Oscar Piracy: Is Hollywood’s Security System Actually Working?

Waxy.org’s Andy Baio has once again published an extensive collection of data about this year’s Oscar nominations and their availability on P2P networks. He’s been doing this for the last seven years, during which the overall picture has remained pretty much the same; almost all Oscar nominated movies are available on file-sharing networks before the annual awards ceremony. In fact of the 26 movies that were nominated this year, 23 are already available in DVD quality on P2P networks.

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Graph courtesy of Andy Baio/Waxy.org.

However, there seems to be hope for Hollywood, or at least for its anti-piracy believers: Leaking those films now takes longer than ever before. The median time between a film’s U.S. premiere and its leak online now stands at 11 days, up from five days in 2008 and a single day in 2005. The reason for this seems to be that there are fewer and fewer so-called “cam” releases, movies recorded by people with their camcorders in theaters. Maybe all those bag checks, intimidating security guards and night vision goggles actually do have an effect.

The number of cam releases has fallen sharply this year, according to Waxy’s data. Scene release sites like VCDQuality lists just eight of them, which means that only 30 percent of all movies nominated were filmed in theaters. Last year, the number was still around 55 percent, and 2007 it was closer to 70 percent.

Hollywood has long fought cam piracy, and some of the measures being used against it made it into the headlines last year. Authorities arrested a man trying to videotape The Dark Knight in Kansas last July,  and theater owners started to use night vision goggles in UK theaters to prevent the leak of Quantum of Solace.

So are the goggles working? While Waxy’s data seems to show that they are, using the Oscars as an indicator for overall piracy trends is fraught with problems. The awards do feature some of the more popular mainstream movies, but big blockbusters like Mall Cop won’t be nominated anytime soon. Smaller movies, on the other hand, may garner a few nominations, but they lack big audience numbers, both in theaters and on P2P networks.

This seems to be especially true for the 2009 nominations. The list only features one or two real blockbusters; movies like Rachel Getting Married, meanwhile, might fill an indie theater or two, but the film still hasn’t shown up on P2P networks at all. Maybe cammers and the associated release groups just don’t like indie fare.

Either way, any success on the anti-piracy front is temporary at best. The fact is that most movies are available in DVD quality online long before the original DVDs show up on retail shelves, which results in significant declines in DVD sales numbers.

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