Film "Piracy" On Instagram Could Ruin Social Media As We Know It

We live in a day and age where piracy is very common, yet still illegal, and rightfully so.  You’re simply not allowed to film a movie or parts of a movie in a cinema, and exploit them on the Internet.  Such practice is known as "camming", an unwise decision which only produces poor quality videos anyway. Some might argue that people should be allowed to revisit their favorite portions of a movie upon leaving the theater since they’ve already paid for their ticket.  Maybe there was a moment that gave the viewer chills or perhaps made them laugh their ass off. It’s much easier to produce clip via the Internet than have to pay for another ticket and spend two hours seeing the movie again.  But is it really worth it?  Do we just absolutely have to see that movie again?  It’s customary to see the movie in theaters, see it again if it was outstanding, and then be satisfied until it comes out on DVD, or even earlier via digital nowadays.  Are we really that keen to see a movie again upon leaving the theater?

I remember when The Avengers came out in 2012, and one of everyone’s favorite moments was when Hulk beat Loki like a rag doll in the Stark Tower penthouse.  In looking at Avengers stuff on the Internet after I had seen the film, and managed to find a cammed clip of the scene on YouTube.  The audio wasn’t great and it was in French, but it made me smile again.  About a week later, the clip was nowhere to be seen.  This was fully understandable back then, but nowadays, it’s rare to find a cammed clip on YouTube.  What’s also hard to believe, is that the Hulk scene from The Avengers is currently uploaded by dozens of channels on YouTube.  I can now search "Hulk beats Loki" on YouTube and I could find numerous videos of the same clip that was originally cammed with better audio and video.  

What’s also interesting is the extent of how many movie clips are actually on YouTube.  If there’s any moment in the history film that you want to see in the form of a clip, you will most likely find it on YouTube, even if it wasn’t in a marketed trailer.  You can see the spoiled ending to most of these movies via a clip.  Now if someone were to upload a film in it’s entirety with it’s original format, it’s likely to get removed.  Part of this is because it’s now possible to view movies on YouTube which are purchased through Google Play.  But, if the whole movie is already on YouTube with quality audio and video in the form of short clips across multiple videos, what’s the point in paying money for it?  Now, I’m sure that very few people have actually watched a full movie on YouTube in the form of clips, as it’s a very inconvenient way to watch a film. Plus, people who upload nothing but movie clips are probably only interested in getting views and subscribers for their channels, or for the sake of monetization.  But if I want to watch Harry Potter kill the Basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, and that’s all I want to watch, it’d be convenient for my time if I could just find the clip on YouTube.  Otherwise, I’d be putting in my Chamber of Secrets DVD and going to scene select and viewing it there. 

The reason I find the vast number of movie clips on YouTube so odd is because of the recent infringement of Fair Use Policy by production studios on YouTube.  If you’re uninformed about what this is, there’s an entire video explaining it here (credit to Channel Awesome on YouTube), but essentially, numerous "YouTubers" who use movie clips in their videos under Fair Use Policy (meaning not for profit), are having copyright claims placed on their videos in which studios can essentially have the video taken down, or even gain profit from the video’s monetization.  So basically if I were to make a video of my Iron Man review and upload it to YouTube, and I used clips from Iron Man, there’s a chance I could have my video removed by Marvel/Disney if they place a copyright claim on my video, or if I had a monetized channel, they could gain profit from my video instead of me.  

So if people aren’t allowed to use clips in their film reviews, but hundreds upon thousands of unaltered movie clips still stand on YouTube, why haven’t all of these clips disappeared?  It’s rare nowadays for a cammed movie clip to last more than a day on YouTube, and understandably so.  If the studio hasn’t officially released the clip to the public via the Internet or Blu-Ray release, they have the right to remove it.  It’s also not fair to have the cammed clip available to people who maybe haven’t seen the movie yet and would otherwise spoil it.  But if entire films are on YouTube in the form of unaltered clips, why have the channels that upload them gone untouched by studios who are infringing Fair Use Policy?  What gives them a pass, and not critics?

