I’m an LGBT Filmmaker. And I’m Spending $30,000 a Year on DMCA Takedown Notices

Is this a war worth fighting?

Either way, it’s being fought: by content producers big and small, major and indie.  Which brings us to lesbian and gay indie filmmaker Kathy Wolfe, who is now spending $30,000 a year — or roughly half her profits — on DMCA takedown notices alone.  The financial amount was just shared with the Wall Street Journal as part of a broader look at piracy.

“Last year, Kathy Wolfe, who owns a small independent U.S. film-distribution company, Wolfe Video, found more than 903,000 links to unauthorized versions of her films, which she sells around the world for $3.99 per download. She estimates that she lost over $3 million in revenue in 2012 as a result of stolen content from her top 15 titles. On top of that, she spends over $30,000 a year—about half her profit—just to send out takedown notices for her titles.”

There’s also the extreme time commitment that comes with takedown diligence.  Because in order to make a realistic impact, content owners need to send thousands or tens of thousands of takedowns every day, just to scrub the inevitable replacements.

The story gets even more complicated, because Wolfe is actively distributing her content across a number of paid platforms.  That includes a-la-carte and subscription, all of which is, bluntly, not cutting it.  “It’s changed us,” Wolfe said, while pointing to drastic company chops and cutbacks.  That includes the trimming of 11 employees, a 50 percent reduction in Wolfe’s marketing budget, and a major impact on new projects.  Wolfe has even stopped paying herself a salary.

The blunt question is whether this is a market segment getting completely wiped out, with eery similarities to indie music labels.  In a separate interview on the topic of LGBT piracy, Wolfe pointed to a conscientious effort to distribute films across innumerable channels.  “We’ve made all our films available on as wide a platform as possible,” Wolfe said.  “Our films can be seen on Comcast, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and now, we’re doing something brand new, which is WolfeonDemand.com.”

But she also pointed to a windowing approach, including ‘holdbacks’ around film festivals. “In order to support the many, 150 film festivals around the world with our films, we need a holdback,” Wolfe relayed.  “Because nobody will go to the film festival if it’s available online.”

That same windowing mentality is also found in major Hollywood studios.

16 Responses

  1. Visitor

    “Is this a war worth fighting?”
    Ask anyone what happens if you don’t send takedown notices…

  2. Visitor

    I’m sure many of you recognize this picture…
    Why not invite fans to participate in the war against piracy?
    A lot of them sincerely want to help artists in any way they can.
    And many deeply resent the fact that pirates steal what ordinary people have to pay for and force artists to spend a lot of valuable time on anti-piracy measures.
    So perhaps we need a kickstarter type of site to coordinate voluntary anti-piracy work?
    There’s a lot to do: Upload fake content, find and report infringing sites and links (which is difficult to do for the individual artist as her/his IP-address(es) become blacklisted in no time), send takedown notices — and come up with new and creative solutions.
    I think a lot of fans would find this pretty cool…

    • jw

      How do you spend $30,000 on 12 months of takedown notices? Is she paying someone a fulltime salary to do this for her?
      There’s something wrong with that picture.

      • Visitor

        You try sending a few hundred DMCA notices every day…
        And first you obviously have to find out where to send them.

    • Visitor

      Volunteer eh? Why not pay them? Should they (fans) not be compensated for their work?

      • Visitor

        No, writing takedown notices is fun. Making music, that’s the work.

  3. Central Scrutinizer

    C’mon $30k a year.
    Searching and locating infringing links and then sending notices is a pain in the ass but it’s not that complicated or expensive.
    If true, the copyright holder has many other works being monitored or is being ripped off by some on-line service that performs this function,

  4. Visitor

    “If true, the copyright holder has many other works being monitored”
    So what? One of them was taken down 56,000 times:

    Can’t wait to hear how you would do that without assistance.

    • Visitor

      …oh, and if you know a service that doesn’t rip off their customers, then please share!

  5. GGG

    Just to put this out front, I’m not pro-piracy. People illegally downloading some artists I work with takes money directly out of my pocket.
    Having said that, I often get the impression artists overestimate how much money they lose, as some sort of unconscious desire to make themselves feel better about their art. This for instance, says $30K is half her profits, yet she estimates she’s lost $3M? $60K to $3M is one big ass leap. Maybe she’s incredibly popular, I don’t know, but I’d like to see numbers that say her films were illegally downloaded 750,000+ times. I find it hard to believe. Though I will gladly concede if I am shown otherwise. Also, 99% of those 903,000 links are probably literally never seen after they are put up.
    It’s sort of like when I see comments on here or other blogs sometimes about some guy who can’t make a living selling music and I search him on FB and he’s got like 400 fans. Sure, if it makes you feel better about your work to think hundreds of thousands of people are stealing it, go for it. But it’s most likely not the case.

    • Visitor

      “This for instance, says $30K is half her profits, yet she estimates she’s lost $3M?”
      I agree, the $3M guestimate is self serving and silly. And the number of stolen units never translate directly into lost sales anyway.
      Let’s extract the relevant facts from her story — she did spend $30K on necessary takedowns — and forget about her ego.

  6. Visitor

    what does her sexuality have to do with any of this?

    • Visitor

      If you go to her website, that is how she defines her business.

  7. Visitor

    Still no proof anywhere that a single link leads to downloads that would have been paid for. What about all the people who checked out her work first and then went to spend money on licensed version? It’s well proven that those that illegally download the most are those that spend the most money on media products. So much hate directed at the wrong people here.