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Movie piracy has hurt the pockets of every filmmaker. But indie filmmakers are often affected worse. Today on the show we have Evan Zeisel and he has been systematically tracking down piracy sites for years.
Ten years ago, Evan made his first feature film and landed a distributor. Within a week of being on its first VOD site, his film was already popping up on numerous piracy sites. He quickly learned through rigorous research to combat piracy and copyright infringement through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, of 1998.
Basically, the DMCA instrument protects copyright holders from piracy or infringement and it protects the First Amendment of users who, unknowing of the illegality, uses copyrighted contents online for commercial purposes.
How do you counter online piracy and what is the DMCA?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a U.S. law enacted in 1998 in an effort to combat piracy while also protecting freedom of speech. The pitfall of the DMCA is that in order to “protect” free speech, it notes that any content put online is considered not to be copyright infringement unless the copyright holder, or representative thereof, directly informs the site or the individual who posted the content that the content is indeed copyrighted.
After being informed, the site has “a reasonable amount of time” (deemed 48-72 hours, by de facto enforcement by the courts) to remove the content before it is considered to be an illegal act. What this means is that a content creator needs to find every occurrence of infringement on the Internet and then find the site’s contact information, or Web Host/ISP’s contact information, and send a very specifically formatted letter (as defined by the DMCA) to that contact, before it will ever be considered needed to be taken down.
Once received, if the content is not removed, then the content creator can use the Violation Notice sent, and a screenshot of the piracy, as a basis for legal action. The issue is, attorneys cost money and there is an endless number of sites pirating content, so for the standard copyright holder taking legal action would be a Sisyphean act, costing them endless time and money, only to run up against pirates that hide behind fake email addresses and false contact information. A lot has changed in the computer and Internet world in the last 20+ years since the DMCA was enacted.
Evan dissects in this interview the technicalities in reclaiming copyright, contacting violators, the language, or must-mentions required by the act.
Evan tackles the mechanical challenges of tracking down his contents on piracy sites through an automated system, Copyright Slap, curated with help from a friend of his with a coding background, to efficiently contact these sites and have contents taken down in seconds. To date, they have identified the 1946 sites and taken down 6212.
Every filmmaker, big and small deals with online piracy. Hopefully, this episode can help.
Enjoy my conversation with Evan Zeisel.
Alex Ferrari 0:09
I'd like to welcome the show Evan Zeisel, man, how you doing?
Evan Zeisel 0:14
I'm doing great. I'm doing great. Thank you for having me.
Alex Ferrari 0:17
Thanks for coming on the show man. We're going to talk about piracy and copyright infringement and all sorts of sexy beautiful, cool stuff that filmmakers love to talk about. but
Evan Zeisel 0:29
Johnny Depp being on the internet pretty much right exactly,
Alex Ferrari 0:33
exactly. It's a really I mean, it's it's it's one step above financial breakdowns for for feature films, no, but it's so much fun. But the bottom line is it is something that's affecting so many filmmakers not just the Avengers and Game of Thrones, but also
Evan Zeisel 0:53
a lot of money and cant afford
Alex Ferrari 0:55
can't afford to right exactly but then the Indies like myself like I had my my film pirated I think 11 hours after it got put up on on online that was already on the pirated board. It was like that's
that's pretty fast. I mind just took under a week.
Yeah. mine was 11 hours I counted. I was like, holy cow. So I did a whole episode. I'm like, this is what happened to my film and,
Evan Zeisel 1:20
and there are fake ones too. They're amazing. They're fake ones that pop up on films that are in festivals that are just up on IMDB, and they pull from IMDb, the the name and the description and everything they and then they say, you know, click to watch. And then you have to get all description to watch. But it's all about, it's all about the traffic for them. It's about the actual watching of the film, they just want either the ads or the person to show up to the site so they can add malware to their system and then you know, sell that or they've got these weird click through things. I mean, it's so many will get they make their money. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:58
yeah, I want to get into the the whole piracy business as well. But first of all, how did you a mild mannered filmmaker? You know, the Clark Kent a filmmaker? So how did you get into the copyright? You know, piracy game, like how to protect filmmakers from copyright piracy?
