Online piracy is not a victimless crime

A couple weeks ago the New York Times published a profile of Hana Beshara, founder of the notorious pirate web emporium known as NinjaVideo.   The site was shuttered in 2010 and Ms. Beshara, who pocketed around $200,000 from her enterprise was sentenced to 22 months in prison for conspiracy and criminal copyright infringement.  She was released last year after serving 16 months and, according to the Times piece:

She acknowledges that some of her colleagues were upset when they learned she received much of the profit from NinjaVideo, but says it wasn’t out of line with her role as the voice of the site. “People took issue with the fact that I got paid,” she said. At any rate, in her opinion, the money was insignificant. To this day, she argues that the movie business is so big that skimming a little off the top doesn’t hurt anybody. She likes to say that NinjaVideo was operating in a “gray area.”

Characterizing the business of online piracy for profit as a “gray area” may be how thieves like Ms. Beshara rationalize their criminality, but in reality it’s theft–and because it’s theft–that means there ARE victims.

These  actual victims of online piracy were pretty much ignored in the NY Times piece, but thankfully , a writer for AMC’s and Netflix’s “The Killing” provided some perspective in a guest column published this week in Variety.  Ms. Prestwich pointed out that piracy’s damage extends far beyond the front offices in Hollywood.

When Hana made a TV episode available for free on her website, that was worth the equivalent of thousands of downloads that weren’t watched on a legal site. And when that happened, the entire production team that collectively created the content was adversely impacted – from the most junior production assistant on up. All positions within the hierarchy became devalued.