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  02/07/07 Feeling a bit FACT off  
Some days, I can sit here for ages trying to work out what to write in this little space. And on other days, such as today, the polemic just flows freely...

I suppose I've been peripherally aware of FACT for some time now... in the same way I'm peripherally aware of the concept of negative equity, or the names of the Big Brother contestants. Which is to say that it's popped up in my field of view on a fairly regular basis, but on each occasion I've just sort of screened it out. Well, the other day, on an otherwise uneventful bus ride, they got my attention.

FACT stands for Federation Against Copyright Theft, a fairly odd name since, strictly speaking, copyright cannot be stolen. As you may have guessed from the name, it has a brief similar to that of the RIAA and MPAA over in the US, although it seems to concentrate more on physical piracy of DVDs than peer-to-peer shenanigans (I won't tell them if you don't). Their adverts have been stalking billboards and movie trailer spots for some time now, with the usual lines from bargain basement actors posing as members of the public: "I bought a pirated DVD and the quality was terrible!" Well, so what? They only cost about 50p each; you can probably refund the loss by looking down the back of the couch. "I bought Pocahontas and it turned out to be Naughty Nuns 'n Nurses Part Three!" Well, that's what I call a result. Pocahontas is crap, but this nun/nurse thing sounds very promising indeed.

Presumably I'm not the only one to be unaffected by this feeble crap, because recently FACT have been "getting tough" with their advertising campaigns. According to them, this firm line is due to evidence that DVD piracy is intimately connected with other, actual crimes. The evidence they speak of doesn't really seem to appear anywhere other than on their own promotional material, but I'm sure they can cite a relevant study from the University of Madeupplace (formerly Fabricated Polytechnic). Anyway, the list of crimes that go hand-in-hand with DVD piracy is quite surprising, because they're all crimes that British society currently really hates. It's kind of odd that DVD pirates would flock to unpopular crimes such as terrorism, kiddy fiddling and so on, while eschewing cooler crimes such as... well, museum heists are pretty cool, I suppose. Admittedly, we can't all be Thomas Crown, but even a relatively neutral crime like impersonating a Chelsea pensioner would be preferable, surely?

But what caught my eye the other day, as I took the bus from Liverpool City Centre to Liscard, was an advert bearing the following: "The fiver you give to the guy in the street could be going to the people smugglers who brought him here illegally."

Now, that's low.

I'll be the first to admit that 'people smugglers' are, in general, a bunch of bastards who exploit the innocent and destitute. But that isn't how the advert is worded. It doesn't say "The people smugglers who locked the poor bugger in a leaky, overcrowded boat for two weeks" or "The people smugglers who make a fortune while he and thousands more are effectively forced to work for nothing", oh no. It's "The people smugglers who brought him here illegally". Because mistreatment and extortion are nowhere near as bad as the act of bringing all these nasty foreigners to our green and pleasant land. This is an advert that appeals to the very worst elements of British society, and I'm appalled that it was allowed to go ahead. It may be a cheap tactic to feed off people's dislike of terrorists and paedophiles, but I can't really criticise it outright, since such people probably have it coming. But to base an ad campaign around people's dislike of immigrants? Over something as trifling and minor as sodding DVD piracy?

And that's when all of those screened-out and half-remembered ads returned to me, and I realised: this isn't a new thing. FACT have always been a shower of wankers. For example: if you buy a legit DVD these days, it's quite likely that it'll include an insert, courtesy of FACT, telling you that buying pirate DVDs is supporting [insert crime-of-the-moment here]. Why? Why are they lecturing you when you've just bought a legitimate, non-pirated DVD? You've just done what they wanted; if anything, they should be thanking you! It's madness. It's like finding a lost wallet, handing it in at the local police station, and then being given a stern lecture on the evils of pickpocketing. It's campaigns like these that make me want to go down to the market and buy a whole pile of pirated DVDs just to spite them.

Let's be honest, a lot of the objections to the RIAA/MPAA/whoever are because, well, we want free stuff, and they want us to pay for it. Piracy of movies and music is hardly a major crime, but the way in which some advocates of it try to seize the moral high ground is kind of comical. Nonetheless, these companies are routinely shooting themselves in the foot, be it through disproportionate litigation or patronising, occasionally downright offensive publicity campaigns. It's just a shame that while piracy is illegal, being a tosser still isn't.
     
 
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© George Hutcheon 2007

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