Evan Zeisel 2:15
I feel like, I feel like we all as filmmakers start off as I would say, instead of Clark Campbell, go young Bruce Wayne. Even better, even better. And then somebody comes in and murders our parents in front of us. And then guess what Batman shows up. And then Batman is never gonna leave. And Batman gets angry and Batman tracks people down. But yeah, I sort of the story of every indie filmmaker, I did my first feature film about 10 years ago now. And we, you know, my two festivals, got a distributor. And then within a week of going online, I think we started on back in the day when Apple TV was the big thing. We started on Apple TV, but then went to all the other ones. But yeah, within a week of being on our first subscription video on demand, or add whatever, I guess it is a VOD site. I we started popping up on all these piracy sites, and they had to film in with modern technology. You know, people just record though somebody rented it once and then recorded the whole thing. So it's pristine quality. And instead of people going to our site, or even when it's on amazon prime, it's free to watch. So but we get money when people watch it. But when they go to other sites, it's there. And so I was like, Well, I'm gonna stop this. So I did my research and sort of the positives and negatives of the copyright world, especially online. Because it all goes through this. This law, this US law called the DMCA, which stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was enacted in 1998. To give you a reference for how old it is. Back Back when people were on. AOL, AOL. Sure,
Alex Ferrari 4:02
right. compuserve sir, compuserve, sir,
Evan Zeisel 4:05
yes, exactly. So, you know, as created then, and it's got this sort of double sided blade. So on one side, it is meant to protect copyright holders from their works being stolen. On the other side, it is meant to respect the First Amendment and to protect people who don't realize what they're doing. Unfortunately, that opens up the door for people to essentially run amok. And what the what the DMCA says is, if you put somebody's copyrighted items online, and you don't know it's copyrighted, and it is not illegal, until the copyright holder contacts you and says, hey, that's mine. That's illegal. If you use it for commercial purposes, then they can say you know, okay, you've, you've used it to so now you owe me for that benefit. But Until you're contacted by the copyright holder, it is not illegal. And so what happens is these piracy sites, put them online, and then you as the copyright holder, have to track them down, and then figure out how to contact them, and then send a very specifically worded document that matches what it says in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to them. And then when they receive it, they have to quote, the DMCA, a reasonable amount of time, which the court has deemed, I think, between 48 and 72 hours to comply. And if they don't take it down, then they are in violation of law. But essentially, when I was seeing I spending, I don't know two hours a day finding sites, looking and finding the contact info filling out this form, emailing it to them. And then, you know, usually they take it down because they don't care about my film, they just care about people coming. And we got to, but I was doing two hours a day, and I burned out. I mean, as you know, as indie filmmakers are not, we don't have the Warner Brothers army of attorneys, we don't, we're often small, if not individual, kind of productions. And it's just overwhelming. And I think that's one of the things that sort of the pirates bank on. And so I with no coding knowledge, contacted a college friend of mine who's in it, and I was like, Hey, I got this idea. Let's Let's help indie filmmakers, like fight this thing that screws them. It's mainly focused on these, you know, the Avengers, the the big budget films that make all their money in the theaters, or make them on, you know, their HBO, Max's or whatever, and it doesn't hurt their bottom line. But, you know, I remember calculating at one point, if I got a 99 cents, actually, I think I calculated if I got like, 50 cents for every view, I would have made back the entire budget easily in the first year, if and, and had excess. But, you know, you go to these sites and people like, Oh, I don't want to pay, and they just and they watch, and they've got more and more advanced. So they look like a Netflix, they look like a professional site until you sort of delve into them. But the normal user isn't going to delve into them. They go Oh, this looks awesome. I can watch this for free. And so yeah, so we so my friend and I, we created copyrights lab comm that essentially, automates the process, so that it's so much faster to do so that we can send you know, hundreds of these takedowns in seconds. So that producers don't get overwhelmed.
Alex Ferrari 7:45
So, okay, so the when you're when you're doing copyright infringement, so like, there's that we're it's a gray area, and it seems like the the the pressure is on the copyright holder, not the pirate or the person who just doesn't know any better yet, because
Evan Zeisel 8:04
there's there's people who upload to YouTube, you know, the Avengers, the entire movie, because well, yeah, and will you run into? And so one of the things that balances out is this idea of fair use versus copyright infringement, which I was looking for. Yeah, yeah. And so fair use is if you use a piece of copyrighted material, but it's either I believe, transformative, or it's used for commentary. Yeah, or for kind of reporting.
Alex Ferrari 8:37
Reporting I think edge is educational even in there.
Evan Zeisel 8:40
Yeah, I think educational I think educational. Yeah. Is is one of the big ones in there. And that allows you to to use it but you can't upload an entire film because it
Alex Ferrari 8:52
just put a commentary on it. Yeah, like that's
Evan Zeisel 8:54
not but you know, you know, the ones that the YouTube channels that do the breakdown of the films, right, and sort of like Well, this was wrong, this was wrong, this was wrong. They're not using the whole film. They're using clips and they're talking specifically about it and it's not people are watching that video not to watch the film they're watching it to watch that video that is the commentary
Alex Ferrari 9:14
right and then they actually in YouTube is become very ridiculous about it now where now these copyright holders like Warner Brothers and stuff like that they'll just start they just blanketed go after anybody that even has a second of Avengers and one of these talking points that's no one's talking over. Because I've gotten hit with that we have a series on on an indie film hustle that's it's called the director series which is it's a commentary series about breaking down famous directors and their work and I've been hit with that constantly. I'm like dude, it's it's completely fair use but then the big boys will start pushing back on you and just like what we don't care.
Evan Zeisel 9:50
If you want to be you have technically you have the law on your side there. I'm so I am a big supporter of protecting those who have the cops Right, and then not getting screwed out of earnings. But I also believe fair use is fair use. And there are times and places for that that are appropriate. And one of the things that we we sort of say to our our users is, know the difference between copyright infringement and fair use. If somebody is doing a commentary on your film, people gonna watch that and then watch your film. Like, you want that that's a positive thing. It's, it's kind of goes to the, you know, the Disney copyright thing related to cosplay, where they used to, I don't know, if they still do, but they, they don't allow people to dress up because they don't want the name, you know, injured or whatever. And at the same time, if you think about it, everybody watching these cosplay, people are like, Oh, yeah, I love that film. I'm gonna go rewatch it. It's free advertising. And it's, and YouTube is only started doing that, because they've been losing lawsuits. They would they don't do it on their own until they're pushed, it's it's all about the money.
Alex Ferrari 11:01
It's always it seems to be always about the money. But that's this, as as they say, a tail is all this time.
