LOS ANGELES — The Force is not with those who want to watch "Star Wars" without giving the Mouse its cheese. The Walt Disney Company's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" set an opening-weekend domestic box-office record, owing much of that to the hordes of fans happy to pony up $20 or more for a ticket to see it in full Imax 3D. But there's a big online audience that finds downloading it illegally to be a far more compelling value proposition, regardless of the legal risk and ethical questions, and Disney's success in locking down the movie four days after it opened leaves the would-be pirates out of luck.
While it seems like everyone has already seen "Star Wars" in theaters anyway, those hoping to download a high-quality torrent — a type of compressed video file — are finding nothing. Reddit's piracy boards are full of frustration and what appear to be handheld-video-camera bootlegs in Russian. And the fact that so many other big holiday movies have already leaked makes the absence of "Star Wars" stand out even more.
"The Revenant," a Western thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was last weekend's most pirated film. Fully 762,109 unique IP addresses downloaded the movie, according to data provided to International Business Times by German forensic IT firm Excipio. Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" was second with 609,436 addresses. Both movies were scheduled for a Christmas Day release. "Creed," the latest installment in the "Rocky" saga, which has been in theaters since Nov. 25, placed third with 521,020.
Other notable movies that have leaked online in recent days include "Steve Jobs," "Carol" and "In the Heart of the Sea," according to Variety. For the third film, a whaling epic directed by Ron Howard, the breach adds insult to injury. The movie, with a rumored $100 million production budget, has brought in only $68 million globally in its first two weeks — and now it's competing with "Star Wars" and the Christmas movies. And it can't count on word of mouth to save it — the movie has an embarrassing 42 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Many of the leaks come from DVD screeners given out to voters and other entertainment media types during awards season, which is now. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres even found herself in the middle of a leak controversy in 2014, when a screener of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" that had a watermark tied to her ended up online. And while studios digitally track their screeners and flash ominous-sounding warnings about severe penalties on the screen, screeners are exchanged freely among friends of friends in the industry in L.A. this time of year, so it's easy to see how some end up online.
While Irdeto, Disney’s anti-piracy subcontractor, declined to comment on any specific strategies or tactics it has been using to protect "Star Wars" from a similar fate, Disney has been aggressive in enforcing its copyrights. The media giant filed for a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice that forced Facebook and Twitter to pull a photo taken by a fan of an action figure that was legally — if apparently prematurely — bought at a Walmart store and posted on a fansite.