Well, what have we learned about pre-release piracy and its likely impact on this past weekend’s lackluster performance of Expendables III at the box office? About two weeks ago, someone who had access to a DVD-quality file of the franchise’s latest installment leaked that file for the purpose of upload to illegal file-sharing sites; and prior to film’s release on August 15, it had been viewed an estimated 2.2 million times. Some industry watchers will say that piracy clearly played a role in this case, damaging critical opening-weekend sales; others will point to the possibility of “franchise fatigue” and say that, with or without piracy, fans of the original Expendables might not have turned out for Number Three in profitable volume anyway.
For sure, we can expect folks to solidly assert one view or another depending on their opinions about piracy (and perhaps of the franchise itself), but the truth is that we probably can’t know with any certainty how many ticket sales did not materialize due to the leak. What we can know, however, is that is that it shouldn’t bloody matter with regard to the larger conversation about piracy. I say conversation generously because it isn’t a conversation any more than arguing with my seven year-old about bedtime is a conversation. As I said in my last post about this story, pre-release piracy is a dick move; and if nothing else, it would be grand if stories like this leak would help place this narrative that piracy is “about something” into the lunatic fringe where it belongs.
I’d like to point out that the two million plus “fans” who chose to watch this film before its release will not be the targets of Lionsgate’s aggressive legal pursuit of the players responsible for the leak. As such, it would be great if we could mothball this tedious tale writ by the whiny defenders of piracy (including Peter-I-hate-prison-because-they-don’t-serve-vegan-Sunde) that continues to cast individual viewers as victims in this context. To the contrary, Lionsgate is very much out for blood it seems, but they’re gunning for the people who actually stole from them and profited by doing so. In fact, the production company last week was granted permission by District Court Judge Margaret Meadows to force the likes of Google and GoDaddy to provide the identities of site operators who had been hosting copies of the film, and a round of subpoenas was sent out. This was in addition to Lionsgate already filing suit against six file-sharing sites for hosting copies of the leaked film.
There’s more, and there will be more to come from this story. This kind of piracy is a particularly big deal. It begins with an act akin to embezzlement, someone in the production chain taking a product with a $90-million-dollar price tag and selling it to a black market before it even reaches the legitimate market. That’s not a social agenda in action. It’s not about diffusion of culture or the democratization of access or free speech. It isn’t a response to “Hollywood’s failure to adopt new distribution methods.” Whoever stole the original file wasn’t thinking about any of that crap, he was just doing it for money. And he stole from his friends and colleagues. That’s all this is about.
So, no, the viewers of the pirated Expendables III will almost certainly not find themselves in the crosshairs of Lionsgate’s lawyers, but there’s no avoiding the fact that without their participation, piracy-for-profit simply wouldn’t exist. If you don’t want to see a movie, don’t see it. Let films like any other product live or die in a legitimate market on their own merits. If you do want to see a film so badly that you just have to watch it online before its release and without paying for it, then at least have the decency to shut up about it. Because it’s just a dick move. Nothing more.