”Shrek.” ”Planet of the Apes.” ”American Pie 2.” When studios promised these blockbusters were coming to a screen near you, they didn’t mean the one attached to your PC. Hollywood is under siege, its net profits hurt by Net losses. More and more, films are being swapped via the Web — as compressed, downloadable, and very illicit files — even as they’re opening at your local multiplex.
Net-based flick swapping has thrived for years in exclusive underground circles, and while it’s still not Napster-easy, a number of factors have recently put this capability in the hands of anyone with a fast modem. ”The biggest change has been over the last three months,” says Aaron Fessler, CEO of MediaForce, an antipiracy firm that issues a monthly list of the most-pirated movies. With file-swapping programs like KaZaA, widespread broadband access, and new compression techniques, Fessler claims ”it’s now a piece of cake to download an entire movie.”
To ensure that ”Snatch” isn’t snatched and ”Traffic” isn’t trafficked, companies like Media-Force have helped studios track down and root out digital piracy. And acting on info from another monitoring firm, Ranger Online, the Motion Picture Association of America sends cease-and-desist letters to thousands of small-time movie pirates and reports bigger sites to the FBI.
Besides, looking for riches on the high seas of cyberspace is fraught with more perils than a knock on your door by a bunch of feds. In fact, putting a new film onto your hard drive is beyond the ability of all but the computer elite. Most of the movies found using trading sites like Hotline or DivXLisT are months-old titles available at any Blockbuster. According to MediaForce, pirates posted 10 times as many copies of the already-on-DVD ”Dude, Where’s My Car?” in July than the still-in-theaters ”Shrek.”
(And let the pirate beware. Last month, ”American Pie 2” was supposedly online weeks before its opening. But Fessler says the postings wound up being porn films.)