The Yes Men are a culture jamming activist duo who expose the lies and social problems caused by governments and corporations. In their much awarded films they impersonate people in power to bring out the truth. Because the US Chamber of Commerce is suing their asses, they have now turned to BitTorrent to get their message out.
With millions of daily users BitTorrent is a great outlet for filmmakers to promote their work, but there are more advantages to this 21st century distribution platform. After their first film turned into a huge success, The Yes Men don’t have to worry too much about promotion. However, it is still much-needed to avoid censorship from governments and corporations and to raise funds for future endeavors.
In 2009 The Yes Men hijacked a United States Chamber of Commerce press conference, declaring a U-turn on their climate change policy. In a response to this “identity correction” the Chamber filed a lawsuit against the duo, claiming that they misled the public. Due to this legal battle no TV-station wants to take the risk to run some of the most controversial material, so The Yes Men took matters into their own hands by releasing an updated P2P-edition of their latest film today.
In addition to avoiding censorship, The Yes Men are looking for donations to fund their upcoming projects. This is where the BitTorrent-powered distribution platform VODO comes in. With free promotion from uTorrent, Limewire and a variety of prominent torrent sites including The Pirate Bay and EZTV, this release will instantly have an audience of millions of downloaders.
To find out more about their motivation to get the film out on BitTorrent and to find out whether they were also this excited about BitTorrent when their first film was pirated by more than a million people, we caught up with Mike Bonanno, one half of The Yes Men.
“There are a few reasons why we chose BitTorrent. First off, it’s a way to avoid censorship,” Mike Bonanno told us. “This version includes video of an action against the US Chamber of Commerce that we are being sued for. No commercial outlets will touch it. We had a TV show scheduled on Planet Green and their lawyers nearly wet themselves when they heard we wanted to use footage of us making political mince-meant out of the largest lobbying organization in the world.”
“It’s unlikely that anyone would distribute this material before we get out of court,” Bonanno continued. “But we don’t want them to win a de-facto censorship case, so P2P is a great workaround. Another reason we are doing this is because this is the way people see movies these days, and we made this movie for people to see it. We would love it if people bought our DVD, but we also want people who don’t do that to see it. And last of all: we do hope to generate some donations: we are broke and there are not so many funders for our new project, especially given that they are all spooked by lawsuits, no matter how stupid!”
Although the benefits of BitTorrent are clear in this case, The Yes Men’s previous film was also pirated by more than a million people. When we asked Mike Bonanno how he felt about this we found out that he’s more upset about the stranglehold that the ‘copyright mafia’ puts on indie productions than the people who grab a copy of their movie on BitTorrent.
“It’s great that people are watching our films! We are very happy that they are getting seen. But that having been said, we do wish that a few more people were paying for it. We borrowed a shit-load of money from friends to make our latest movie and we still can’t pay them back. Also, the way the industry is set up, if you want your stuff on TV or delivered through any official channels you have to spend a massive amount of money clearing rights and paying for legal stuff and that is just silly.”
“For us to get our ‘errors and omissions insurance’ required for any distributor to take it, we had to clear the rights on all sorts of stuff we should not really have had to… including music written in the 17th century, which apparently because of some kind of law in Austria was not public domain according to the interpretation of insurance industry lawyers! Anyway, that’s just one example… so what happens as a film maker – especially a documentary maker – is that in today’s market we are fucked.”
“Because to get it on TV we still need to act like we have deep pockets and can pay for rights for all sorts of shit, but then with the collapse of the indy film market distributors won’t pay for it. And of course most people file-share it rather than pay for it. So yeah, we are happy that people are watching it but not so happy that we are financially screwed! But we also see that it’s the system that is screwing us: we are not blaming the pirates, we are blaming casino capitalism!”
This comment from Bonanno led us to ask the question whether The Yes Men would ever consider exposing the ‘copyright mafia’ and anti-piracy groups. These outfits have turned copyright into a cash cow while pretending to protect the rights of artists, something we address here every week. As it turns out, The Yes Men are siding with us in this regard.
“I think in some ways most of our work is about targeting ideas about the rule of private property… so this is related,” Bonanno said. “Our first four years as The Yes Men was dedicated to attacking the World Trade Organization, which has historically supported the idea of proprietary media. Overall, I think that in some ways everything today, every major issue facing us can be seen through the lens of what role it plays in the commons… or lack thereof, as many a government and corporation would have it.”
“If copyright was actually working the way it was supposed to, and protecting the authors that would be great. But that’s not how it works anymore – it just protects money; whoever has the most of it. And usually that means that the authors are fucked anyway!”
The Peer-to-Peer edition of The Yes Men Fix The World is now available for free on VODO. To spread their knowledge The Yes Men have started The Yes Lab, which is also worth checking out. Lastly, don’t forget to donate a few bucks if you like what you