To Stream or Not to Stream: Online Piracy Goes ‘Live’

BANGKOK — Thanks to Facebook Live, audiences can watch a Texas mom try out her Chewbacca mask, Leicester City FC parade through Bangkok and Chompoo-Araya apply makeup before walking the red carpet at Cannes.

According to a map of where people are using Facebook Live, Thailand has really taken to livestreaming. So what are we “live-ing?” Mostly the same things we do on Instagram: eating, posing, dancing and selling products. But also one thing Mr. Zuckerberg probably didn’t expect? It turns out we’re also streaming entire movies, from “Captain America: Civil War” to “Angry Birds.”

On Sunday, the popular Facebook outrage forum that is Drama Addict pointed out how another page called “Movie&Clip” had streamed “Angry Birds.” A search of similar pages found a number of newly released films available to watch.

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Thailand is one of the most popular places in the world for Facebook Live. Image: Facebook

“It is normal for some people to find the latest features on Facebook as a new way to publish pirated movies, just like posting them on YouTube or other websites. Still, it is copyright infringement,” said Suparp Rimtheparthip, founder of film monthly Bioscope Magazine.

As for streaming movies live from inside the cinema, Suparp said it was unlikely to be common because theater staff check for such things, not to mention the presence of other audience members. It’s more likely people are just streaming low quality “cam” recordings made by others and traded online.

But there are social forces at work which would explain why someone might watch low quality video instead of the real deal. In the immediacy of our networked culture, plotlines are spoiled online as soon as they spool out – pity to any Thrones fan who wasn’t already sharing “Hold the Door” memes by Monday evening.

This creates a kind of internet peer pressure: If you haven’t seen it yet, you are on the outside of cool. Doesn’t matter if there’s no theater nearby, or the cost of a ticket is too high.

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“The pirated content online fills in those gaps, as recent movies can be watched anywhere at any time. Also, they can be reached easily and do not require much effort,” Suparp said.

What’s in it for those streaming pirated content live on Facebook? Messages to admins of a number of such pages went unreturned.

It’s left those who feel their work is robbed by pirates shaking their heads.

One mainstream director whose films are often pirated said he’s baffled by what could motivate pirates to livestream them on Facebook.

“They invest nothing and circulate our movies for nothing. I could never understand why they are pirating others’ intellectual property, for more ‘likes’ or fans,” Poj Arnon said.

The prolific director, best known for mainstream comedies such as “Hor Taew Tak” and “Mor 6/5 (Make Me Shudder),” said cam rips were quickly available of his latest film “Luang Pee Jazz 4G,” which still went on to earn 300 million baht.

“The quality of illegal, zoomed or livestreamed movies can never be as good as what is shown in the theater,” he said. “The audience should support filmmakers who work hard behind all those movies, so that we can keep on making films.”

Poj sounded hopeless of anything changing rampant piracy.

“No one can save us, since the law is weak and ineffective,” he said. “Also, it is up to common sense whether to use new technology in a constructive or destructive way.”

Copyright infringement is punishable by fines between 20,000 baht and 200,000 baht. The punishment rises to upward of 800,000 baht fines and a maximum of four years in prison for piracy done for commercial purposes.

According to the Department of Intellectual Property, movies streamed over Facebook Live tend to be quickly deleted. However people can report them to the department by sending screenshots and information about the post to the authorities, who will report it to the copyright owner.

It has received 1,072 reports of copyright infringement from 24 Facebook pages and five users. None has made it to court, according to the department, as copyright claims can be settled privately.