Online movie piracy has plagued Hollywood for roughly two decades now. Despite numerous enforcement efforts, the problem only appears to get worse.
Ten years ago, the threat mostly came from torrent sites which proved to be a hurdle for the impatient or tech illiterates. Today, there are hundreds of streaming sites and apps that rival Netflix, Disney, and other legal platforms.
We can’t say that the movie industry hasn’t changed. Responding to rampant piracy figures, movies have appeared online more swiftly after their theatrical release. During the current pandemic, several prominent titles even premiered online. However, that appears to have had little impact.
The release of Mulan illustrates this perfectly. After several delays, the film skipped the box office in most countries. Instead, it was released on Disney+ where viewers had to pay an extra fee to see it. The exact price differs per region but in the US it’s roughly $30 on top of the regular subscription.
That’s a steep price or a bargain, depending on who you ask. Disney would argue that two box-office tickets plus drinks and popcorn would cost more. And you’ll save on gas too. Then again, compared to the dozens of other titles you can watch on Disney+ for the regular monthly subscription fee, it’s quite expensive.
Without arguing over who’s right or wrong, the online premiere of Mulan had a major side-effect. For days on end, it’s been the most pirated movie, crushing all competition by a wide margin.
Over the past several days, we’ve collected various samples of download figures from public torrent trackers with help from I Know. We don’t like to publish hard numbers as it’s impossible to capture all downloads perfectly. However, it’s clear that Mulan was downloaded millions of times through torrent sites alone.
We have seen many pirated movies appear online over the past decade but seldomly do the download figures stand out like this.
For example, on the first full day that it was online, September 5, Mulan was downloaded 900% more than the second most downloaded film (The Owners). This dominance continued throughout the week when no other movie came close, not even newer releases.
To give an indication, here are the download estimates of the five most-downloaded movies in our sample on September 5.
And here’s the same list a week later on September 12, more than a week after the first pirated copies appeared online. The download numbers in our sample dropped significantly but remain higher than the competition, with 300% more downloads than runner-up Ava.
We should stress that these numbers are based on data from public torrent trackers; direct download sites and pirate streaming views are not considered. However, it clearly shows how popular Mulan is.
Another good reference point is a comparison to last year’s hit release from Disney, The Lion King. That was very popular on torrent sites as well but the number of downloads was roughly 50% lower than Mulan on the first day, and also 50% lower the week after.
There are several reasons that contributed to Mulan’s popularity and we’ll discuss a few here.
Various surveys have shown that the most common motivation for pirates is “because it’s free.” This cost factor definitely plays a role in Mulan’s release. The pricing differs from country to country but in the US it’s $29.99, which sits on top of the $6.99 monthly subscription.
Needless to say, this is a bigger hurdle to overcome when compared to regular movies that come out on Netflix or Disney+. The costs are not too far away from those associated with a visit to a movie theater for two people, but that’s where the second argument comes into play.
When a movie usually premieres at the box office there are no high quality pirated copies. If there’s a release it’s usually a ‘camcorded’ version, which we saw with Tenet recently. In this case particularly, pirates prefer to pay for quality.
With Mulan the situation is different. Soon after the movie appeared on Disney+, high quality pirated copies were widely shared. These are direct competitors to, and substitutes for, the official release.
Finally, there are many regions where Mulan is simply not legally available. This means that for some the only option is to wait for several months avoiding all spoilers, or go down the illegal route.
There may be other factors that play a role as well but steep costs, low availability, and high-quality pirate alternatives certainly play a major role.
While it may be tempting to conclude that Disney’s strategy backfired, that conclusion is too easy to reach. Game of Thrones was widely known as the most pirated TV-show for years, but all the buzz surrounding the show also resulted in many new HBO subscriptions.
Disney may hope for the same. The company has a dedicated anti-piracy department and knew what to expect. Perhaps they didn’t anticipate this piracy bonanza, but if it resulted in an equal boost in new subscriptions, they likely won’t complain.
From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.
This action can take various forms, from threats that result in private settlement agreements to full-blown lawsuits.
In some cases, litigation can drag on for years, with a tendency to prove both costly and damaging to those who lose the fight. In most cases, these are the operators of unlicensed sites who initially put up a fight before being overwhelmed with costs and subsequent damages awards.
Another option, when it’s available, is to settle cases with the plaintiffs relatively early on. This is what happened in a lawsuit filed by Disney Enterprises and Universal City Studios against indexing site 66Stage.com back in 2008.
66Stage was a One-Stop-Shop For Piracy
Filed in a California court, the complaint described 66Stage as a “for-profit ‘one-stop-shop'” for infringing copies of the plaintiffs’ movies including Finding Nemo, Mulan, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and several others.
“Defendants own and operate the website www.66stage.com…whose purpose is to promote, facilitate, aid and abet, and profit from the infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works,” the complaint alleged.
“Specifically, Defendants post, organize, search for, identify collect and index links to infringing material that is available on third-party websites (including, for example, the third party website Megavideo.com).”
As this image from the Wayback Machine’s archives shows, 66Stage acted as a front-end to hosting sites like Megavideo, which was later dismantled as part of the Megaupload raids early 2012.
Disney and Universal identified Nasri Faical as the person behind 66Stage, noting that he was a citizen of Morocco who at the time was living in Japan. According to the amended complaint, his site offered thousands of links to hundreds of motion pictures released in 2008 and 2009, with new content being added all the time.
As a result, the plaintiffs alleged contributory copyright infringement and inducement of copyright infringement, plus aiding and abetting copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of Japan. The docket reveals that the case went through the motions until August 2010, at which point it was revealed that the parties had agreed to a consent judgment to settle the case.
$500,000 Settlement Agreement
That agreement didn’t come cheap. Faical agreed to a global injunction preventing him from running 66Stage or any similar site, being involved in any activity that infringed the plaintiffs’ rights, and/or participating in any marketing or advertising program designed to drive traffic or generate revenue from infringement.
With that, Faical agreed to pay Disney and Universal $500,000 in damages for copyright infringement. He also agreed to be bound by the orders of any other court in the world “with competent jurisdiction” to enforce the consent judgment.
Whether this significant debt is still on the mind of Faical is unknown. However, if carefully waiting it out was indeed on his agenda, this week the former site operator would’ve been holding his breath. According to the California courts website, money judgments have an expiry date – 10 years to be precise – and the deadline was this week.
A Decade On and Disney’s Time Was Running Out
“Money judgments automatically expire (run out) after 10 years. To prevent this from happening, you as the judgment creditor must file a request for renewal of the judgment with the court BEFORE the 10 years run out. If the judgment is not renewed, it will not be enforceable any longer and you will not be able to get your money,” it reads.
Given that the consent judgment was signed off by the judge on August 5, 2010, Faical would not have owed Disney a penny if ten years were allowed to pass without the company taking further action. As it happens, however, it Disney’s lawyers were absolutely on the ball.
This week the company filed the necessary paperwork to keep the matter and the substantial debt alive, just a day before Disney would’ve had to wave goodbye to $500K and Faical would’ve been a ‘free’ man again.
“There have been no payments received from any of the Defendants towards the Judgment, through the judgment enforcement process or otherwise. Accordingly, the total amount due to Defendants under the renewed judgment is $500,000.00,” the renewal of money judgment reads.
Like Dumbo, it seems, Disney never forgets.
From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.