Evan Zeisel 11:08
I mean, that's, it's both sides at the boat, the piracy is not about them actually caring about your film, it's them making money, and YouTube, they make their ad sales, regardless of if it's a copyright infringement or not. until some giant copyright holders start suing,
Alex Ferrari 11:26
when then that's the thing was that before before the internet, it was just DVDs. And people would just burn out DVDs or burn out VHS is or copy and then sell them on the street. And it was a lot harder to kind of break that down. But it also was a very limited amount, like you weren't losing. It's not like well, in China, they do that still. And you know, it's insane. But ever since the internet showed up now, it's like, few hours later, it's around the world and you're done. It's a second it hits so that's why like all these big movies are hitting HBO max right now. You know, I mean, Godzilla versus King Kong, which is a quote unquote theatrical release. That's that's been pirated moment it hit the online. Oh, yeah. It's gone. It's like,
Evan Zeisel 12:09
I mean, I remember. I remember back in the day, well, remember back in the day, the handheld videos in the theater. Oh, my Seinfeld. Down in
Alex Ferrari 12:18
town, there was like, there was like a Seinfeld episode where Jerry accidentally became like, the ultimate bootlegging a tour, and he would just like, you know, it's like how he shot it and everything. Yeah, and those are Riddick Yeah, you just see, do you see people get up in the scene and
Evan Zeisel 12:33
walk around, but those are still those are still available, those are still being done in other cities in other countries. And then I mean, but now unfortunately, with with modern technology and computer
Alex Ferrari 12:45
a lot easier, you can
Evan Zeisel 12:46
just screen record, and it's a perfect copy. Unfortunately, I'm not. I'm not telling anybody anything they don't know. Sure not telling pirates how to do the job. But it's, it's easy, and, and really annoying, because at least when there's somebody standing in the way, the viewers like, okay, maybe this isn't legit. Or maybe, maybe I'll buy the real thing.
Alex Ferrari 13:07
But the thing is, I think one of the things that I found that piracy, what the studios have done, and I think independent filmmakers need to do as well is they've made it so easy to consume the content, that it's harder now to go out and bootleg something for the for the most part, like go in scope, find the file, download the file, get that file to play either on your computer or try to figure out a way to play it out on your TV. there's a there's a technical process there. Most everyday people aren't going to this is just my my opinion.
Evan Zeisel 13:44
Yeah, I'm biting my tongue on this one. What do you think? I think on certain things, and I don't want to tell people how to hire it. Of course movies. Yeah, I mean, you're sort of talking about torrents which are one of the aspects of it. But these days, unfortunately, this streaming websites,
Alex Ferrari 14:02
oh, yeah, I saw my movie. Oh, yeah, I saw a movie there's
Evan Zeisel 14:06
my partner will kill me. So when I, when I sort of say this, so I'm going to be very careful of how I say there are three levels to piracy. The first one is streaming content, which is the most easily accessible. The second level is torrents, which is the second level of accessibility. And then there's a third one, which I'm not allowed to talk about, because it is very hard to access, but many hackers are the ones who access it. And so if I bring that up, I get in trouble.
Alex Ferrari 14:34
So Fair enough, but what i mean but there's
Evan Zeisel 14:38
so there's nothing returns, I think the the torrents, you know, it takes a little bit of know how to do but to go online and just search for a movie, unfortunately, is really easy, and it'll pop up a lot of sites. I know Google just recently because of a lawsuit change their search engine so they should the illegal sites show up less
Alex Ferrari 15:00
Because before you could literally just Google and you know, you googled My name of my movie, and boom, there's some site and the Malaysia pops up. And it's like with my poster with all my IMDb information in there. And then I press play. I'm like, Are you kidding me? Like it's there. I'm like, I'm honored that you thought of my little film, but it's it was just pretty eye opening. I was like, wow, like I get Avengers I get Game of Thrones, I get that that's there's big there's big numbers big people are interested in but like to go after the Indies? Like it really
Evan Zeisel 15:36
so the thing is the the streaming slash online piracy industry is a multi billion dollar industry. It's not a multi $100,000 it's not a couple million. It's a multi billion dollar industry, because they've got so many different ways to make money when people show up so that all they care about is traffic.
Alex Ferrari 15:59
So how so how do you make how what's the business? The piracy business model piracy business?
Evan Zeisel 16:05
So there's, there's a bunch of different approaches. So one, there's the subscription model, they but it's, uh, you know, the thing they say is like, pay $10. And you get every movie ever. Right?
Alex Ferrari 16:22
per month. And it's illegally, but obviously, those servers are not here in the us there.
Evan Zeisel 16:27
Yeah, well, they're Yeah, they're not. It's not illegal at all. Yeah. Yeah. Like people don't, but they set them up. So it looks like a Netflix. It looks like a Hulu. So it's so professional. The average, you know, person who's searching online for movies doesn't know. So so one route is the subscription. Second route is Google ads, right? The more traffic, the more ads are worth on sites. So if they can get a millions of people to come by their web website every day, then the ads that they are posted making money that are posting on their site are worth more.
Alex Ferrari 17:09
So there's How is Google allowing us?
Evan Zeisel 17:12
Yeah, how is Google allowing this? Because Google doesn't have a no fly list for websites.
Alex Ferrari 17:18
And even then, if you if you close 115 pop up in its place. Yeah.
Evan Zeisel 17:22
Yeah. And then there's a tangent on the the Google Ads one, which I find really interesting. And I only know about because I had sort of a tutorial shown to me by one of the sort of copyright alliances, that's also helping fight this. And what what happens is you go to a website, and in the background, another window automatically is opened up without you knowing it, Randy, it scrolls up and down. And then a little pointer comes and clicks on an ad. And so it looks like you're browsing the site. And clicking through an ad, which is higher dollar pay to the west, is click throughs are more than just traffic. So they have that. And then there is the the sort of last route, which a lot of people unless you have a virus software on your system, that's pretty good. Then you go to any of these piracy sites. The last one is malware. So the sites also try and put malware on your system while you're watching. When you go, oh, click to view Yes, you click which is also an acceptance of whatever permissions, they add a little Trojan horse, you know, backdoor thing on your computer, and then they sell in bulk bundles of essentially zombie computers, to nefarious people who want to use them. And that's one way that you know, these people can do what is it a DD? DDoS. The when you brute force attack? Yeah. Oh, yeah, a website with a lot of different computers at once. Essentially, they're buying these packages of all these computers that people don't know. And it's very small. That's, you know, that's happening in the background so that people don't even know their computers are being used. And they can make money off of that. Yeah, that's so and so if you look at how they make their money, the actual content doesn't matter. Oh, no, the people to the site. So they go, they go, Oh, I've created a bot that can scrape all of IMDb. And then it finds if they find one thing, one version of the movie, put it up and boom.
