Time is coming for pirates and studios to work together
APRIL Fools' Day heralded the leak of an unfinished version of the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine a month before its UK and US release dates.
Marketed as one of this summer's blockbusters, downloads topped 75,000 within hours of the film being uploaded to BitTorrent and
20th Century Fox, the studio behind Wolverine, said the uploaded version was "stolen, incomplete and early".
The computer-generated imagery had not been added, there were missing scenes, sound and music and Wolverine himself had not yet acquired his enhanced strength with the wires attached to the actor Hugh Jackman still visible on screen.
Indeed, this seems to have been part of the download's appeal. Rather than serving as a replacement for the official film, fans have been attracted by the opportunity to watch a work in progress, something cinema-goers are not normally privy to. A number of bloggers said they still intended to watch the film in the cinema, saying "it's just cool" to see it before final editing. If the attraction is the unfinished quality of the downloaded print, will this impact on the sale of cinema tickets?
From Napster to Kazaa and back again, digital piracy is old news. But while the film industry has been affected before, notably when last year's The Dark Knight was leaked before its official DVD release, movie studios have yet to feel the financial drain in the same way as the music industry.
In part, this is due to the cinema experience. Watching a pirate copy on a laptop or even a legitimate DVD at home is not the same as the full popcorn and big screen experience. And those happy to watch a pirate copy probably never intended to go to the cinema anyway.
However, Entertainment Weekly quoted a major cinema exhibitor who predicted substantial lost revenue from the leak. He said customers will either watch the free download instead of the actual film or boycott Wolverine altogether following the bad reviews circulating online – reviews based on an unfinished film and which have already cost influential Fox News columnist Roger Friedman his job. He was fired for commenting on illegal footage.
While any film faces the wrath of critics, with most reviews reaching the newsstands before release, it is nonetheless evident that in Hollywood, and beyond, piracy remains a hot and hotly contested topic.
Cinema ticket sales may or may not be affected, but piracy must surely impact on legitimate DVD sales and has no doubt played a part in the substantial reduction in their cost.
The Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) campaign "you can click but you can't hide" is committed to tackling online piracy to protect the US economy, film making as a whole and consumers.
Given the potential financial ramifications, the FBI and the MPAA have been called in to investigate the origins of the Wolverine download.
Fox has its claws out, stating in a press release: "The source of the leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
In a real life case of X-Men marking the spot, the studio claimed its content was forensically marked. A brief caption on the leak read "Rising Sun Pictures" referring to an Australian visual effects company, but there is not yet any evidence to suggest they were involved.
The plot thickened as other sources said offers to supply the Wolverine work print were circulating in the weeks before the leak, and some conspiracy theorists suggested it was a convoluted guerrilla marketing campaign.
Nonetheless, Fox praised the reaction and vigilance of the online community – the print was taken offline within hours and a number of fan sites condemned the theft, which Fox claims hurt the filmmakers, actors and fans.
Added to that, there are signs the pirates are coming onboard with entertainment heavyweights. Warner Bros and Pirate Bay (the largest BitTorrent tracker) recently settled their legal dispute with Warner Bros purchasing the site in a "can't beat them, join them" attempt at containing online piracy.
In these changing times, the Wolverine leak may be another reason for the pirates and studios to work together. Rather than continuing to fight a losing battle perhaps the time is right for both sides to explore working together to provide the media customers want, at a price they are willing to pay.
• Fraser McIntyre is an associate at Burness and Jennifer Whitehead a senior associate
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South