Yahoo China search results for our film in 2010


Piracy is OK, until it’s not

When our film And Then Came Lola was released in 2010, illegal copies were easy to find on Chinese video websites like the Youku.  Search results (shown left and below) listed dozens of links to websites where you could find the full movie streaming (with subtitles).  DMCA  notices we sent were routinely ignored.

Search results showing dozens of pirated copies of our film on Chinese websites

Search results showing dozens of pirated copies of our film on Chinese websites

Now, nearly four years later, it appears that these Chinese websites that once overlooked illegal uploads are changing their tune–at least according to this Reuters story:

Advertisers willing to put money on legal content, and the popularity of online video, have also provided incentives: China’s online video market is expected to grow by more than a third this year and see annual revenues of 12.3 billion yuan ($2 billion), according to data from Beijing-based Internet research firm iResearch.

Youku’s shift demonstrates a oft-overlooked truism about copyright–attitudes about its importance are often in the eye of the beholder.  For those who denigrate copyright enforcement as antiquated and unworkable, it’s worth looking at the issue from the creator’s (or licensee’s) perspective.  When that happens attitudes can shift quickly–and not just for companies.

When Instagram attempted to change its terms of service to “sell users’ photos without payment or notification,” its users were outraged and and posted comments like:

You DO NOT have permission to use my stuff just because it’s hosted on your servers,”

My photos will not sell without my knowledge and compensation.  I spend time on my pictures.” 

Instagram changes tuneThe company’s co-found Kevin Systrom, quickly issued a “Thankyou, we’re listening” mea culpa:

The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things like advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.

Ownership Rights Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.

I always want you to feel comfortable sharing your photos on Instagram and we will always work hard to foster and respect our community and go out of our way to support its rights.

Bottom line, and hyperbole aside, whether it be a huge Chinese corporation or an individual Instagram user, when something’s at stake, copyright matters.