There’s art imitating life, and then there’s the current plight of Sam Voutas. The Australian-born, Beijing-raised independent director’s award-winning film King of Peking, about a hawker of bootlegged home videos in the Chinese capital, has now fallen victim to modern movie piracy.

The film – which was a hit on the festival circuit, winning Best Fiction Feature at the Chinese Film Festival in LA in November – both began streaming on Netflix and became available for rent on iTunes last week. On Jul 5, Voutas Tweeted: “I guess we saw this coming! Hours after release our film about Beijing movie pirates is bootlegged everywhere. Help us make another movie and rent the Real McCoy [on iTunes] for 99 cents!"

Below, Voutas tells us more about this strange turn of events, how this era of torrenting not only disrupts incomes but is also detrimental to the very art form, and more.

How did you find out about the film being pirated?

We woke up in the morning and it was just all over the internet. That's been the big change since we made our last movie, the technology. On that movie, we found out through seeing pirated DVDs on the streets of Beijing. You could pick one up in your hands. Now with DVD no longer so relevant, the bootlegs are computer files and your bonus extras are malware. I preferred the old DVD extras.

The whole thing is an ironic plot twist straight out of a movie.

I guess before I could take it on the chin more because, if someone on the street of Sanlitun was selling my film, at least I knew they were doing it so they could put away enough money to feed their family. For the person selling from a cart, who back then wouldn't even think about copyright, they're just thinking about how much profit a DVD can make versus say selling jianbing or opening a youtiao stand. Now it's a bit sadder because it's just this mass of torrents and data. There's not much quaintness about seeing one's film on a torrent. It becomes a bit depressing!

Would a documentary about the real-life bootlegging of your movie about bootleggers be too meta? Or should said documentary be made?

I think a contemporary documentary about this world wouldn't be as interesting. You'd just be filming people on their computers all day clicking share and download. That would get boring fast. Most pirates aren't doing their own artwork or subtitles anymore, so even the creative element of bootlegs, if you can call it that, such as the hand painted pirate movie posters from Ghana and other places, that doesn't exist anymore. There's no one designing adverts in back garages, no mash-ups of different film adverts using Photoshop. You don't even get the accidental wrong reviews stuck on the covers anymore. The human element is gone in that you no longer have the bootlegger on the street corner giving customers their critique of the film. So I reckon if a documentary was to be made, make it about the '80s and '90s.

So how does it feel, as an artist, to have this happen?

I'm glad people like the film enough to share, but I really do wish that the revenue these pirate sites are pulling from it would go to the filmmakers. We don't get any of the malware revenue! We should at least get a cut of malware profits because us filmmakers are driving the clicks. Sounds a bit crazy but why not?

Do you think that in this age consumers are more likely to support talent they love once they realize it can lead to more content being created? I think that’s part of the reason Netflix and Hulu do well, for example.

Hopefully, as more countries get access to pay-per-view or subscription streaming distribution, things will get better. It could also be a question of the price point catching up to what the market is willing to pay. Films are following music in that the economic model has changed drastically. The day that movies became digital files just automatically decreased their value because they were no longer physical items. So before you could charge twenty dollars for a new movie on DVD, one you could wrap in wrapping paper as a birthday present for example, and now it's a few dollars because you're getting a digital file. And who wants a digital file for their birthday? It's just not the same.

But the thing is, especially with indie film, we really do rely on these sales to make movies. We're not studios that have big banks behind us. So the niche support becomes essential to creating an ecosystem where independent filmmakers can continue to create.