July 3, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Hollywood hates pirates, but can it use them?

Attorney Nancy Prager sees only thievery in file sharing. Don't even try to suggest anything otherwise to her.

Director Michael Moore's Sicko is coming off a glittering debut weekend at the box office. This despite the documentary's availability on the Web for the past two weeks--distributed widely over the Internet by file sharers who violate copyright law. Prager, a Washington, D.C.-based copyright attorney, was asked whether those who downloaded the movie could have helped ticket sales by spurring word-of-mouth sales.

"No, no, no, no," Prager seethed. "This is depressing. We're not seeing a rise in the peer-to-peer influence market. Anything positive they may bring is instantly canceled. These guys aren't just spreading their opinions. They're spreading the actual movies."

Ever since Sicko first appeared on the Web, CNET News.com has tracked the film's presence online and asked whether file sharing depresses ticket sales. Some in the file-sharing community hold that pirates often stir interest on the Web that migrates to the physical world in the form of ticket sales. The response from Hollywood studios is largely: we don't need thieves to help us market our films.

"File sharing has been going on for years now and yet the movie industry continues to see record profits and revenues. Clearly file sharing is not killing the movie industry, far from it."
--Fred von Lohmann
attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Online piracy is apparently becoming a priority to Hollywood, as the transferring of large digital files becomes less time-consuming and the quality of viewing improves. Already, billions of dollars are lost to illegal file sharing every year and the losses are certain to grow, according to the top U.S. movie studios.

So what can be learned from the Sicko controversy?

It is believed that tens of thousands of copies of Moore's documentary about the health care industry were downloaded without authorization during the past two weeks. The movie has also gone up on YouTube and Google Video, and was viewed by thousands before being removed. As the movie played on theater screens across the country this weekend, the film returned to Google Video and was watched more than 2,000 times.

Nonetheless, the movie opened in 441 theaters on Friday and earned an estimated $4.5 million for the weekend. That was good for ninth place at the box office. Pixar's Ratatouille was No. 1 with an estimated $47.2 million haul.

What is encouraging for Sicko's producers, the Weinstein Co., is that while the movie opened on relatively few screens, it averaged $10,204 per theater, according to a story in The Hollywood Reporter. The industry publication reported that only one other movie this weekend topped Sicko's per-theater average: Ratatouille, with $11,987.

If Moore's film has been harmed by file sharing, the damage is hard to find.

"File sharing has been going on for years now and yet the movie industry continues to see record profits and revenues," said Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for Internet users. "Clearly file sharing is not killing the movie industry, far from it."

File-sharing buzz or buzz kill
After a slump in 2005, Hollywood saw revenue grow 11 percent to $25.8 billion last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group that represents the top movie studios.

Could file sharing have played any kind of role in the growth?

File sharers often argue that they are among the first to tell friends about a good movie. They say that this stimulates interest in people who don't share files. On the surface at least, this is the kind of buzz building that movie marketers are trying to ignite.

In a May 2005 report on movie marketing by The London School of Economics and Political Science, researcher David Lane found that the secret to stimulating ticket sales "is less about the film itself than about the success of pre-publicity and word-of-mouth recommendations."

Lane found that marketing techniques had changed in Hollywood in the past two decades and that what mattered most was "to get people talking about the film, creating prerelease interest and then to sell tickets--fast."

When Moore's documentary surfaced on the Web, it generated a host of news stories that served as free advertising. But there's no way to determine how many people learned about the movie from someone who downloaded a pirated copy.

What doesn't help support the premise that file sharing helped give Sicko a shot in the arm was that the movie drew mostly older audiences, according to published reports. Most file sharers are thought to be of college age.

"A Michael Moore film is going to be in the headlines no matter what it's about," said Gary Stein, an executive at Ammo Marketing, an advertising firm. "The news hounds were ready for a Sicko story and this one happened to be among the first to come out...You have to remember these aren't people that wake up in the morning and say to themselves, 'How am I going to get people to see this movie.' They get off on watching a movie for free."

And any measure of the effects that piracy has on a film must look at an entire theatrical run, said Prager, who represents independent music labels and has also negotiated movie deals. She points out that the financial performance of a documentary like Sicko may be particularly vulnerable to Internet piracy.

"This is not a big special-effects action movie that depends on the big screen," Prager said. "This is a film that people may be satisfied watching on their computers. That could really hurt the movie's sales."

