Sorry, Not Sorry

Last month, Hive-CM8, the so-called piracy release group, announced plans to leak an unprecedented 40 new films online – many of them high-quality “screeners” of movies contending for various awards. The group made good on their threat, releasing about half of the stolen films, including “Creed,” “Spectre,” “Steve Jobs,” and “The Hateful Eight.” The last of these films was released by the group one week before its scheduled premiere in theaters.

Hive-CM8 later issued a bizarre “apology” and pledged to stop releasing movies before they premiere in theaters, acknowledging that, in the case of “The Hateful Eight,” serious damage could be done to its creators by their actions. As a sign of their newfound “generosity,” they leaked “The Big Short” in conjunction with the apology stating:

[w]e held back this title till 1 week after [theatrical release] to give the movie a fighting chance to play in the budget, we learned from our mistake… [creators] need the money from ticket sales to get back [their] production costs.

They went on to say: “[w]e feel sorry for the trouble we caused by releasing that great movie before [its release date] had even begun. We never intended to hurt anyone by doing that.”

However, before their troubled brows became too creased with worry, they quickly absolved themselves of guilt asserting:

Since everyone is now talking about this movie we don’t think the producers will [lose] any money [upon theatrical release]. We actually think this has created a new type of media hype that is more present in the news, radio and in the papers than Star Wars, and the promotional costs for this were free. If let’s say 5% of the people planned to watch this movie at cinema date, due to this media push we unintentionally created, we believe that now 40% of the people will watch this movie in the cinema [because] everyone is talking about it and everyone wants to see the movie that created so much noise. This will push the cinema ticket sales for sure. We really hope this helped out the producers in the long-run, so that the production costs are covered and more.

It’s pretty obvious that Hive’s statement is self-serving, not to mention patently false and ill-informed. Even fellow Redditors derided the group. And while refuting most of their assertions is probably unnecessary, perhaps this incident can be used as a teachable moment. Specifically, the false notion that piracy amounts to “free advertising” is persistent and widespread. As demonstrated above, proponents contend that piracy is a good thing because it generates buzz that leads to increased sales that more than offset piracy’s harms.

In reality, Hive’s free advertising justification for “The Hateful Eight” leak represents a fundamental lack of understanding about the film business and the creative industries in general. If marketing a new film, album or book was as easy as leaking it online, movie studios, record labels and book publishers would do it themselves. However, when releasing new creative works, the success of these works depends on creating new markets and consumer awareness, which requires far more than just dumping content online.

Even “Jurassic World,” a well-recognized brand, called for a massive and innovative marketing push. Almost two years in the making, Universal re-released the original “Jurassic Park” in 3D, struck savvy advertising deals promoting the movie in conjunction with popular movies and sporting events, and leveraged popular cable networks to broadcast special screenings of the original movie hosted by Stephen Spielberg and “Jurassic World” star, Christopher Pratt. And these efforts were complemented with an innovative digital marketing strategy featuring an incredibly rich website for the Jurassic World theme park, replete with minute details such as ride descriptions (including wait times), travel plan guides, weather reports and more (see this blog).

The producers of “The Hateful Eight” also got creative with their marketing plan, staging a limited release Roadshow around the country to generate interest in the film prior to its conventional debut. The Roadshow was reminiscent of older Hollywood and included extra footage, an intermission, and a program for the exhibition. It was also screened in 70mm Ultra-Panavision, which makes the image twice the size viewers are used to seeing. (To learn more, watch this video on Fandango where Samuel L. Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, and Panavision executives discuss the effort and the creative process.)

We live in a world where consumers have never had more entertainment choices. While this competition is great for the creative community and for consumers, it also means that connecting with consumers is more difficult and expensive than it has been in the past, and requires a level of creativity and ingenuity far beyond just simply leaking the creative work online. The notion that a faceless group of Internet outlaws drives audience buzz – more than a creative team’s marketing campaign, advertising, and promotions – is patently absurd.
Unlike Hive, these assertions are not based on a hunch. The notion that piracy harms creators is well understood and accepted. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University concluded that the vast majority of academic literature demonstrates harm. Further, other CMU researchers demonstrated that pre-release piracy (when a movie is leaked online prior to its theatrical debut, like “The Hateful Eight”) is particularly damaging, “find[ing] that, on average, pre-release piracy causes a 19.1% decrease in revenue compared to piracy that occurs post- release.”

It’s time for the claims that piracy is free advertising and good for creators to fade to black.

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