Alex Ferrari 19:36
Done. Done guy. And this and this same system goes with any kind of content, whether it's piracy of software, piracy of music, piracy of porn, porn, any anything that people are interested in to download, or watch the it's just so movies are just one of many forms of media that are being being used for this business model.
Evan Zeisel 20:00
Just just like to say if anybody's in the porn industry listening, porn is also a movie. So that is not a separate category, you are a filmmaker to
Alex Ferrari 20:10
just a very particular sub genre. It's a it's a very particular sub genre. So so much of a sub genre in a deeper voice for this, we should be talking. There should be it's a very particular sub genre. But yeah, oh, I think a pizza a pizza man just knocked on my door. Give me a second. No choice.
Evan Zeisel 20:31
But actually, piracy online piracy is a big issue for the porn industry. Oh, she says, Yeah, you know, again, they make a lot of their money on either I believe subscription services for like a porn star or their particular production company, or coming to their specific site, and they make the content for their site, right? I mean, it's kind of like a social media influencer, you gain by people coming to your site and you or your your page or handle whatever, with I think a lot of porn sites, it's going to those sites and viewing the content because they make their money, quote, unquote, legitimately via Google ad sales or things like that, but they, you know, probably particularize their content for their, the niche group that is going to those sites. But when it's when it's pulled away, there's just another piracy come to the site.
Alex Ferrari 21:26
So let me ask you a question. What is the actual effect of online piracy to an independent filmmaker? Like, I mean, look, with the people that were watching it on a pirated site actually ever? Like, were they really ever gonna be a customer? Is the question I'm asking.
Evan Zeisel 21:41
That's a that is a very good question. And one I have thought about a lot and I think is always asked, and I think there are tears, right? There's the people who will never pay for anything. And those people might not go to watch content. However, if that content is on YouTube with ads, if that content is on amazon prime, to gone too big to be TV, you know, a Roku channel, the IMDb TV is coming out, and it has, you know, ad based content that's free to watch. So would they go to those which are also free? The, then there are those that it's easy to find a search online, if it if the first one was a to b TV, you know, Amazon Prime, they click it, but it's not. So the idea essentially, is if you can whack a mole enough of these sites, so that your your main content that you want people to go to is on that first search page or the first or second search page, the chances that somebody is going to click one of those, you know, a VOD ad based video on demand streaming sites, which they don't have to pay for. But you do make money off of that percentage chance of them clicking on that goes up dramatically. I mean, yeah. How much? That is a good question. So I think I think the number of people who watch online is an insane number. I had some statistics, I think, well,
Alex Ferrari 23:15
I remember, well, I don't mean to cut you off. I remember when Game of Thrones was which was the number one pirated? Show, I think history in history, I think ever, something like that. But it was one year specifically that it just dominated. And the producers of the show said publicly that they're very thankful for the piracy because it wouldn't have been as popular of a show without the piracy. And so many people would either pirate a season or two. And then to get the latest thing instead of pirates pirating each episode, they just went ahead and got a subscription to HBO Go or whatever it was, at the time, that he said it was extremely, it was extremely helpful to building the brand because so many people bootlegged it, and so many people watched it that at the end of the day, it actually helped them now again, that's a very specific case. I'm not saying copy, you know, piracy. So here's,
Evan Zeisel 24:11
here's my, my, my asterisk if we're gonna Barry Bonds it Yeah. My asterisks is HBO makes a lot of money on merchandise. That Yeah, thrones makes a lot of money on merchandise that their bottom line is, the more people they get to watch, the more people are you gonna buy the shirts, hats, what dragon a mug or the, you know, whatever, that they make a lot of money on that. So part of their pitch is get the most number of eyes. Yeah, hbos and hbos model has very often been and they've sort of figured it out in a nice in a smart way. If it's not about the greater audience. It's about a niche audience and if we can get a viewer who says I got to see this show It's nowhere else really, other than I mean, it gets on piracy, but they want to see it in the moment, then they can do it. And they'll get some swag for that. But I've also I mean, back in the day, I remember talking to a friend, and I think I was watching Game of Thrones. And, you know, they were in another country, and wasn't as easily accessible. And I was like, oh, did you see that episode? Like, oh, we're, you know, we're 10 minutes behind because we got to watch it on a piracy site. I was like, you know, they're recording. They're like, Oh, it was long and putting it online, pretty much immediately.
Alex Ferrari 25:35
Yeah. And that's, and that's another thing as well, that I've mentioned, I mentioned that in my book, and I mentioned it elsewhere that if you can use your movie as a lead generator for other revenue streams, the actual exploitation of the film is not the business. That's not the main business. Because all the studios have done that Disney's main business is not making movies. It's everything else that they have in their ecosystem. It's now HBO and Warner Brothers is kind of picking up on that Disney is still the king of that their system is so interesting. They're their foundation and infrastructure is so well put together that i think i think it's Disney Warner Brothers and maybe universal and I think that's pretty much it. Then the other guys are still trying to catch up Paramount still trying to catch up. They don't they don't have the infrastructure that Disney does. But you know, sure they make the big ones like oh, you made a billion dollars off or $2 billion off of Avengers or whatever the hell it was. That's nice money. But it's nothing compared to what they sell in March. It's nothing to compare it's nothing compared to the the parks rides and all the millions of other things that they sell. My buddy worked at Disney as an animator and they brought him in brought his the whole team in to tell them how they made their money. And they said frozen Okay, which made a billion dollars at the box office. A billion dollars at the box office. The dresses the Anna in what's your name is a lot of what I forgot her name also. Thank you. Elsa, how dare you? How dare me I know. I'm sorry. Elsa, and Anna's dresses alone. The ones that my daughter bots my daughter's brought like seven times because they kept growing and breaking and ripping them off because it won't take them off a billion on the dresses alone.