In the end, nobody really knows what effects copyright infringement has on a movie's earning potential, said Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University. Zittrain does, however, see one benefit from the controversy.

"The real benefit of this kind of leakage," Zittrain said, "is that it pressures Hollywood to think outside of the box instead of hoping the Internet will just go away."

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38 comments

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Umm...not really
I don't know, maybe it'll hold true for other movies this summer like the new Harry Potter film and the Simpsons movie but frankly I wouldn't have paid the 10.00 to see Sicko in the theater anyway. There's a perverse accident like curiosity in seeing it, but that's just as easily satiated through my Netflix account in a month or two. Either way they wouldn't have gotten a whole lot from me.
Posted by menty666 (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Absolutely
Whenever a new movie begins to be advertised or we hear about it on the net, one of the first conversations my wife and I have is "Is this movie one that is worth seeing in the theatre?" Unfortunately, the answer is mostly "No". Is this influenced by what we hear from friends who have already seen it. Yes. I work as Consultant so I often rub shoulders with people who see a movie before its official release. I often grill them about plot, character development, etc... in other words, I am trying to find out if I would actually enjoy going to see this film in the Theatres. I like seeing a good movie in a Theatre... there is something magical about it. Especially in a really nice venue. Unfortunately we are usually content with watching Hollywood's drivel months later when it is released on HBO or OnDemand - and then only when there is nothing better on Discovery, SciFi, the History Channel, or AMC. Most movies are just not worth going to the theatre for... I would rather go to the ballet or the symphony, or see a good local Jazz band whose album I heard on their website. As for the few "Good" movies, you can bet we will go to the movie, buy the DVD and in a few years, probably upgrade our copy to HD. Shhhhh.. now I am going to tell you the key to getting our entertainment dollars - entertain us with quality stories, acting and production... in other words... make a good movie!
Posted by cyberusfaustus (4 comments )
Link Flag
Isn't it funny
While the industry is quick to banter about definitive statistics about how badly they are hurt by piracy, when it comes to measuring the benefits the response is: "Nobody really knows and it can't be measured".

A bit of a double standard, no?
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's greed that drives them..
...they simply don't make enough millions.They made 4.5 million and they were hoping for...??? I wonder how many of those "Pirates" would actually go to the movies to see those films ...what about liars who tell you in the trailer that the movie is the :"number one,best picture/film of the year etc..."and u go and pay $12 and u want your money back after 20 minutes... Its nothing else but pure scam,a cheat a L I E,but nobody will pay u back...and most movies are pure poo and people who have access to many movies and watch them are more picky.So,i don't think "pirates" can help them by word of mouth unless they start making better movies.I think it could be killing ticket sales in cases of bad movies=most movies coming out.What about prices of dvd's? Selling them for $20 when it costs cents to make...They should think about something like iTunes for movies,$99 cents for viewing in high quality or something like that and focus on sales of HD/BR dvd's.There are things like Netflix,blockbuster and others,where u pay very little or there is your local Public Library where u get your movies on dvd for F R E E ! Tell Hollywood to stop cheating poor,simple out of their money,by promising them good entertainment.They are nothing else but thieves,cheaters and liars.
Posted by tektaktyks (550 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You already have 99cent movies
"They should think about something like iTunes for movies,$99 cents for viewing in high quality or something like that" ...or something like that. iTunes gives you one song for 99cents, right? A typical song is 3min long...lets get some value here though and call it 5min. Now, a 90min movie has 18 5min "segments." 18 x $.99 = $17.82, about the price of a DVD. "bad movies=most movies?" Well, bad songs=most songs, so you already have exactly what you claim you want.

If you prefer, we can go back to the 3min song and note that there are 30 3min "segments" in a 90min movies, which, at 99cents/3min, for which you should be paying $29.70 in order to satisfy your own criterion. So, the next time someone wants to charge you $15.99 for a DVD, demand to pay $29.70 to demonstrate your own lack of greed.
Posted by dvthex (18 comments )
Link Flag
Moore Tactic?
Having watched Michael Moore operate I would not be
surprised if he had the movie "leaked" just as those in
government "leak" stories for headlines. He drums up publicity
and does not have to pay for it.

