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32. Poorly Bootlegged/Pirated Movies

The rapid recent advancement of multimedia technology has expanded the backpacker market for bootlegged and pirated movies. Devices like iPods and netbooks (and soon the new iPad and tablet PCs like it) have become increasingly affordable, accessible and transportable. As a result, the old bootleg movie has reached a new level of acceptance.

In turn, so the quality of the bootlegs we buy has improved. We’ve come a long way from shaky handycams in the movie theater, with people standing up and blocking the screen (see Seinfeld). Although bad versions like these still exist, it is more possible these days to find a still-in-theaters movie with acceptable sound and picture. Obviously, movies and TV series that are already on DVD are available in high-quality direct replications. A friend of mine tells me that by using a media converter, you can transmit your downloaded material directly to your HD TV and home theatre/stereo components, but that’s for at home. This blog is about traveling.


Experienced travelers are well familiar with the smorgasbord of bootlegged movies and iPod downloads available in Chinatowns around the world. Often, purveyors of such black-market material operate briskly, take your orders using binders of movie covers laid on a collapsable table, with the burnt DVDs delivered like drugs from a stash at a hidden location. In case the police appear, the set-up can be disassembled instantly, with the vendor sometimes taking off running. It’s all for show, really, as the authorities no doubt turn a blind eye to the entire process. I’m sure there are police officers watching bootlegged movies with their families as I write this. Years ago, the corporate film industry, so outraged by their billion-dollar losses due to bootlegging, launched “Buying Bootlegged Movies Is A Crime!” commercials familiar to us all.

With these commercials, the film and recording industries attempt to nurture an ethical conflict within the population, based on a common understanding of copyright infringement and intellectual property rights. Fuck that though, I was copying cassettes and burning CDs without hesitation for decades. For a time, Napster and Limewire were my best friends.

And don’t give me the whole “well, the artist is trying to make a living and illegal downloads prevent him/her from doing so” argument. “What about supporting the artist?” Shove it up your ass, James Hetfield. That argument is so ’90s. The paradigm has shifted. Artists no longer need a record deal to become successful. Drake signed a reportedly multimillion-dollar contract with Young Money after generating fame from mixtapes released online for free. Live Nation is signing the world’s biggest acts now (Jay-Z, Madonna, etc.) because the highest margins are in concert revenue, not CD or iTunes royalties.

But there’s a line to be drawn on the basis of quality. It sucks when you download a shitty version of an .mp3, which sounds crackly or is just too quiet. It’s the same with bootlegged movies. The lack of quality is the price you pay for poaching free, illegal reproductions available before release date, be they albums or DVDs. I embrace the criminal accessibility, but I hate the poor quality. But such is the inevitable cost-benefit equilibrium of any product or service. So the verdict on pirated and bootlegged movies while backpacking? More of a love-hate, I guess. Oh, and I hate people who hate on people who buy bootlegged shit.

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