Evan Zeisel 27:22
Oh, I bet I bet there's some some digital dress that you can buy on some game that an address or an address that they've also made a billion dollars off of that and it costs just the coding. I mean to to make a nod to that little guy over your shoulder.
Alex Ferrari 27:39
I miss Yoda Yes.
Evan Zeisel 27:40
I mean Star Wars and Lucas were the first to do it. It was he said you know, it's not about it's not about merchandising, it's less boxes. That's I mean, that's what a Mel Brooks in spaceball society, right?
Alex Ferrari 27:54
Oh, you want to come to the you know, he has the whole thing and it's because that's the truth. Spaceballs the flame thrower. I still want to still want flame still wants baseballs a flame thrower. It's for the kids. They love it. You know the deal. Do you know what the deal was with Spaceballs? How George Lucas gave them rights to do it? Because he asked. Do you know the whole story? No. I'm here. On a side note, everybody. So Spaceballs? If you haven't seen his baseball, go watch baseball, because it's amazing. But he called George Lucas and like, I'm gonna make this parody film on on Star Wars, and I don't want to get sued. So what do we need to do here? Because he could arguably make it but he goes, you can make it, but you can't sell any merchandise. That's why you can't you never see Spaceballs merchandise anywhere. And that's that was the deal. So that's why you and that he completely made a joke of it. Because all those cool things that you saw in the movie that all that merge I would have wouldn't have killed against. I think there's some stuff now that comes out every I'm sure I'm sure if I look on Etsy I could find Oh, you could find something but no mass, no mass at the time of the year searching Etsy for. I'm sure somebody has made this baseball flame thrower. Oh, I can only get it if it's attached to a drone. Obviously, you know how that goes. Alright, so with Oh, so we've obviously told everybody The world is coming to an end. We'll never make any money online anymore.
Evan Zeisel 29:13
I get all the way. So no, but I do. I do agree. Wait, I want to just want to just want to pause and just jump back to something that you said, which was talking about the bigger industry but I also think it applies to indie filmmakers, where the easier you make it for users or audience to view your content, yes, the more audience you're going to get. Yes. And and so I you know, I initially was not the biggest fan of sort of ad based video on demand because you get paid pennies. However, the amount of people who watch that because they don't want to spend you know $5 $10 299 for something that if you can get them to those free sites. That's how the indie filmmakers I think I'm going to make the money. And as you said, sort of leveraging, right, leveraging one film to make the next one. And so in that, that's, that's one of the things, the goal of corporate slap was is to sort of play whack a mole and make it much easier to to whack that mole. If anybody knows that game. If not, then I'm just making really weird
Alex Ferrari 30:22
Evan Zeisel 30:24
But but to sort of send out as many DMCA violation notices as easy as possible to get these things taken down.
Alex Ferrari 30:33
If this is this, so this is the counter, this is how you counter online piracy. He's just sending out these notices. But do they actually take them down? So so there's,
Evan Zeisel 30:43
we are running statistics, but we'd say about 60%, if not a little bit more, take them down. As soon as they get it. Now, will they put it up the next week, we don't have the numbers on that. But they will take it down pretty easily because they don't care. Literally, it's more hassle to them to potentially deal with somebody bothering them than to just comply. And they know they got to get they put it up again a week or two weeks or a month later than that has to be found and it has to happen, but then they can take it down again. And so how it works is Yeah, you get the DMCA violation. Notice now, as you sort of said at the beginning of this podcast, depends what the server is, though, because the DMCA is a US law. However, there are many international treaties that then relate to copyright. And so a lot of countries respected, some don't and are super annoying. I won't name those countries, but they're like, if you have, you know, a two signatures by a notary and you have a court document, then we'll consider taking it down. Like, uh huh, well, don't worry, because governors app also sends all these sites to the intellectual property division of the United States of defense. So yeah, well, you just talk to them. Exactly. But yeah, so you have that if they do take it down, great. If they don't take it down, then technically, if you as a copyright holder have a copyright for the for the piece. So this is this is one sort of aspect of the law, you cannot sue for copyright infringement unless you have a copyright on the the item that you are you want to you want to take legal action on. Now you do own the copyright, but to take legal action, it needs to be copyright registered, and we do need to read registered. Yeah. Which is, you know, $20 it's
Alex Ferrari 32:40
3035. Now, yeah, okay, it's gone up. Back in my day, back in my day was $20. Yeah.
Evan Zeisel 32:49
And by the way, just so everybody knows, in regards to copywriting, when you when you apply for the copyright, you're protected from the moment you've submitted and paid for the thing, because it will take six to eight months to actually get if you're lucky, the actual copyright certificate back. And and on top of it, I believe it's 90 days, I have to verify that. But if you have copyright infringement, if you register the copyright, within 90 days of the infringement, you can still take legal action from something that happened 90 days ago. So a lot of photographers do that. Because photography is get huge piracy online.
Alex Ferrari 33:27
Yeah. And you know, it as far as Paris photography is concerned, like, if you have a DMCA notice and like a man, you're using a photo of mine on your website, take it down. That's pretty much the end of the conversation, right? They know, can they sue you?
