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The Hurt Locker won six Oscars earlier this year, and if its producers have their way, it will also be a big winner in court.
U.S. Copyright Group, a company operated by a group of intellectual property attorneys, has been retained by Voltage Pictures, which financed The Hurt Locker, to file a lawsuit targeting potentially tens of thousands of individuals who downloaded the film via BitTorrent. Ouch.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the lawsuit pursuing illicit Hurt Locker downloaders will be significant larger than the lawsuits the U.S. Copyright Group has already filed against tens of thousands of individuals on behalf of Voltage Pictures for illegal downloads of other films it owns the rights to.
The partnership between companies like Voltage Pictures and the U.S. Copyright Group is the latest twist in Hollywood's drive to stomp out digital piracy. While the music industry seems to be coming to recognize that lawsuits aren't the answer, Hollywood arguably has much more at stake.
One big reason: movies, as compared to albums, are typically far more expensive to produce, so each movie represents a more substantial financial bet. Despite the warm reception The Hurt Locker received from film critics, for instance, it only grossed approximately $16m in the United States. Placing some of the blame on piracy is certainly an expedient excuse for the poor showing. After all, the movie was available on the internet some five months before it was officially released in theatres.
Whether a leaked film really contributes to lackluster results at the box office is of course subject to debate, but the potential money to be recovered from lawsuits is enticing. According to the U.S. Copyright Group, about 40% of the individuals targeted in its first two lawsuits this year have opted to settle rather than defend themselves in court.
One commenter on The Hollywood Reporter going by the name 'BustedPirate' claims that he was named in one of U.S. Copyright Group's lawsuits and eventually settled for $2,500. If this is accurate, it doesn't take much math wizardry to recognize that companies like Voltage Pictures have little to lose and a lot to gain financially in pursuing pirates.
The question, of course, is whether financial incentives outweigh pragmatic considerations. Lawsuits may or may not deter individuals from downloading pirated content, but lawsuits certainly haven't helped record labels sell CDs, and they certainly aren’t going to fill seats at movie theatres or drive DVD sales. In fact, some studies hint that the same individuals who are downloading content illegally are also content owners' best customers. From this perspective, lawsuits targeting them may be like treating symptoms of an illness completely unrelated to the illness that really ails you.
At the end of the day, the internet is here to stay, and technologies that allow individuals to find and download pirated content aren't going away anytime soon. Content owners can swat flies, but they'll never come close to getting them all.
Photo credit: _rockinfree via Flickr.