As an independent, internet writer you have to put up with a lot of crap. I’m not complaining mind you (ok maybe I am), I'd still rather be doing this than anything else in the world, that’s just how it is. We get no respect. Not just from the corporately owned mainstream media who feels threatened by us, or from the movie studio lawyers who see an independently owned site they can push around and threaten since they can’t afford to keep attorneys on legal retainer, but also from each other. Bloggers and internet writers don’t respect each other; the ridiculous, petty catfighting among independent site owners is absolutely endless and nonsensical. I can live with that. What’s strange and incredibly frustrating for someone attempting to retain his site’s independence, is that if you slap big corporate ownership on something, it instantly elevates it to respectable institution. Maybe we indie-sites deserve to be treated like gutter rats, but if we do then so do the big corporate, mainstream print and internet crowd which spends so much of its time looking down its collective nose at the rest of us.
Never has that been more evident than today when Fox News reporter Roger Friedman posted a review, on FoxNews's website, of the recently pirated, illegal copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Take just a moment to let the implications of that sink in, and then while you’re at it consider this: The normally fractured, opportunistic, greedy, independent online community has shockingly, united as whole, and refused to review the film. Not only has almost every even marginally respectable website and blog refused to review it, most have come out with strong commentary against the viewing of it, decrying the illegal downloading of Fox’s upcoming summer blockbuster as blatantly immoral. Some have done so even in the face of backlash from their generally pro-piracy readers. In response Fox's hard-working public relations departments have issued statements asking for the online community’s support, praising indie-run sites like this one for coming out against the illegal pirating of Wolverine, and asking us to stand up and refuse to download or discuss it.
So while Fox’s lawyers sat in their offices vowing to catch the criminals distributing their film, warning anyone who downloaded it of dire consequences, and goading authorities into using taxpayer money in their pursuit of justice; in the next cubicle over one of their own was hard at work illegally downloading, watching, and reviewing it for them.
Now consider what those sites who’ve refused to review the movie are sacrificing. Wolverine is a big deal, and covering it means a big increase in readership. The first site to break what is basically a completely voluntary embargo would have invariably received massive, massive amounts of web traffic (and subsequently both increased notoriety and revenue) from curious people who’ve heard about the pirated movie and want to know whether it’s any good. The Wolverine piracy story has been huge in the news, and anyone of significance willing to toss morality out the window and review it probably would have been rewarded with their name in an endless number of headlines.
So who caved? Not the internet crowd, not the independently owned bloggers so often decried as the scum of web society. Fox’s own FoxNews. The same Fox begging for sympathy over the pirating of their big movie. While the hard working (and well-intentioned) 20th Century Fox PR staff asked for restraint and cooperation, on the other side of the company someone decided to take advantage of the buzz on their film to greedily increase traffic to their website while at the same time, by their willingness to run a review from someone who illegally downloaded it, further promote the spread of the very Wolverine downloads which Fox claims are bankrupting the movie industry. Worst of all, Roger Friedman not only illegally downloaded the movie and then reviewed it publicly, he then all but endorsed the idea of others doing the same saying: "I did see Wolverine on a large, wide computer screen, and not in a movie theater, but it could not have played better."
When questioned by independently owned film site IESB, 20th Century Fox issued the following statement: “We’ve just been made aware that Roger Friedman, a freelance columnist who writes Fox 411 on Foxnews.com – an entirely separate company from 20th Century Fox -- watched on the internet and reviewed a stolen and unfinished version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This behavior is reprehensible and we condemn this act categorically -- whether the review is good or bad.”
In essence they’re distancing from Friedman and painting him as some rogue agent whom Fox has no control over. While it’s very true that FoxNews is a separate entity from 20th Century Fox, their movie division, they’re all under the same banner and the profits lost or earned from Wolverine all go into the same fat cat executive pockets. So maybe Friedman is a freelancer. If he’s a freelancer, then he has an editor. Why did his editor post it? What was he thinking? Someone over at FoxNews has to be responsible for the content Friedman is allowed to post and it’s impossible that it could have been posted without any recognition of the implications inherent in doing so. Idiot web bloggers managed to figure these implications out for ourselves, but we’re supposed to believe the teams of lawyers and censors running Fox’s entertainment section didn’t? Maybe so. Does it matter?
Earlier today I had a brief exchange with Vic Holtreman, owner of the independent film site ScreenRant. Vic wondered why so many of his readers think piracy is OK, when it seems so blatantly obvious that stealing content is utterly wrong. Well here’s your answer Vic. The handful of people who participate in piracy know it’s wrong. Most of them aren’t evil, but they really like free stuff. It’s hard to give up on getting cool free stuff, especially when the people you’re stealing from send mixed messages like this. It’s easy to justify what you’re doing when the people you’re stealing from seem to endorse it.
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance
In a way, I’m still sympathetic towards Fox. They now look like the world’s biggest douche bags, but it’s not as if reviewing their own downloaded movies is a corporate policy. Some part of the company simply fucked up, and fucked up big time. They fucked up by regularly printing the work of an amoral, irresponsible writer in Friedman. They fucked up in that once they started printing his work they either didn’t pay enough attention to what he was doing, or if they were paying attention, whatever part of their organization was overseeing him probably just wasn’t smart enough to know what a horrible idea it was to let him run a review of their own illegally downloaded movie. They fucked up by taking such a strong stance against piracy while not also taking a strong stance against it internally. They fucked up in what basically amounts to one big, honest, humiliating mistake. Fox shouldn’t be strung up for that. Laughed at maybe, but they need to be judged as an entity by what they do next.
The review has already been yanked off FoxNew’s website (it used to be here but you can still find it on Google Cache), but it’s not enough. If it’s Friedman who is responsible for posting it, then he should be fired. If there’s an editor, then he should be fired and Friedman’s freelance work should no longer appear on Fox News. To do anything else would be hypocritical, ridiculous, and reprehensible. To do anything else basically sends the signal that Fox is pretty much OK with piracy. Do anything else and those of us who went out of our way to support Fox in shutting down the illegal pirating of their films won’t do the same next time, because apparently Fox doesn’t really take this whole thing that seriously. Heck if they’re going to keep Friedman on the payroll maybe I should just go download Wolverine right now and get my review up. Fox seems to be ok with it. Your move Fox. You can still do the right thing.
UPDATE! Mere hours after the publishing of this editorial, Roger Friedman was fired by Fox News. Full details here.
UPDATE 2! Something is afoot. Now some sources are reporting that Friedman hasn't been fired at all. Those sources include Friedman himself, who seems unrepentant. Details here.
Update 3! Fox has issued another statement, claiming that this time he's really fired. Here's what they say: "Fox News representatives and Roger Friedman met today and mutually agreed to part ways immediately. Fox News appreciates Mr. Friedman's ten years of contributions to building foxnews.com and wishes him success in his future endeavors. Mr. Friedman is grateful to his colleagues for their friendship and support over the past decade."