In awards season, movie leakers are ‘Enemy Within’

The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that $25 billion globally is lost to piracy every year

Topics: Movie Awards Season, Movie news,

In awards season, movie leakers are 'Enemy Within'FILE - In this file publicity image released by Columbia Pictures, Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Joseph Mazzello are shown in a scene from "The Social Network." The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best film, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. The Oscars will be presented Feb. 27 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, Merrick Morton, File)(Credit: AP)

Every year around now, tens of thousands of DVDs of movies still playing in theaters are sent by Hollywood studios to Oscar, Golden Globe and other awards voters.

Every year, some of these discs are copied, and the movies end up being shared online, where they can cut into theater-ticket and DVD sales.

This time, studios are taking a new approach to prevent this kind of piracy, and technology is playing a big part.

Ahead of Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild awards, Fox Searchlight this month became the first studio to have nearly 100,000 SAG voters view new movies such as “Black Swan” through a free download from Apple Inc.’s iTunes store. Paramount Pictures, Focus Features and other studios did the same later with movies such as “The Fighter” and “The Kids Are All Right.”

In all cases, downloads are set to expire 24 hours after being viewed and are not available to the public.

As an anti-piracy tool, virtual screenings are cheaper and simpler than past efforts. For one thing, they remove the risk of discs going missing or being stolen. In cases where discs get pirated, the actual uploading is typically done by someone several steps removed from the recipient, often without that person’s knowledge, according to studio executives and law enforcement officials.

But digital screeners won’t necessarily be a savior either. People determined to break the law will find a way, even if it comes down to recording a digital movie by pointing a standard video camera at the computer screen.

“Copying a stream is even easier than duplicating a DVD,” Ernesto Van Der Sar, the founder of piracy news site TorrentFreak, said in an e-mail interview. “Moving to streaming might get the leak rate down but I can also see scenarios where it will lead to more leaks.”

Nonetheless, studios believe they must try new approaches to combat piracy.

The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that $25 billion globally is lost to it every year, and it is partly responsible for U.S. DVD sales falling from a peak in 2006 at $20.2 billion to about $14 billion in 2010.

Although the industry group says most of the damage comes from handheld video camera recordings in theaters around the world, awards screeners are still a problem.

In the past, studios went as far as sending voters specialized players equipped with stronger copy protections than regular DVDs, but that system was abandoned years ago as being too troublesome.

So most studios continue to send discs to voters by mail — as many as 20,000 per movie. And the risk of leaks remains.

Oscar screeners sent out in late 2008 were the source of online bootlegs of “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Australia,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Investigators followed the trail of unique disc identifiers called watermarks and convicted two men of felony copyright infringement.

In October, a screener of Summit Entertainment’s “Red” was copied and posted online a day before the movie hit theaters. Investigators traced the leak to a copy sent to the show “LIVE! With Regis & Kelly,” the second time in four months the show was responsible for a leak of a movie that was in theaters.

The Walt Disney Co., which produces the “Regis” show, has since tightened procedures, and now only a few key employees can receive screeners under tight restrictions.

The penalty for uploading movies to websites can reach up to three years in prison and a fine for first-time offenders, but the penalties get stiffer for repeat offenders or those with a profit motive.

The Justice Department convicted 207 people for intellectual property theft crimes in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, down from 287 in 2007. Cases involving awards screeners amount to “a handful every year,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Wesley Hsu in Los Angeles.

Kaye Cooper-Mead, an executive vice president at Summit Entertainment, aims to instill a sense of caution among recipients of awards screeners so they don’t let the discs get pirated by others. They need to understand “how many millions of dollars that one DVD is worth,” she said.

Studios are further along in weaning other reviewers off discs. Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures are having hoteliers, retailers and airline and cruise ship clients watch movies on secure websites before they make a decision to license the movies for guests or carry them in stores.

Sony Pictures’ chief technology officer, Mitch Singer, said the studio would eliminate physical screeners for retail and hospitality clients within a year.

But it may be some time before all awards shows go digital. Prestige and profits are attached to an awards win, especially for movies still in theaters. Some studios would rather send out DVDs and risk a leak than annoy voters by making them watch on a computer or mobile device.

“I don’t know how thrilled filmmakers would be to have their films seen on a laptop instead of a flat-screen TV,” said David Kaplan, a senior vice president of anti-piracy at Warner Bros., whose movie “Inception” is up for an Oscar for best picture.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>