Simon Klose’s film TPB: AFK is not like other documentaries. It follows the founders of the filesharing service The Pirate Bay through a copyright infringement lawsuit that landed them in prison, and counts six of Europe’s largest television networks as its major funders. “This is the first documentary to ever be released under a Creative Commons license with the support of all the major networks.”
Simon released the film on The Pirate Bay before it aired on television, but giving away the film under a CC license didn’t didn’t cannibalize the audience; it grew it. “I’m not saying that we changed the industry. But we did prove that the industry can still change.”
Simon Klose has spent his career making documentaries, and developed more than a little healthy cynicism about the business: “A lot of my colleagues are documentary filmmakers. Passionate and manic people who spend five years of their lives on this little story, they release the film, and nine people see it. It’s really hard to penetrate through the noise.” So when Simon embarked on his latest project in 2010, he decided that rather than let only nine people see the film, he’d give it away to everyone for free.
In reality, TPB: AFK was never destined for a traditional release. The film follows the three founders of the controversial filesharing service The Pirate Bay through a Swedish copyright infringement lawsuit that eventually landed them in prison. For Simon, releasing the film free of cost under a Creative Commons license was non-negotiable. He believed that an all-rights-reserved release would be an insult both to the Pirate Bay founders themselves and to the 1,700 fans who’d supported the film on Kickstarter.
Simon released the film under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, which allows others to redistribute and remix it for noncommercial purposes, so long as they release their versions under the same license. He also released raw footage, the film soundtrack, and even the custom font he used for the poster and titles, giving fans the ability to completely rebuild the film.
That decision was the easy part. The hard part was convincing his major funders — six of the largest television networks in Europe — to go along with the plan.
“None of the six partners knew what CC was. We had to explain the concept to each of them.” But once Simon made the case, the networks all understood. It was the first time so many major television networks agreed to release a major film under a Creative Commons license.
It was also important to Simon to put the film on The Pirate Bay before it ever aired on television, an idea that raised a few eyebrows with the networks. “They said, ‘Are you crazy? Are you telling me me that we’re going to leak our own film before we broadcast it?’ We told them the audience that’s going to download this film from Pirate Bay is totally different from the audience that’s going to watch it on Thursday night at 9 pm. The hype is going to drive viewers.”
And it worked. The film premiered on Thursday at 9 pm to massive viewership, and went on to become the talk of the 2013 festival circuit, proving Simon’s point that giving away the film would grow the viewership, not cannibalize it.
Simon is quick to point out that his distribution model was an experiment, and that he had to make some compromises along the way. He’d originally hoped to release the film under the Attribution-ShareAlike license, allowing commercial use, but the networks pushed back. One television station didn’t want to allow remixes of its content, so Simon released two versions of the film, one with a license that restricts remix.
“Some people were offended by those decisions and wanted their money back,” Simon says. “And that’s fine with me. But this is the first documentary to ever be released under a Creative Commons license with the support of all of these major networks. I’m not saying that we changed the industry. But we did prove that the industry can still change.”
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Simon Klose (Team Open) was written by Elliot Harmon for Creative Commons. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The illustration of Simon Klose was created by Luke Surl. To the extent possible under the law, Luke Surl has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights under the CC0 Public Domain Declaration.