The only "Sicko" in this movie are Moore and the idiots stupid
enough to pay the money to go see it. The undereducated too
dumb to understand his propaganda and the overeducated
without the common sense to know better.
Posted by georgiarat (254 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So I guess you are just a bigot
Without actually watching the movie how can you have the wisdom to comment on it? Jeez. Have you seen bowling for columbine. It was great!! I am sure Fahrenheit 911 aroused a lot of polarizing opinions, but the healthcare is not that polarizing. Everyone agrees it is broken. Michael Moore just illustrates that.
Posted by bommai (172 comments )
Link Flag
Yes they can totally use them
Check out the Scope platform by divinity Metrics, they sample multiple platforms to provide metrics and analytics for any digital campaign.. you can check them out at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://divinityMetrics.com" target="_newWindow">http://divinityMetrics.com</a> .
Also see a post for Sicko done some days back:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.divinitymetrics.com/blog/?p=24" target="_newWindow">http://www.divinitymetrics.com/blog/?p=24</a>

Cheers..

Thomas.
Posted by Thomas_74 (9 comments )
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Definition of Waste as it relates to this report
Bus load of attorneys goes off the road and over a cliff ... with one empty seat.
Posted by BloggerRadio (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You saw that on iGoogle!
That was a joke of the day from one of the default modules on iGoogle! Nice use. Its fits quite well :)
Posted by limefan913 (129 comments )
Link Flag
Not impressed with Mr. Moore
First of all, inspite of all the hyperbole and Mr Moore's docudrama, the healthcare 'system' in the United States isn't broken. It works, and in most cases, works well at delivering the care needed in a fast and efficient manner.

The trade offs for universal care is vastly increased taxation, long waiting lines for absolutely necessary care, and fewer options to who, where, and what kind of care you get. Certainly people in Sweden, the UK, and Canada all agree that people in the U.S. can get needed care far faster than they can in their countries. Funny, how nobody holds up the massively disparate mortality rates for people waiting for care and procedures in those countries compared to the U.S.

Mr. Moore is really good at putting on a show tarring and feathering the objects of his ire. But as far as workable solutions to problems, he's a pathetic loser.
Posted by Dr_Zinj (727 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One sided hack job
Moore points out only failures in the US system and none of the successes (which incidentally have for decades driven improvements in heath care worldwide). On the flip side the systems he touts in his movie he shows only their successes and none of their failures (which are much more severe than the US system's).

His movies are just junk PROPAGANDA and not worth the money spent on them.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
How many people in the US
Have no health coverage and/or are one misfortune away from total financial devastation?

Is this acceptable in the richest country in the world?

How is it OK to give out corporate welfare at taxpayer expense and use taxpayer money to wage BS wars, yet it is not okay to use it to help its own people?
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
Hogwash
You can keep repeating the lies the right is spreading about
Canadian and UK health care, but the FACT of the matter is they
are happy and do not envy the US. I should know. I lived in
Canada for almost five years. I'd take their system over ours in a
New York minute.

What about the recent study into private-managed Medicare in
the US? For those states that have it privately managed, the
patients pay way more out of pocket and it costs the states 12
percent more than if it had been government-managed.

As one doctor in California said in a piece yesterday, "I came
from Belgium. Here you have a provider for medical, another for
dental and another for your eye doctor. So there are three
different bureaucracies you have to deal with instead of one!"

Yeah, we have it great in the US. That's why so many people
aren't covered at all, and those covered by HMOs are routinely
denied coverage. Even if the long lines in Canada were true
(which they are most certainly not) that beats the tar out of not
being allowed to stand in line at all!

Drop the blinders and look at the facts. Singer payer is more
efficient any way you slice it. Health care needs to be:

1: Non profit
2: Single-payer
3: If privately managed, then there must be ceilings on profits
and limits on denial of coverage.
Posted by ewelch (767 comments )
Link Flag
Medical science isn't broken...
... but the system IS.

I am among the countless number of people in this great nation with absolutely no health insurance and whose wages are too high to qualify for government assistance of any sort.

Increased taxation? Yes, there would be. But then again, that would be offset by the lack of health insurance premiums (which can easily be several hundred dollars a month).

Long lines? I PRAY for long lines. As it is, I can't even GET in line.

Fewer options? Get real - how can you possibly have fewer than none?
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Link Flag
Unclear writing
The paragraph "Already, billions of dollars are lost to illegal file sharing every year and the losses are certain to grow, according to the top U.S. movie studios." makes it hard to distinguish if the writer is telling us that the studios claim billions of dollars in losses, or whether they just claim losses will grow, and that the "billions of dollars in losses" is a fact (which it isn't)
Posted by Nchantim (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The MPAA and RIAA
Counts a "illegal" download as a lost sale.