Evan Zeisel 33:44
So? Well, here's, here's where it gets interesting with photographers. If a website is using it specifically for commercial value, then you have So essentially, some company, one of the famous ones company is selling skateboards, and a photographer took a picture of a skateboarder. And the company, used the photo, took the photo from Instagram of from that professional photographer, and then essentially made an ad and posted it to Instagram. I was like, yeah, blah, blah, look at our, our, you know, our skates. And just because it had their, you know, skateboarding wheels or board or whatever in it doesn't mean that they have the right to use somebody's photograph. So this person contacted them as like, hey, you're using my content in an ad. So either this is a reasonable amount that you should pay me for that use, or I'm going to sue you. And even if they take it down, they've already used it in an ad they are generating income for a company. Right? So you can see that gives us photographers get a little bit more leverage. It's a little bit harder for in the filmmaking world because it's not really an ad it's content that they're reposting.
Alex Ferrari 34:58
Right, exactly. Yeah. But like If you have but like a lot of news organizations use, you know, blogs use images constantly from
Evan Zeisel 35:05
Yep. anywhere, anywhere. And yeah. And so then you can, you know, DMCA or you can sort of DMCA slash, to have, you know, an attorney friend write a note saying, hey, you use this, we would like to be compensated.
Alex Ferrari 35:18
And then that's when it becomes a question like, is this going to be worth going to court for?
Evan Zeisel 35:22
Yeah, yeah. And so usually you ask for a little less than you might give settlement, and therefore, you have an advantage. So the DMCA says, if somebody is violating your copyright, you can sue for up to $30,000 per occurrence. Yeah, and one of the great things of the COVID-19 relief bill that was passed this past December is something called the case act. And that initiated for the first time in the United States, a small claims copyright court. Now it's, it's in the process of being set up right now. But it essentially allows smaller kind of indie copyright holders to go put forth a claim to I believe it's three, not just judges, three judges, who are, you know, people who Judas g8, this copyright content, and then the defendant can send in documents, and this three judges make a decision, and they can then find in favor of the copyright infringing, the person whose copyright was infringed. And it can be up to $15,000. So one of the biggest hurdles, usually for copyright holders, in going beyond just a simple DMCA violation notice is you have to pay for an attorney, you have to pay a lot of court fees. And so that was hard. So this small claims court sort of opens the door and allows the smaller guy to, to be able to fight against these. Now, the hard The other aspect I'll throw in there is finding who is behind these streaming sites is hard, right, because you got to figure out who you're suing, right. Now, if it's, you know, it's sometimes if you, if you dig into the who is information on a site, somebody is not smart enough to hide the fact that their email address and their and their name and address are the admin email address kind of buried in there, you can, you know, screenshot, keep that and then maybe use it as as an attack. But it's hard because you have to have a lawsuit against somebody to be able to get money, right, you have to figure out where those assets are, and they hide a lot. So one of the other. So that is the hard side of it. One of the other things that we try to do is different is since we care more about Batman style revenge on these pirates, then necessarily making a lot of money. Beyond the fact that we, we we, I guess sell our servers for very inexpensive, we also compile a blacklist of piracy sites that we find from our users interact interactions anonymously, sort of figuring out which ones are just pure piracy sites. And then we take that list and once a month, we send to essentially the internet crimes division of, of the United States and say, Here is a list of the, the sites that we know are illegal, please take action. And they've been known to that. We it's, it's hard to keep track of like if they do anything, but they are open to us sending a file and we give it in a format so they can integrate it into their system very easily. So we sort of are pushing to do things like that, because that'll have more of an impact if we can just take down a whole site.
Alex Ferrari 39:03
Well, of course, because it takes out 10s of 1000s, if not more films that have been put up there. It's it's fascinating. And so, so copyrights lab calm. What's the process? What does filmmakers have to do to use your service and how does it work?
Evan Zeisel 39:19
So it's as simple as we possibly could make it. So yeah, copyright slap.com. And you just go and you register as a user. And then once you've registered, you can initiate a new project, or start a new project project essentially, is your film or we're expanding into books, because online literary piracy is a big thing. Yeah, we're slowly sort of expanding as much as we can to protect different copyright holders. So you register your project and you essentially, we asked you for the specific information needed to fill out a DMCA violation form. As you know the title of the film when it was published the original location of where the film can be found via the film's website. Or the Amazon Prime link or something like that. And then you submit that it saves and you started this new project. And then we run in 30 day cycles, they can click and activate the project. Our normal 30 day cycle is $20, for unlimited number of takedowns. To put that in perspective, one of the reasons I, when I was starting out didn't go to a site like this is, it was essentially our competitors charge, just under $200, I believe it's $199 per single takedown of Jesus Christ. Yeah, there are some that are a little bit less expensive. But then you have to enter all of the information that we asked for once every time and you have to do like jump through a number of hoops. So our goal is like, make it as simple as possible. So for us, it's $20. And then whatever you find online as a URL, that's an infringement, you can just copy and paste that into a forum we have, you hit Enter, and we take care of everything. And then we also keep track of it. And essentially, we have a system where if there's a contact info directly for the website owner, they get a DMCA violation. Notice, if they don't comply, then we escalate it, or allow allow the user to escalate it. And that goes to the online service provider, the person hosting the website, totally sure. And one of our goals is if the website owner may ignore it, but the online service provider doesn't want illegal content on their their server. And there are certain laws that say, if you're aware that somebody is hosting illegal activity, you are not allowed to host them.
Alex Ferrari 41:41
Or you're gonna get your you're liable.
