward piracy, esp if you live in China, but shouldn’t a professional author (esp. one who gripes about big media failing to attribute blog sources) find *something* wrong with reviewing pirated DVDs? I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t do it at all, but perhaps the hard working people who created that content should deserve some sort of acknowledgment.

    Just a general question to no one in particular, but why do so many media types fall all over themselves to scoff at antipiracy efforts? There’s got to be a little balance, IMO, and it seems downright self destructive for a writer to disparage copyright.

  4. Joe – Good set of questions probably worth another post or two. For now, a couple of observations.

    I think there’s two issues at play here: attribution, and compensation. I’m all for IP creators receiving attribution for their work, and obviously, a review of a created work – whether pirated or not – provides that attribution. You rightfully point out that I’ve railed against big media for not attributing this blog when they should have. But – aside from one notable instance (are you listening Douglas Todd?), that wasn’t a call for compensation.

    So, compensation. I’ve lived on fees and royalties since I was in my early twenties, so I well appreciate the need to for creators to receive payment. And, no doubt, someone who watches a pirated film in the US will – most likely – deny that creator a royalty (assuming that the viewer won’t then decide to go buy the DVD or pay for a movie ticket). The problem is, due to government restrictions, most creators don’t have a legal means of presenting their IP to the Chinese market, and the Chinese audience (and the expatriate audience in China) doesn’t have a means of obtaining that IP outside of piracy. So long as that situation persists, I think of piracy in China as a largely victimless crime (at least, insofar as the pirated films aren’t available in legal form). But I realize that I won’t convince everyone with that argument.

    This is getting a bit long, so I’ll leave it here and promise to post on the subject, at length, soon. By the way – thanks for pointing out the Friedman/Cohen mix-up. Correction made, much to the amusement of my Jewish grandmother – who got the news via phone (happy passover!).

  5. If you are being charge $100 for a dvd movie, would you buy it. A official dvd cost about 25 yuan, and a pirated dvd cost 5 yuan.

  6. Sean – That’s the point that I’ve made in other places. The movie studios need to adjust their pricing to the China market. They’re starting to do it, but there’s still a long way to go.

  7. Tim, it is indeed very difficult to build a business based around IPR; unless it happens to be based around helping others enforce their intellectual property rights.

    Adam, I couldn’t agree with you more on the need for the studios to adjust their pricing in China. Not exactly the same, but I think the move by Google to offer some free music downloads is a practical step in the right direction that addresses the same issues.

  8. I’m having trouble feeling sympathetic for Roger Friedman because the man writes for Fox News. X-Men Origins is produced by Twentieth Century Fox. You mean Friedman couldn’t get access to an advanced screening like every other movie reviewer on the planet? And why would you brag about purchasing a pirated DVD — which is illegal in the U.S. — via a big media outlet such as Fox News? Not a very strategic move on Friedman’s part. He couldn’t consult with an editor first and ask, “Hey, what happens if I write about purchasing a pirated DVD of a movie that has not been released yet in theaters?”

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