One of the many reasons they have no credibility.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
We need us a good revolt.
If we had an iTunes equivalent for creative commons and public domain content, we wouldn't need these idiots any more than I, as a Linux user, directly need Adobe or Microsoft. Do you see me pirating software? It's not worth my time, as I think commercial stuff is crap anyway.

So lets do what we did with code, with music, and movies, and books. I'm contacting the participatory culture foundation now.
Posted by ethana2 (348 comments )
Reply Link Flag
well, your holy highness
Why don't you find a public domain hole and crawl in with the rest of your idiotic "idealistic" friends. America is built on "commerce" and profits from risking capital on starting, maintaining, and growing such "commerce".
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
Link Flag
Heart of the issue
What the industry doesn't seem to accept is that the heart of the issue is not that people are stealing their content and must be stopped but rather that people no longer feel valued by the industry or see value in the industry's products.

Movies and music are too generic and too manufactured, they are designed to make the most possible money by attracting the widest possible audience (for example, the big studios are making fewer R rated, and more PG-13, horror movies) and consumers feel cheated by these expensive shallow and samey productions so they have no qualms about ripping them off.
Posted by perfectblue97 (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
two thumbs up ... your a.....
What the s...t are you talking about? Making money is what it's all about. If you haven't noticed, all the summer blockbusters are very generic, regurgitated sequels of PG or PG-13 variety that attracts multitudes on the opening weekend. They certainly don't seem to feel cheated.
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
Link Flag
Theatrics versus Content
I thought Columbine was pretty good as a "theatrical
documentary" and Fahrenheit 911 was good production. I have
not seen Sicko, let my son handle that one.

The problem is that Moore is pushing a political viewpoint as a
documentary with many key points missing in the truth. If you
want to watch his stuff as entertainment fine but I hope you are
smarter than believing the content in his work is accurate.
Sorta like reading Ann Coulter and believing she is reporting
solid work. Both are sensationalists that laugh all the way to
the bank.
Posted by georgiarat (254 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where is the political viewpoint
in people dying because HMO's deny them care? What was the
political viewpoint of Colombine? He did not advocate gun control,
just asked why this happens in the U.S. To compare Moore to
Coulter is so ludicrous you lose all credibility for all your remarks. I
doubt you have seen any of his movies and base all your views of
Moore on what you hear on faux news.
Posted by expatincebu (156 comments )
Link Flag
Yawn!
Yes, I would rather watch a decent movie at the cinema but these days one is hard-pressed to find a decent movie.

If the whole thing is going to be one huge computer-generated special effect, then I may as well take the time out to download it and watch it on a computer, if I could be bothered.

I went to "Spiderman 3" at the cinema, and it was nothing but a giant special effect. That's not going to open my wallet.

However, if your final product shows a profit, how do you calculate a non-existent "loss" from people who would never have paid to see the movie in the first place (people like me, who aren't going to open their wallets at the cinema or to an ISP)?

Start producing some quality again, and we may return to watching the big screen.
Posted by TreknologyNet (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ironic
Hey, Moore wants free health care for all, why not free movies for all? Free everything for everybody. All one socialistic paradise. But then there wouldn't be any multi-millionaire directors. Such a pity.
Posted by solrosenberg (124 comments )
Reply Link Flag
it's your local theaters fault!!!
To me I hated going to the movie theater ever since back when True Romance was playing at the local mall. I really was looking forward to seeing this movie and the best part was it's a R rated movie. but that didn't stop this woman from taking her little baby to see it too. You would not believe how much this kid cried doing this film.. after that I quit looking forward to movies in Theatres. STicky floors, crying kids, then that guy who walks by you every 20 minutes. Then you got over priced snackfood 5 dollar soda pops, 3 dollar bottles of water. 5 dollar popcorns. NO if I can I will buy the movie on dvd when it comes out and still have money for beer.

I think the movie theater chains are why there is piracy of films. the game is up, and people like my self will not goto a theatre anymkore. The studios have to get those movies on to video sooner then they do. other wise this game of downloading films will get easyer and easyer to do and thats that.
Posted by joebuck (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My file sharing has nothing to do with my purchases.
I saw a screener version of Oceans Thirteen just before it came out in theaters. Tomorrow, I'm going with a family member to get price gouged for $8.50 a pop to go see it at the theater. Why? Because bigger is better, and although I DO own a 50in DLP HDTV with 5.1 surround sound, its just fun to go see a movie... even more so if someone else pays so I don't feel my wallet the entire time I'm there.

