THURSDAY AM UPDATE: Estimates now are that the Hugh Jackman film, the 4th in the X-Men franchise for 20th Century Fox, was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times from file sharing websites on Tuesday. This is a huge blow to the studio’s major summer blockbuster if those viewers don’t go to a theater to see the film. Meanwhile, the web piracy has created a lot of buzz around the pic, both positive and negative. The Internet is now filled with fanboy comments about whether Wolverine is any good. Despite the added publicity, this is a nightmare scenario for Fox.
2ND UPDATE: I’ve just been given this statement by 20th Century Fox:
“Last night, a stolen, incomplete and early version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was posted illegally on a website. It was without many effects, had missing and unedited scenes and temporary sound and music. We immediately contacted the appropriate legal authorities and had it removed. We forensically mark our content so we can identify sources that make it available or download it. The source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – the courts have handed down significant criminal sentences for such acts in the past. The FBI and the MPAA also are actively investigating this crime. We are encouraged by the support of fansites condemning this illegal posting and pointing out that such theft undermines the enormous efforts of the filmmakers and actors, and above all, hurts the fans of the film.”
8:50 AM UPDATE: This is no April Fool’s joke. Instead, Fox executives are describing it to me as one of the worst piracy scandals they can recall, since it involves a major studio and major movie. The studio is understandably in a panic. With the film opening on May 1st, this leak could cause incalculable damage to the box office of the latest in the valuable X-Men franchise. The studio must find out who did this and punish him/her/them to the full extent of the law. Meanwhile, the Internet is on fire about this DVD-quality work print of Wolverine being leaked online yesterday. Twentieth Century Fox stresses it’s an old rough cut without FX, music, etc — so that may mitigate the damage because isn’t that why you see the movie in a theater anyway? The execs say it may contain a virus. But even if the studio claims that viewers of the pirated copy will age 20 years overnight, that isn’t going to solve the problem. Toughness will. And it looks as if that’s exactly what 20th Century Fox is doing to combat this piracy.
Coincidentally, this comes just days before U.S. Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will hold a field hearing in Van Nuys on April 6th to assess the financial impact of global intellectual property piracy. On April 30 the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is scheduled to release its annual report on intellectual property policies and practices in other countries. Last year’s report placed nine major offenders on the USTR’s Priority Watch List, including China, Russia, Thailand, and Argentina. A RAND study released earlier this month alleges that organized crime is increasingly active in film piracy. Just one problem — that study was funded by the MPAA.