Evan Zeisel 41:46
And there's a so I'm going to add to it, there is a bill sort of coming out or up for discussion, an update to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. So Senator Tom Tillis, from North Carolina had put forth at the beginning of this year, the end of last year, the digital Copyright Act of 2021. And that is aiming to update the DMCA so that these online service providers can't hide from when they know there's illegal activity, that the loopholes that a lot of places get away with, because the copyright DMCA was written in 1998. Sort of closing those. So it's not as easy for them to hide without it being illegal immediately. And yeah, so we sent Yeah, so we send to the the website, owners, then we send to the the online service providers, sometimes there are multiple. And if so, if there's sort of two levels there, the website owner, sometimes they reply back, and they're like, we took care of it, it's gone. Stop bugging us. And then if they don't, sometimes the service providers go well, we've removed that account. And so then that actually ends up taking down the website, or taking down the the page at least, but not even the website doing it just these the online service providers like we're going to, we're going to remove this entire website if you don't comply with this. So then they comply. And one of the features that we are in the works of adding right now. So this will be dated, hopefully in within the next couple to a few weeks is the ability for if the online service providers don't respond and help get it taken down, that users will be able to send every 30 days violation notices to everybody associated with the website. And the goal of that one is if every 30 if we can be annoying enough that they get enough notices saying they're in violation that they will just take it down to the day. They don't have to deal with the users.
Alex Ferrari 44:02
Interesting. Well, you're you are you are the Batman of Copland. Oh man, I am a you are
Evan Zeisel 44:08
vicious. It makes me angry I'm and the more ways you can we can you know, go and help get them taken down. I just I you know, it's it's when when you see how it impacts your film, right? I mean, these indie when a lot of these anything, straight to straight to video on demand. And it's like you put your sweat and blood into this, and this is your passion and you care so much. And then somebody is going to come and steal it and then they get it for free. And you already are making it free for people like come on. It's enough.
Alex Ferrari 44:41
Evan Zeisel 44:42
Yeah, well, and they don't need to make their billions of dollars. You just need to be able to make, you know, make your money back and make sure you've paid all of your cast and crew and that they've been happy and that maybe you make up potentially. I mean, fingers crossed. This is not the thing that always happens. Fingers crossed. You make a profit So that you could then put that towards the next film.
Alex Ferrari 45:02
Stop it. Stop. No, you're you're talking. You're talking about crazy talk. It's crazy talk. Crazy Talk. The same book, Ferrari.
Now, is there a you mentioned that might be? Because I was referencing it for commentary? Yes, exactly. Wow. Wow. Let's all sing the Happy Birthday song.
Evan Zeisel 45:29
So it's now legal though that's now legal. Is it legal? Oh, yeah. A couple years ago, it turned out that they, the author of it had released it publicly, like hundreds of like 100 years ago, and they were illegally collecting copyright for it.
Alex Ferrari 45:46
Oh, wow. So now you can use it. Happy Birthday again.
Evan Zeisel 45:49
You can sing Happy Birthday without owing anybody money.
Alex Ferrari 45:52
Jesus Christ. Now, you said earlier, off air that you have a promo code for any indie film hustle tribe members, if they want to get their film. You know, work copyrights use copyright slap to help protect their films online.
Evan Zeisel 46:09
Yeah. So as I said, we we make a very inexpensive, so it's $20 a month, but we created a special indie film, hustle, promo code. So I'm going to tell you that code should be pretty easy for everybody. It is indie film, hustle, all one word, all lowercase. Yeah, that is the promo code. And that's entered when they activate a project. And that will give them three months at 50% of the actual, so $10 a month for three months, and then use three months, you could use it one month, then and you know, stop. And truthfully, if you if you use it for even a single day, you can you can enter and send DMCA violation notices to every single person infringing on your, your site, or your content in that day, because there's no limit, and it's no extra cost, you know, per one we have, we have a number of users who they use it every three months, they sign in for one month, they spend a few days and they enter every single illegal thing and they update, you know, things that haven't been complied with, they escalate. And then they you know, they stopped using it for a couple months, and then come back, you know, three months later and say, Okay, can you use it again? And is another 20 bucks? Let's rock and roll? Yeah. Um, yeah. And it has had an impact with my films in getting them off of streaming sites. And it's, you know, I think it also it depends on the genre of film, and, and also the length of time it's been online, you know, the longer it's been online, if you've been able to squash these sites from adding the content and they've taken it down, then they're less likely to put it back up. But if it's, you know, if it's newer, and they've been there for the last number of years, you know, it's probably already been up and people keep adding it. One thing we have seen is because of the pandemic, and people are at home more know what to say, it's not just, it's not just the action or horror films that are gaining the content, it is. It's sort of everything, everything is up in getting pirated. When we had one person who it was, yeah, a documentary, and they were like, We are seeing so much piracy. I mean, you know, I won't toot our own horn, but it was, you know, we'd love your site, because we can put in so many, you know, takedowns every single day, but like, Is this normal to have this much piracy? And unfortunately, because of the pandemic and sort of the switch over to to people watching a lot, you know, at home. It's up so much. It's I mean, it's also it's also up more on the, on the Amazon Prime's on the to be TVs as well, which is good for filmmakers. It's just frustrating because it's like, Just give me one penny, just give me one penny for every hour you watch. And it'll help
Alex Ferrari 49:04
which is essentially what it which is essentially what amazon prime is paying you for your film on Amazon Prime anymore. And that's a whole other conversation. But there's a lot of there's a lot of ways you can still make money with with your film, especially a VOD is the future. I think that is where a lot of money is being made. Right now. It's the strongest sector for independent filmmakers doing or trying to make money in VOD, because s VOD. If you can get a deal. Great. But that's rare. T VOD is dead. It's essentially almost dead. xtiva. Exactly. transactional like paying 299 I always tell people like t VOD is just a holdover from the blockbuster video store days that's all it is. It's just you're holding it over it's an older concept. And I don't know how you know how do you have any numbers on how these these Disney because I know Disney is like releasing the premium for like 20 bucks a pop or something like that. Like They're going to do that with black widow, like black widow, I think might actually get some money. Like a good amount of people might might pay to see Black Widow cuz it's a Marvel movie. So it's, it's the first real test, because it did it with, you know a couple of Wonder Woman 1984 but that wasn't a paid 1000 paid no, no, that was free. Yeah, that was free. No, I'm talking about like paying 20 bones upfront right away, and the only place you can get it is by paying the 20 bucks for that 30 year 60 day window. I think the Marvel movie will pro and we're so hot like, we're hungry for Marvel.