Chances are, if I'm gonna (hypothetically) download something, its because I have no intentions of buying anyhow. I'd be more likely to borrow it from a friend instead.
Posted by limefan913 (129 comments )
Reply Link Flag
_
I'm 13 and i file share and still watch movies at the theaters.

i never said that. we weren't here. 9/11 was a fake event cooked up my Michael Moore and George H.W Bush.
Posted by RagingAura (28 comments )
Link Flag
Very strange
Most movies are not worth watching. Why would anyone want to pay to watch, much less bother to steal? Are there really that many lobotomy victims wandering around with money in their pockets?
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Kamakazi-Hamster you Far left liberal cry baby
Moore never made a movie worth watching. The point I get out of the previous poster trashing his movie is to show the only time it's worth watching his movie is when it's free. Moore is nothing but a pig faced left wing liberal like you that warps the truth about anything he does a Supposed documentary on. Why pay to watch a Supposed documentary that only shows half the facts. Moore gives credibility to stealing movies because they suck so bad. Just like your comment to the previous poster. Your too (using your words) f***ing stupid to see the point of his post.
Posted by droolin (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
IT Helps sales
i'm always missing movies in cinemas won't buy the dvd tosee it cause they are too expensive and renting them when they are released to rental usually miss that as well. loss in sales around $50

watch downloaded content if its good i make sure i go watch it at the movies and i usually buy it on dvd too

if its bad i save money and don't get pissed about the crap they release to the movies and stop going for 6 months

movies i will see transformers oceans 13 harry potter

movie i last saw The Queen see the time difference

can't list the stuff i bought after watching downloaded content too many also same for tv series and then i still watch them
Posted by pkarirose (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dollars and Disgust
Let's face it, the offerings from Hollywood ARE getting worse, and the point of a movie is (or at least was) something that you could watch and let it take you to a different time or place. In the past few decades, movies have turned into marketing for personal or political agendas, or just plain cash harvesting. I can remember when you used to watch a movie trailer and it made you want to go and see it. Now if you've seen a trailer, that's it! You have just seen the best part of the whole movie.
Combine that with the fact that the theaters have become quite unpleasant, both physically and morally, and the exorbitant cost. To take a family of four at $8.50 a head, plus $5.00 sodas, $5.00 popcorns +tax, you're talking over $75.00! Our family (of 5) is over a hundred bucks a pop! I cannot recall any movie I've seen that was worth a hundred bucks to own, much less just to watch one time. So, $1500 bucks later (or 15 movies later) I have a 120" projection home theater w/all the bells and whistles, 200 watt 8.1 surround, HDTV etc.. No puny 60" plasma for $8000 or rear projection refrigerator crate taking up space. Electric screen drops from the ceiling and when you're done, it's up and out of the way and I get to reclaim all that living space.
With all the extra HDTV over-the-air channels and a basic $33/mo. satellite setup, you can totally immerse yourself in whatever you like, and if that isn't enough, there's always the thousands of DVD's at the rental store.
Fooey on the whole movie theater crap thing. I know for a fact that this scenario is playing out in more homes everyday. I live in a very modest neighborhood in a small town where the average income is under $30,000/year, and I personally know of at least 53 of these home theater systems, either projection or wide screen based, that have been installed. As soon as someone watches one of them, it isn't long before they are getting one of their own. The real price is less than the big electronic retailers want you to believe, since they make their biggest profit from overpriced, over-the-top, unrealistic systems . They've even had to close some of their outlets since Wal-Mart entered the big-screen market and cut their price gouging throats.

Piracy? Not in my opinion. It is, however, a great source for movie reviews. You don't have to download or watch a pirated move to quickly find out which ones are great and which are crap. Just look at the ones that are listed when you Google 'em. Any new release is all over the place, but within a few days, they're gone if they're crap, but the good ones are listed for months. Check back with Google in a month and see which one is still on top, Pirates of the Caribbean or Sicko. The "professional" reviewers place too much emphasis on "how" and "by whom" the movie was made, as opposed to how "good" it was. Let the pirates filter out the crap, and then you can discover what the general population REALLY thinks of a movie. Most of the time the great ones are not the reviewers choice.
Posted by Wiz Wildstar (15 comments )
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