11/21/2012 02:04 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

Surviving Thanksgiving With Lester Burnham

I remember when my seventeen year marriage ended. I was hurting, confused and completely devastated, and as so often happens in divorce, many of "our" friends disappeared. My life was a total wreck.

And to be honest, if it wasn't for a movie, I don't know if I would have made it. The movie that saved my life was American Beauty.

I saw myself and my life in Lester Burnham, a middle aged rebel fighting to regain his long lost self. A troubled, angry, disillusioned man who was looking for a job that would provide him with the least amount of responsibility and the time and peace of mind to find himself, again.

American Beauty was a slightly off center film with a unique perspective on life. It played for nearly a year in theaters, and as word of mouth spread, this quirky film captured the hearts of movie goers and eventually the Academy.

I know, I saw it six times in the theaters. Thankfully I had one kindred soul to spend that Thanksgiving with, in a darkened, deserted movie theater, Lester Burnham.

Unfortunately, as a result of illegal downloading, movies like American Beauty are disappearing. While filmmaking has always been consider a risky business, studio heads, like Jeffrey Katzenberg, saw the future of box office success in 3D movies on the big screen. Now almost every major Hollywood studio is combating the financial drain of illegal downloading with 3D movies, animated movies and "event" movies that demand the big screen experience, over story driven films that fare better on smaller screens.

Unless we can enlighten those who feel that illegal downloading is a victimless crime, we will end up in a YouTube world dominated by user generated videos and sampled music.

Whatever you may think about art and money, there is no question that money is the energy that makes things happen and gets movies made. In just four years, from 2007 to 2010, film production in the U.S. dropped a staggering 30 percent. Aside from the impact on the types of movies that are getting made, consider the tens of thousands of jobs that have been lost. Carpenters, drivers, electricians, caterers and the hundreds of behind the scene jobs needed to make a single movie.

Nothing less than the future of great filmmaking and music hangs in the balance. Without the support of the fans, our rich heritage of music and film will diminish and many creative individuals will find it far more difficult or impossible to fully commit to the work that enriches all of our lives.

Making things even harder for artists to earn a living is the constant push back by many who work in the tech industry and view "content" as digital road kill. They grudgingly acknowledge that content is the fuel that powers their success, but don't understand why they can't bend the rules to dramatically lower the fees that the copyright laws were created to protect.

Google and the other search engine providers need to be more proactive in blocking access to illegal sites and help stem the torrent of advertising revenue that flows there as well. It is truly disturbing how many fortune five-hundred companies have advertising on pirate sites. Not only does this advertising provide them with the revenue to operate, it also acts as an endorsement for legitimacy, creating further confusion for the user.

But perhaps the greatest disconnect resides with people's perception of Pirate Bay and other file sharing sites. Because when you download files illegally, instead of supporting hard working artists who are just trying to earn a living, you are in fact supporting profitable criminal enterprises that profit from other people's work. There is no "free" in the downloading of other people's work without their permission, it just means that someone other than the artist is making money.

While the Internet has dramatically changed what we can do, it was never created to make ethical decisions. And this takes us to the only real argument for illegal downloading; because people can.

William Buckley Jr. is a record business veteran, contributor to The Trichordist and founder and president of FarePlay, an advocacy group supporting the digital rights of artists.