Torrent users across the Internet have been greeted in recent weeks by a flood of Oscar-touted films available for download in high-quality video, a welcome change for fans who can’t wait for the movies to come out of the cinema. The only problem is that it’s all against the law.
Normally, when movies that are still playing in theaters leak to the Internet, a bootlegger who was able to sneak a camcorder into a screening of the film posts them. When a torrent user downloads that file, the result is a shoddy video fraught with picture problems and audio that cuts out intermittently.
As the Academy Awards approach, however, Hollywood studios send out screeners, or review copies of films in DVD format or another format, to critics, hoping to gin up conversation about the relevant films before the movies are made available on DVD or Blu-Ray. Each copy has an encryption or is watermarked in some way so that if it does leak to the Internet, the studios are able to determine just how it got there, and who to strike from the screener mailing list next year.
Screeners have been leaked a number of times since Napster first popularized illegal file sharing. Now, though, one of the most popular websites is Kat.Ph -- formerly known as Kick Ass Torrents before site administrators were forced to change their domain to escape prosecution. Illegal copies of “This is 40,” “Lincoln” and even more recent releases like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” have become available on the site in recent days.
The MPAA and RIAA have lobbied hard against illegal file-sharing on behalf of the entertainment business. It’s been a long, mostly fruitless battle that has yielded little more than bad public relations from a series of lawsuits that awarded movie studios thousands of dollars in damages based on one pirated movie. However, anyone who avoided illegal filesharing due to fear of studio prosecution might now be too tempted by the sheer accessibility of recent box office hits to refrain from doing so.
“It’s amazing, I would never pay to see five movies in a month, and that’s really unfortunate,” said one heavy downloader who wished to be identified only as Carlos. “Especially now. This is one of the best times for movies that I can remember.”
He said any risk of getting caught downloading a movie like “Flight” or “Skyfall” is negligible because of the number of people who get away with it.
“I mean, it’s definitely in the back of my mind, but honestly, I feel like the chances are so slim as long as I check the comments and don’t seed,” Carlos said, referring to the most common way people are caught using torrent sites. “Seeing good movies outweighs the risk.”