This has all become a serious problem for professional YouTubers, especially in the last year.  YouTube critics who have a right to express their opinion are having money taken from them, or have had their videos removed altogether, even if they follow Fair Use.  What’s worse is that now some videos can even be removed for using officially released images and stills of movies, again even if they follow Fair Use.  This is a horrible mess that YouTube themselves have a duty to clean up as a company, and are doing very little about it. 

I bring all this up because we’ve witnessed the downward spiral of film studios taking advantage of their ability to place copyright claims on film clips and remove videos.  The problem is that it’s not just a removal of a YouTube video, but an infringement on free speech.  I agree with the fact that studios do have a right to remove cammed clips, but to remove a review that follows Fair Use and is non-profit isn’t fair while there are thousands of unaltered clips uploaded to YouTube that go untouched. I believe that what we’ve seen happen with YouTube can very easily be applied to social media, and risk ruining the medium as we know it.  Namely in Instagram.

I love Instagram, and I’ve been a user since 2012.  There are very few annoying ads like Facebook, you can unfollow people who post ads or fake stuff, and the things that genuine people post are fresh. Whether it be artwork, someone working out, rock concerts, or nature photographers, Instagram has something for everyone.  Many people like to run an Instagram with a consistent theme.  For some, it’s puppies.  Some really like Nike shoes.  For many, it’s movies.  I follow a number of movie accounts which are themed to a specific franchise which post stills, fan edits, fan art, and short clips of movies. These are usually very well known clips such as "No, I am your father", or "I’m bringing the party to you".  Instagram (originally) allows 15 second videos to be posted, and for a movie account, fifteen seconds is all anyone needs.  However, I’ve noticed a trend among many of these film-themed accounts recently; camming.  

Within the last six months the world has seen the release of two juggernauts in the film industry, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Captain America: Civil War.  After Star Wars had been in theaters for awhile (which was a long time), I began noticing cammed clips of the movie showing up on Instagram. It’s conceivable that by this point in the film’s release (February and March), that almost everyone on the planet had seen the movie, and clips wouldn’t come off as a spoiler to anyone. However these were clips of very central moments to the film’s plot, and I was honestly surprised that Disney as a company had allowed them to slide.  But to my surprise, the clips didn’t go away.  What was even more surprising was how good the clips looked.  They were good quality clips with no shaky came, and the audio, though a bit muffled, was completely audible.

Fast-forward to May, and Civil War comes out.  The movie was a smash hit, and everyone loved it.  However, within the first two weeks of the film’s release, cammed clips began to show up on Instagram. What’s worse was that between The Blu-Ray release of The Force Awakens and the theatrical release of Civil War, Instagram had raised their limit on the length of videos from 15 seconds to a full minute.  Now, you can find large portions of the airport fight scene on Instagram.  "Move your seat up" is there too. Images and gifs from the final fight between Tony and Cap can be found, which means someone had to have cammed them. Civil War hasn’t even been in theaters a whole month yet, and you can easily find these clips on Instagram, just search #CivilWar.  The users who post the cams act like it’s nothing, when clearly it’s an illegal practice.  The clips of Civl War, while still obviously cammed, look and sound even better than the ones from The Force Awakens.  

Now, you may be wondering how good quality camming is even possible when you consider how strictly theaters and movie studios crack down on cammers.  Well, the movie industry is a big deal nowadays, and cinemas like AMC, Carmike, or Regal are likely to crack down on cammers because they’re such huge theaters.  But that doesn’t account for the fact that there are still smaller theaters out there, some owned by small companies or are discount branches of these large cinema corporations.  Some of these cinemas are entirely independent.  It’s conceivable for a cammer to go to a small town dollar theater with low security on a weeknight to the latest showing of Civil War.  They could smuggle a collapsable tripod in their backpack with a decent camera and record the entire movie because they’re the only person in the theater.  It’s also conceivable that the same person can download the clips of Civil War onto their iPhone and proceed to periodically upload them to Instagram.  

