Long gone are the days of lugging the handheld VHS camcorder into the theater to bootleg new movies. With the massive shift in how movies are being brought to the consumer has also come a massive shift in bootlegging movies.
And with studios focusing on releasing their films via streaming, instead of in theaters, there has been an influx in "high-quality, pirated online versions" of movies, according to the Wall Street Journal. Most films can be found on piracy websites like The Pirate Bay and LimeTorrents.
“Black Widow” was the most pirated movie world-wide for three consecutive weeks after it came out, according to the Journal. The report said that many of the year's top films went from official release to downloadable bootleg "almost immediately". After "Black Widow's" poor opening weekend showing at the box office theaters despite solid Thursday night preview screenings, theater owners and studios were left suspecting that piracy played a role.
Scarlett Johansson and her team even wound up suing Disney+ over concerns about putting out "Black Window" on its streaming service while also in theaters. The suit came after Johansson's pay negotiations fell through after she voiced her concerns about piracy.
The National Association of Theatre Owners said in a follow up statement after the release: “How much money did everyone lose to simultaneous release piracy?”
The availability of high quality pirated versions of movies has been helped along by the digital release of films via streaming, instead of solely in theaters. While studios have done a mostly effective job at using streaming to compliment theatrical releases during the pandemic, the continued growth of piracy is a growing threat to studios and streaming services.
When the Journal checked in on a random Tuesday in August of this year, they found that 12 of the 20 most pirated videos on The Pirate Bay had premiered on studio streaming services, as opposed to only in theaters.
Andy Chatterley, chief executive of piracy tracker Muso, said: “We started to see a massive uptick when lockdowns started.”
The illegal pirate sites are like "Netflix without a password," the founder of TorrentFreak said.
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”, one of 2021's major releases, grossed $201.4 million in theaters but was also, according to Muso, the most pirated movie in the world in June. It reportedly topped 9.2 million illegal streams.
The illegal streams have also put a damper on streaming service sign-ups, which continue to forge forward for the time being:
When Disney released “Jungle Cruise,” starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, on Disney+, a community of tens of thousands of people were both “seeding”—meaning sharing an illegal copy—and “leeching”—downloading the film free—within less than a day of its release, according to piracy tracking sites. Disney, which charged Disney+ users an extra $30 to watch the movie on the platform, said it grossed $30 million from subscribers on the film’s opening weekend.
Carnegie Mellon University professor and piracy expert Michael D. Smith added: “Pirates behave like consumers do. If you make it sufficiently hard for them to get something free, they’ll pay for it.”