Wednesday, September 08, 2010

follow the money... out of the creators' pockets and into Google's

Thanks to Chris Castle over at the Music Technology Policy blog for pointing me in the direction of Ellen Seidler. Ms. Seidler is a journalist and independent film maker in San Francisco, and one of the producers of the indie film And Then Came Lola. In an interview with Castle, Seidler describes her film as "a lesbian comedy/romp," and sets its price tag at about a quarter of a million dollars, all raised as independent financing through bank loans and credit card debt.

The film has found a remarkably large audience for such a low budget indie, and lots of money is being made. The problem, somewhat predictably, is that it's not Seidler and her fellow producers - the ones who actually laid out the cash to make the film - who are earning from it.

Who is making money from And Then Came Lola? Pirate websites and those who sell ads on them, most notably... Google. And Then Came Lola was pirated and started showing up on the torrent sites and web lockers almost immediately upon release. Check out the short video below, in which Seidler tracks down the illicit streams of her film online and attempts to have them removed. It's depressing.

You'll note that Seidler has decided not to do cartwheels about the fact that the pirate websites and Google are providing free marketing and promotion for her film, and spreading it virally to a much larger audience than she might ever have expected through conventional distribution. Instead, she focuses on the fact that while fantastic technology for web distribution of independent films clearly exists, and folks are clearly making money from this creative product, the creators themselves are shut out of the revenue streams.

On her own blog, Pop-Up Pirates, Seidler documents her campaign to contact the companies advertising on her intellectual property.
In the scheme of things, our successful (highly-pirated) little indie film is a mere drop in the piracy bucket–we are one among thousands. Collectively this tainted revenue is significant as is the harm done to those whose work is being stolen with the mere click of a mouse.

Certainly companies with the technological capacity (and robust balance sheets) of Google can afford to turn some attention to this issue. If these companies can offer ad placement based on cached cookies and metadata, why can’t they vet the websites where their ads appear?

Seidler was recently interviewed on National Public Radio about the issue of advertising on piracy websites. You can hear the interview at this link.

The Music Technology Policy interview ends with a chilling quote. Asked if her experience of being pirated might influence future decisions to independently finance films, Seidler responds:
"Well there's no way financially I could do it, nor would I want to."

And in case you happened to have seen And Then Came Lola without having actually purchased the DVD from its creators, and are feeling a little less morally justified about having done so, Ms. Seidler is offering you an opportunity to feel better about yourself again. See below:


Unknown said...

Ah, but you didn't mention that Chris is a lawyer who works for the 'Entertainment Industry'.

I'm not saying that he shouldn't have an opinion. I just like to see disclosure.

FYI, I have my own small recording studio, so yes, I have an interest too, and yes, I disagree with Chris.

Jennanne said...

I have no idea why the Mad Hatter chose to post a comment that had virtually nothing to do with the article above, since the interview subject is Ellen Seidler, not Chris Castle. I'll stick to the issue and post that I find it absolutely galling that everyone seems to be getting rich off this film except for the people who actually created, funded, produced, directed and performed in it. The unfathomable greed of people who believe they can simply take what they want and worse, make money from it, is truly repellent.

Gruesome said...

I think you've learned something from your sensational headline writing.
I knew you were good at editorial license.
The headline has google but does she also not mention Sony(rather ironic as a member of the mpaa)

Ya I know, none of these guys have the resources to ensure their advertisements aren't on cyber lockers for streaming movies.

Gruesome said...

don't get me wrong, I do have some sympathy for what happened.
But.. there's always a but
other than stories about the misfortune of this movie, I'd never heard of it and I can't find a legal venue on line to view it.
Netflix is coming and perhaps that will fill some void in the delivery of these films to those willing to pay but if you can't get your film in front of your audience what do you expect?

John said...

I'm not sure what either The Mad Hatter or Gruesome's comments have to do with the central issue of the posting.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I'd say nothing.


Gruesome said...

