Free movie site annoys producers

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Highlights of history

Chamber-created website attracts lawsuits from international companies

Cuevana.tv offers its Latin American customers links to watch free movies

Founder Tomas Escobar says 15 million people use the site every month

HBO Latin America and Turner International Argentina – both, like CNN, part of Time Warner – among companies taking legal action


Buenos Aires, Argentina
CNN

Tomas Escobar set up a website in his bedroom in rural northwest Argentina in hopes of helping people find free movies online more efficiently.

Since this small departure in September 2009, the Escobar site, Cuevana.tv, has become one of Latin America’s most popular entertainment sites, attracting 15 million unique monthly users, according to Escobar.

“It was a hobby, a little thing. And it exploded in my hands, ”Escobar told CNN.

But it has also caught the attention of international media companies armed with lawsuits.

The success turned the modest and neglected 22-year-old college dropout into something of a cult hero in the Spanish-speaking world. It took weeks of negotiations for Escobar to agree to an interview with CNN, his first ever with an international television news organization.

“Cuevana now has a lot of complications that we didn’t think about at first, like servers and traffic. We are now trying to solve them in stages, ”Escobar explains.

Cuevana visitors can access thousands of titles – the majority of which are big budget Hollywood productions with Spanish subtitles – completely free. According to Escobar, Cuevana doesn’t host the titles itself – it simply serves as a clearinghouse for content.

“It’s the same concept as Google. You have a lot of links and indexes, and the user searches for them and you give them the links, ”he says. “So really, the legal compromise is on the other sites, not on Cuevana,” Escobar says.

But many companies and artists disagree. In November, HBO Latin America and Turner International Argentina – both, like CNN, part of Time Warner – filed a lawsuit against Cuevana in Argentina.

HBO declined to provide CNN with details of its lawsuit against Cuevana, which alleged an infringement of HBO’s intellectual property rights.

Turner Argentina has asked a judge to prevent Cuevana from providing access to three of her original series, including “Falling Skies” produced by Steven Spielberg. The three shows are no longer on the site.

“This is one of the first court decisions in Argentina and Latin America, so we are proud to defend intellectual property laws, we are proud to defend our own productions and we are proud to defend the assets of our company. Victor says. Roldan, Director of Legal Affairs at Turner International Argentina.

But it’s not just international studios with deep pockets that blame Cuevana for providing free content without compensation. Local producers in Latin America say they are feeling the pinch as well.

“The problem is that all regulations have been ignored and all control has been given directly to Cuevana users. It hurts producers, directors and the entire film industry here, ”said Cristina Agüero, president of the Argentine Association of Film Producers.

Yet Cuevana is still going strong and gaining more and more users every day. Escobar says many filmmakers are eager to see their work available on the site because it exposes them to a much larger audience.

“They end up making more money, not less,” Escobar says.

For millions of Cuevana users, the choice between watching a movie for free in the security of their own home or leaving home to spend money on DVD rentals is easy.

“I’m not in favor of piracy, but I think there should be sites like Cuevana where you can access free movies. But the sites should pay the producers with the money they get from the ads, ”says

Federico Troilo, 38, Cuevana user in Buenos Aires.

Cuevana generates “thousands” of dollars in monthly advertising revenue, according to Escobar, but all the money is spent on maintaining the site. Cuevana has no employees, only volunteers, but Escobar concedes that the website could one day make it very rich.

“Right now, we are working hard to improve and continue to be the number 1 option in Latin America,” he says.

The key concept that Escobar and many Cuevana users are trying to promote is that the big studios have to accept that the paradigm is changing.

Escobar calls the music industry a warning and says executives need to understand that users will ultimately decide how content is consumed online and how much they pay for it.

“The music industry had the opportunity to legalize all music, and by not doing that it only grew and you had about 10 Napsters by then,” Escobar explains.

Increased access to technology and overall lower wages in the region have also contributed to the Latin American mentality that content should be free, and it may be too late to change that, according to Escobar.

“There has been a major change of mind – and in Latin America probably especially – because services like Google, Facebook and Twitter are all free, and the user has started to expect these services for free,” he said. said Escobar.

Some companies are betting that Latin Americans will start paying for movies and TV shows online.

Netflix entered the Latin American market in September, offering streaming content for around $ 9 per month. Like Netflix, Escobar says he wants to make legitimate distribution deals, so Cuevana users and studios are happy, but he says it needs to be done with Latin American tastes in mind.

“People in Latin America are already complaining that Netflix doesn’t have enough content especially for them. Until they do, I don’t think they will be successful, ”says Escobar. “Consumers here just want to be treated as equals with American consumers.”


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