Evan Zeisel 50:34
I think all the people with their home theaters in there, I do think it's I do think that will be more popular once the once we get over this hurdle of the pandemic where you can actually watch things as groups. You know, like, I'm gonna pay $40. But we got, you know, seven friends over and we're chilling. That works a lot easier than I'm gonna pay $40 and it's me by myself or like, you know, me my significant other, right? It's a little bit harder. Yeah, I mean, I think I don't have any specific numbers. But I know for the HBO Max is they've been pretty happy on their individual releases because it gets people to join the subscription. And usually it's, it's all about getting people to join because maybe their retention rate is 40%. But they got support more than they normally would have. You know,
Alex Ferrari 51:24
know what HBO max with HBO Max is done, man is is is I mean, it's pissed off a lot of filmmakers a lot of big time filmmakers and actors and stuff because they're not getting their normal paydays. But I off. I've got off record on but I can't say who, but the payment that I've heard from people on the inside of these actors, because they all get bonuses based on box office, when that was taken off to like, Look, we're just gonna give you x dollar to just be happy. You could put that
Evan Zeisel 52:00
well. Well, I mean, so yeah, there's, well, there's a number of things. I'm pretty active in the sag after the film and TV radio union. And one of the big gains that they gained in their last TV theatrical negotiations, was they had the foresight to say, Okay, yeah, we're, we're cool with, you know, theatrical, and we and releases, and we, you know, that's important. But we want to talk about streaming and online usage. And that was their big focus, and I think it is going to is paying off a lot better, because that was their shift in, okay, we got to make sure that actors are covered here. And that was before the pandemic. And it was just, you know, that's the trend that things are going I think, I think the movies that will be big for, you know, the releases directly online, like the Black Widow are going to be the same movies that will do well in theaters that you know, you want to see with a, you know, a big screen and surround sound that I mean, I went, I saw, I remember seeing Captain Marvel in the theaters. And in the last 10 minutes, somebody let their kid run up and down the aisles, screaming and I was like, Are you kidding me? Like, I'm here is my movie experience.
Alex Ferrari 53:16
And I paid I paid good money to be here. Oh, no, don't even get me started.
Evan Zeisel 53:19
I mean, I'm like an Alamo Drafthouse. This is not an ad for Alamo Drafthouse. I have no association with them. But the fact of the day at the beginning are like, if you answer a cell phone call, we will kick you out. If you open your cell phone, and we see the screen on, we'll give you a warning, and then we'll kick you out and you don't get your money back. I'm like, Yes. Because it's like, I'm paid pay to be here. And I think, you know, it's it's changing the types of movies do you need to see, you know, a comedy, you know, big screen. But like, you know, end game? Ah,
Alex Ferrari 53:52
I mean, can you Oh, God,
Evan Zeisel 53:54
like avatar back in the, you know, back in the day when that came out? Like I saw avatar in 3d twice just because oh, there's it's an experience. You know, it's a riot. Yeah, you
Alex Ferrari 54:03
can't get that at home. No matter how insane I mean, unless you have literally an IMAX at your house. It really is not. Yeah, I
Evan Zeisel 54:10
mean, I I'm not gonna lie. I've got a I've got a projector. And it's, it's probably set up for a 15 foot diagonal screen. And I've got 5.1 surround sound Well, 5.0 because I removed my subwoofer because of neighbors. You know, I've got like, it's, you know, if I'm watching a movie, I make my own popcorn. We can you know, we can we can chill. There's nobody screaming and it compared to some of the smaller theaters in New York, actually, the screen size might be comparable
Alex Ferrari 54:43
compared and the sound experience might be comparable. Look at the end of the day. I don't think theatrical is ever going to go away completely. I think they'll always go somewhere. Just like like Broadway. Still Broadway. People still pay X amount of money, but I think it's because the price of those tickets are going to go up. It's going to be much more of an experience the days of going to go see You know, a comedy of like Dumb and Dumber at the theater and spending 25 bucks to go see a comedy or even a drama at the theater. Unless you're hardcore cinephile. Most people know what I'm good. I'm good at home.
Evan Zeisel 55:15
Unless the theater industry pivots, if they pivot and everything becomes like the Alamo Drafthouse, how Alamo Drafthouse where there's you know, a restaurant link to it or a bar, you can bring your food and you can bring your drinks and they make money off of the food sales like they do now, except for the you know, the theaters that make money off their food now it's popcorn and candy that's not necessarily for everybody and way overpriced, but if it's reasonably priced, and they're making their money, because people want to come and they want the experience, it's that's a way to keep it going.
Alex Ferrari 55:47
It's gonna keep going. It's gonna keep going anyway, we have veered off the copyright path a bit. It's just now to film geeks talking about the business but anyway, Evan, man, thank you so much for you know, being that night Avenger for copyrights you are, you are the Dark Knight. I appreciate what you're doing man and helping filmmakers out when I when you reached out to me a while ago now. We've been trying to do this interview for a minute. But But when I saw it, I was like, Man, this is so desperately needed. And I want to get the word out on this. So thank you so much for what you do, brother and keep up the good fight my friend.
Evan Zeisel 56:22
Now keep and keep making films. anybody listening? Keep making films. Don't let him keep you down.
Alex Ferrari 56:27
Thanks, man. Thank you
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- Evan Zeisel – IMDB
- Copyright Slap – Website
- The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 – PDF
- Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
- Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)