July 1, 2004 4:31 PM PDT

'Fahrenheit 9/11' sparks file-sharing flare-up

The political firestorm surrounding filmmaker Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" has found its way into the file-sharing world.

The controversial film--like virtually every new release--has been circulating online for days. Early in the week, anti-Moore Web site MooreWatch.com posted a link to a pirated version of the film available elsewhere on a file-sharing network, noting that the director himself has publicly backed downloading the movie online.

The result has been a torrent of criticism from Moore supporters and his distribution company, Lions Gate Entertainment. The site was even the target of a denial-of-service attack a few days ago. But MooreWatch co-founder Jim Kenefick, a Web programmer in Hamden, Conn., is taking it in stride.

"Moore has said on many cases that he doesn't care if people download his movies or steal his book or sneak into his movies," Kenefick said. "If I can use his own words against him to be a bee in his bonnet, then I will."

The online flap may say more about the often-conflicting desires of creators and their business agents than it does about the political debate over Moore's film. While studios and record labels have uniformly excoriated unauthorized sharing of movies and music online, many artists--particularly those eager for the propagation of their political messages--have sent more mixed messages.

Moore's own comments came in an interview, clips of which have been floating around the Net at least since January. Kenefick said he was not able to verify the original source.

"I don't agree with copyright laws, and I don't have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it...as long as they're not trying to make a profit off my labor," Moore said in that interview, comparing file sharing to a person sharing a purchased DVD with a friend. "I make these movies and books and TV shows because I want things to change, and so the more people who get to see them, the better."

The downloadable version of "Fahrenheit 9/11" linked to by MooreWatch.com was on the BitTorrent file-sharing system, a popular peer-to-peer tool that is designed for the rapid, efficient distribution of large files. While the technology is used by software companies including Linux distributors as a way to circulate their products, it is also widely used to distribute first-run movies and TV shows.

Like many early pirated releases, the copy was shot by a handheld camcorder, with poor-quality audio and shaking visuals, Kenefick said.

The founders of the site, which launched in late 2002 after the release of "Bowling for Columbine," said they have not heard directly from Moore or Lions Gate about their link to the BitTorrent file. Several lawyers have contacted them with offers of support, if there is a legal question, Kenefick said.

A representative of Lions Gate did not immediately return calls for comment.

 

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