"The Hurt Locker" producers Voltage Pictures has declared war on piracy and is planning to sue thousands of people who have illegally downloaded the Academy Award-winning picture on the popular file-sharing site BitTorrent.
The lawsuits, first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, underscore Hollywood's growing frustration with piracy. Like the music industry in the 1990s, the movie industry says the problem is serious, costing it billions of dollars in losses every year. That's nonsense, according to many of the industry's blogosphere critics, who point to the record 2009 box office earnings of more than $10 billion as proof of the industry's vitality.
That good fortune was not shared by Voltage, however, as "The Hurt Locker" set a record for the least attended Best Picture winner in the modern history of the Oscars. Meanwhile, the film was a sensation on BitTorrent, according to the Torrent/Freak website.
"The day after the award show 'the hurt locker' was the most typed in search phrase on BitTorrent, with 'hurt locker' ending up in ninth place," writes the site's editor, who goes by Ernesto. "This increased demand was also reflected in the download numbers which skyrocketed. Since its win at the Oscars, the film has been downloaded more than 3 million times, totaling well over 10 million downloads."
A Risky Move
Nonetheless, the lawsuit strategy is risky. First of all, it remains debatable whether piracy really hurt the box office proceeds for "The Hurt Locker" or not.
After all, movies about the Iraq War have regularly bombed at the box office. Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, argues that the producers hurt themselves by botching the film's release. "The picture just wasn't appealing to audiences," he says. "It lingered in limited release for a long time."
In addition, intellectual property cases are usually expensive and time-consuming, and oftentimes are settled for big bucks without going to trial. And by facing defendants with limited resources, Voltage -- much like previous music industry predecessors -- could end up winning the cast on its legal merits only to lose in the court of public opinion.
"Hopefully it's worth it," writes Voltage President Nicholas Chartier in an email to DailyFinance. Attorneys from the U.S. Copyright Group, which represents Voltage, didn't immediately respond to an email requesting comment. The firm already has filed lawsuits against people who have downloaded copies of about 10 other films.
Is Piracy Dangerous?
The Motion Picture Association of America is not participating in the Voltage case and has no plans to pursue similar cases, says spokesman Howard Gantman. As TheWrap notes, the MPAA has been somewhat successful in getting college administrators to crack down on illegal file sharing. Its website lists a litany of the hazards of sharing content over peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, including BitTorrent.
"By uploading and downloading copyrighted material on P2P networks you are not only violating the law, you are also potentially exposing your computer and private information to strangers," the MPAA says. "By allowing strangers to access files on your computer, other sensitive information, such as bank records, social security numbers and pictures, could also become accessible and put you and your family at risk of identity theft or worse."
Users argue the dangers and the extent of piracy is exaggerated by Hollywood. It's now up to the courts to decide who is right.
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