"The Hobbit" movies, starring Martin Freeman (pictured), could make more money than "The Lord of the Rings" at the box office. Warner Bros.

The Christmas cookies have been eaten and the New Year's ball has dropped, but for pirates, the most wonderful time of year is only beginning. It's known as screener season, when bootleg DVD copies of movies that are still in theaters leak onto torrent sites throughout the Internet. “American Sniper,” “Selma,” “The Hobbit,” “Unbroken” and other new releases are now available for free online, and you just have to be willing to break the law to download them.

With the 87th Oscars ceremony scheduled for Feb. 22, the Academy sends out DVD Screeners to the thousands of film critics and Hollywood players who judge the winners of each category. All it takes is for one of those recipients to upload their screener only, or to share it it with one of the most popular uploaders, for that movie to jump from a viewer's movie theater to his laptop. And jump they do, with nine major motion pictures hitting the Web on Wednesday and more following suit on Thursday.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Fives Armies,” the third and final movie in the J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired franchise, was downloaded more than 500,000 times in its first 24 hours online according to figures obtained by TorrentFreak. Like other films, some copies of “The Hobbit” were removed almost immediately, though at press time one prominent torrent site featured at least six copies of the movie.

“The Hobbit” finished last weekend at the top of the box office, trailed by “Into the Woods” and “Unbroken.” But box office domination also seems to translate to torrent success, with both those movies attracting more than 100,000 downloads, respectively.

The only downside for the notoriously picky piracy community is that many of the films come with a watermark, an attempt by the Hollywood studio to identify which Oscar judge betrayed the Academy's trust. Still, one piracy group known only as CM8 has dedicated its resources to removing the invasive marking.

“Movie had watermarks visible and invisible. [We] had to remove frames to get rid of them,” one administrator told TorrentFreak, revealing that they manipulated the digital file to improve the video. “Nothing I haven't done before. It was hours of work, but its finally done and ready for you to get.”