Hollywood’s Fight Against Prerelease Piracy: Is It Working?

Hollywood has just suffered another defeat in the fight against prerelease piracy, The Wall Street Journal reported this week: American Gangster appeared on the streets and online more than a week before its theatrical release date.

americangangster.jpgThe movie is apparently ripped from a DVD, resulting in far better quality than your average hidden camera recording. Universal is denying that DVDs sent to Academy Awards members are the source, but one of the “NFO” files accompanying the online release nevertheless states: “God bless the Awards screener season.”

Of course, this wasn’t the first high-profile movie that found its way onto the Net ahead of its release, but according to the Journal, Hollywood is getting better at preventing those leaks. We wanted to know if that’s true, so we compiled a quick list of the top-grossing new releases of the last 10 weeks and their respective online appearances. Think of it as a prerelease piracy score card.

Here’s how well all those watermarks and obnoxious theater security guards worked:

30 Days of Night. Theater release: 10/19. Online release: 10/21, which means it found its way onto the torrent sites after the opening weekend. Chalk one up for Hollywood with this one.

Why Did I Get Married? Theater release: 10/12. Online release: 10/15. Another saved opening weekend. Oddly enough, this movie is still not available on sites like the Pirate Bay. Maybe Tyler Perry knows the secret to saving marriages and Hollywood?

The Heartbreak Kid. Theater release: 10/05. Online release: The very next day. One point for the pirates, especially since the release was deemed to be “damn good,” as one VCDQuality.com commenter remarked.

The Game Plan. Theater release: 09/28. Online release: 09/30. Another safe weekend for Hollywood, if there wasn’t also …

The Kingdom, the second-highest grossing newcomer of the same week, which found its way onto the Net two days before its theatrical release. The release was a “silver,” scene lingo for a bootleg DVD being sold in places like New York’s Chinatown.

Resident Evil: Extinction. Theater release: 09/21. Online release: 09/23.

The Brave One. Theater release: 09/14. Online release: 09/16.

3:10 To Yuma. Theater release: 09/07. Online release: 09/09.

Halloween. Theater release: 08/31. An internal work print of the movie appeared online four days earlier, still displaying the words “Property of Dimension Films” throughout the movie. This leaked version apparently differed significantly from the final release, but that didn’t seem to bother downloading film fans. Says one commenter on VCDQuality.com: “For [an] internal this was by far the best one this year.”

Mr. Bean’s Holiday. U.S. theater release: 08/24. The movie was released in Europe earlier, and a first copy found its way on the Net back in March.

Superbad. Theater release: 08/17. Online release: 08/19.

So how did Hollywood do? The studios were in fact able to prevent prerelease piracy in some cases, but the pirates got their hands on high-grossing new releases before or on four of the last ten release weekends.

This list also shows that it’s not about fighting piracy anymore. It’s a fight about having a two-day window before a movie inevitably hits the torrent sites — and making as much money during these two days as possible.

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