Hmmm perhaps I wasn't clear, john uses Google int he headline with follow the money in an article related to money flowing from illegal sites. However, Ms. Seidler clearly makes the same accusations against the companies mentioned above but for some reason absent from John's article.
You're right nothing to do with the central issue, just the bias

John said...


I don't think I've ever been opaque about my "bias" on the issue of copyright. I believe in protecting rightsholders. To me, that's the point of copyright.

Furthermore, I believe copyright is a bundle of important individual rights, and that separating creators from users is a false dichotomy, since anyone seriously interacting with the Act is both creator and user at once.

I am completely sympathetic to Ms. Seidler in her dilemma, and excuse no-one who is making money from her work through association with infringing practices.

I DO believe companies should be extra careful about where their ads appear. I also believe the enablers of those ads - in this case Google and their adsense program - have a primary responsibility to make sure their program is not profiting on the toil of uncompensated creators. I agree with Ms. Seidler's assessment, expressed in the NPR interview and elsewhere, that Google is more than technologically capable of taking this responsibility seriously.

Gruesome said...

There you go again,
Google Yes!
But what about Sony, Microsoft, Net Flix, I'm not talking about Bias in copyright.
I support many of your positions on copyright
But overall it's not as simple as it seems when I Goliath like Sony who makes billions off of copyright is a contributor to adds on these sites.
Most of the adds for Sony were not served up by adsense but direct from Sony.
Maybe your headline should be "If you can't beat em join em...Sony sells to pirates"

John said...


I'm not sure we're at all on the same page. Here's what Ms. Seidler writes on her blog:

"Aside from the companies whose ads appear on various pirate sites, and perhaps more significant, are the companies that generate their own revenue stream by providing the interface for the pop-up ads themselves. The companies whose advertising appears on these pirate websites do not place the ads on those sites directly. Instead, they sub-contract with various ad agencies to place online advertising throughout the web."

As I mentioned in my last comment, I think all companies should take care about where the ads they purchase show up... but the point is they are purchasing those ads. The bigger problem is the companies selling the ads -- like Google.

Wait, did I say Google again?


Gruesome said...

But if you'd looked a little further you would have found Most Sony ads delivered by Microsoft

You've and axe to grind with Google

Maybe if Multi Billion Dollar corporations like Disney and Sony stopped using these methods of delivery we'd have less of a problem.
There's no one here more guilty than the other
But everyone gets left out of the story but Google

Pieter said...

I'm not quite sure why the focus is so much on Google here. We're talking about a site that provides automatic adds for websites, which in this case apparently have not been found illegal, and it provides links to sites who provide links to a locker site that may or may not contain a copy of a film. Considering that about 5 clicks can get you from any site to any other site these days, that doesn't impress me too much.

It seems the DMCA works as advertised as far as notice and take-down is concerned, but what the author neglects to mention is the need to go after those who uploaded the files. They are the ones who created the infringement, and who should be liable for their actions. That's a relatively small group, especially as far as original uploads are concerned, but no action seems to be taken against them whatsoever. Why all this focus on Google, which according to the law is doing nothing wrong here?

Chris Castle said...

One reason the focus is on Google is because Google is the only member of the group of companies that serve ads to pirates that is (A) a public company with many and varied accounting and conduct responsibilities (such as not profiting from theft) they undertake in exchange for being allowed to raise money in the public markets, and (B) the only one of that group of public companies that serve advertising that is also a defendant in at least two of the largest copyright infringement lawsuits of all time--both class actions and both involving creators as plaintiffs.

Therefore while it is true that others engage in the offending behavior, Google is in a special class.

I always say that a top CEO can't really lay claim to being a honcho until he's taken the 5th before Congress and survived. So I guess that lies ahead for some people.

And for the record, we represent artists, songwriters and indie labels, but also have represented technology companies for 10 years and have the distinction of being on the seller's side of several of the 10 "worst" tech deals. Which I guess is why they made me a fellow of the World Technology Network.