French Indie Producer Calls on Government to Combat Piracy

The president of sales and distribution company Le Pacte says that without "rapid action, we will soon witness the untimely death of not only an industry, but also a part of our cultural identity."

PARIS — Indie producer and the president of French sales and distribution company Le Pacte, Jean Labadie, called on the government here to take action against piracy, which is killing the French film industry, in an open letter to culture minister Aurelie Filippetti published in the newspaper Liberation.

Piracy costs $9.3 million (€7 million) for French companies Labadie estimated, adding that the industry is under threat from a "vicious combination of turnover of films in theaters, the increase in [DVD] publishing costs, lower acquisition of independent films by television and the imminent demise of [home] video without VOD taking off."

Le Pacte released the Ryan Gosling starrer Drive in France and has sold titles such as Alain Resnais' Life of Riley abroad. The company has also co-produced a strong slate of auteur films including Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, Terry Gilliam's Zero Theorem and the upcoming French-language Wild Life, starring Mathieu Kassovitz and Celine Sallette.

As international tentpoles take up theater space and slay smaller films at the box office, indie funding is becoming even more essential for small filmmakers, he said, pointing out that all of this year's Cannes winners were co-financed by independent production companies.

But that money is drying up, with funding sources like international presales, television sales to the U.S. and home video seeing significant declines. In France, home video sales fell 16.3 percent in the first half of 2014. And VOD is not bridging that gap, as piracy "has become the norm," Labadie said.

Despite legal maneuvers and takedowns of links and files, they reappear immediately, and producers are "powerless," Labadie argued. He also decried the government defanging of anti-piracy organization HADOPI by removing the "three-strikes" law that implemented fines and barred future Internet connections for convicted pirates.

The government's muted response, which so far consists mostly of commissioned reports and promise of reforms, is "a short-term strategy that ignores job losses," he said.

Labadie called into question the French government's current VOD and SVOD windows — currently movies become available for single-transaction VOD four months after theatrical release, for six months, then must wait an additional 36 months for SVOD. He claimed that this structure hurts the industry. Once the film is online on VOD, it's available to pirates, and forcing people to wait three years before it's available on SVOD decreases sales. "What trade could survive with such an incomprehensible plan?" he asks.

The French culture minister has recently said she would seek to shorten that window to 24 months, though the industry is skeptical that such a change will alleviate the problem of piracy, as current viewing habits demand immediacy.

"SVOD will not solve the problem either. It is available very late and, most importantly, each SVOD service will present a limited number of works," Labadie wrote. "It can never satisfy the desires of a viewer accustomed to huge diversity."

Indeed the French SVOD market is splintered, with different cable providers offering different services with a variety of films and television titles, such as CanalPlus, CanalPlay Infinity and Orange's LiveBox Play. Producer and distributor Wild Bunch has its own offering of library titles with FilmoTV and Netflix entering the market in mid-September.

"Without the establishment of rapid action, we will soon witness the untimely death of not only an industry, but also a part of our cultural identity," he added. "Delaying combating piracy will not give anyone the desire to invest and bet on the future."