The funny thing is that I don’t see any of these clips on YouTube.  In this day and age, it’s too risky to upload them.  But what’s the difference between YouTube and Instagram? For one thing, YouTube is enabled with copyright and Anti-Piracy Coding to detect movies and clips that have been uploaded illegally, including ones that are cammed.  Instagram doesn’t have anti-piracy coding, so people are allowed to post anything they want.  Now to be fair, there are far worse things you can find on Instagram such as political photos, fake ads, sex ads, practically nude photos, blackmail and other posts.  But Instagram also makes an effort to avoid such content by restricting the use of inappropriate hashtags and downright removing inappropriate photos.  That still doesn’t change the fact that garbage shows up in my "featured" feed, but that’s another story for another time.  Basically, Instagram has no control over these cammed clips.  They can’t remove them because they’re not inappropriate, and there are no restrictions as to what people can post to Instagram. Since the footage is likely edited before it goes on Instagram, it isn’t unaltered camming, and thus nothing can be done about it.  Plus, it’s much easier for someone to post a clip to Instagram than YouTube.  It’s a less complicated system.  Plus, there are far more people with Instagram accounts than YouTube accounts, so tracking these cammers is a total disaster.  These clips get around fast on Instagram, and Instagram as a company simply can’t remove these clips with the push of a button to the extent that YouTube can.  

So, what am I getting at here?  Well, it’s quite possible that production studios can do to Instagram what they have already done to YouTube.  Pressure from these studios on Instagram could result in Instagram enacting a policy in which studios are allowed to remove clips from accounts, or even shut down accounts altogether.  You may think "Oh, it’s only for hunting down cammers…".  Well, that was true for YouTube a long time ago, and it has evolved into the cancer that it is today.  This could give studios the power to remove clips that are already available to the public.  And the thing is is that people can’t make money off an Instagram account like they can with YouTube, at least not directly, so Fair Use isn’t even a question here.  Since studios are able to remove images from videos, they could just as easily do the same for officially released images posted to Instagram accounts not their own.  A younger Instagram user who just saw the latest Marvel movie, may post an officially released screenshot or poster from the film to his account.  He could log back on only to find his account shut down. 

You may think that this would only apply to Instagram accounts who post cammed clips or movie related images.  But who’s to say the madness will stop there.  Let’s remember that this is also a sketchy issue in the gaming industry.  Nintendo made the controversial decision to forcibly make profit off of anyone’s video on YouTube featuring their games and they still crack down on their copyrighted material today.  Nintendo claimed that this was to encourage users to use MiiVerse on the Wii U.  Who’s to say that other industries won’t be willing join the craze as well?  Many Instagram accounts feature music videos.  The music industry could easily bank here.  What about cars? Retailers? Fashion? 

Again, this is all a scenario.  But we’ve seen power corrupt on YouTube because companies wanted total control over their content and were willing to infringe people’s right to free speech for the sake of profit.  We’re witnessing Instagram become an uncontrolled mess and sooner or later, companies will want control.  We’re first going to have to answer the question as to how this issue will be resolved on YouTube to further determine if it will cross over into other mediums such as Instagram. 

So why am I writing this?  Well, I’ve used YouTube since 2007 when I had a friend over at my house show it to me.  Back then, it was a simpler time.  The videos weren’t great by today’s standards, but we were fascinated that the videos were even there to begin with.  Nowadays, that charm is dead.  YouTube is now a business.  That’s not to say that there are still highly talented people on YouTube who should be making money off of their creative content.  But the fact that studios and corporations are allowed to abuse YouTube for their own sake and infringe free speech is just wrong.  

When I first started using Instagram, the charm was very similar to when I first started using YouTube.  The photos weren’t the quality they are today, but I was happy to even have photos to begin with.  There were nice things people posted, and it supplied a cornucopia of memes for people to laugh at.  Instagram has had a six year lifespan, and YouTube has eleven years under its belt.  I have since seen Instagram undergo similar changes now that YouTube did back in 2010 when it was six years old.  It has a featured page, you can post minute-long videos, and unfortunately, Instagram now has ads.  What I don’t want to see is the social media service that my 13-year old self fell in love with in 2012 turn into a business that can be abused by studios and big corporations.  Instagram is still an expressive medium just like YouTube in which people are allowed to exercise free speech.  And whether it stays that way isn’t a decision to be made by Instagram or the corporations themselves, but by us.  The millions users who make up social media today and are capable of supporting real change.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; June 2016