“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is having an incredible opening.
The film grossed in excess of $30 million from its midnight shows Wednesday – and now holds the new industry record as largest midnight gross ever. This morning came the other side of that coin: “Watch eclipse online for free” ranked as a top-10 online search term.
That battle – box-office dollars versus illicit online downloads – was the subject of a major announcement Wednesday at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., near the heart of the industry most hurt by Internet piracy.
“Operation In Our Sites” will be a coordinated effort by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (NIPRCC) to identify and shut down Web sites that engage in such activities.
In revealing the program, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton announced the seizure of nine domain names of Web sites that were offering first-run movies, often within hours of their theatrical releases. They include: tvshack.net, movies-links.tv, filespump.com, Now-movies.com, planetmoviez.com, thepiratecity.org, zml.com, ninjavideo.net and ninjathis.net. Visitors to the sites will soon reach a page emblazoned with the logos of the FBI, ICE, and the NIPRCC explaining the seizure, according to officials.
The seizures were the result of the coordinated work of hundreds of undercover agents who downloaded various newly released movies from the sites including recent releases “Iron Man 2” and “Sex and the City 2,” Mr. Morton said. The domain seizures came alongside residential search warrants in North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Washington.
After the announcement, leaders of various guilds and studios took the stage to explain why the average American should care.
“Intellectual property is the basis of our modern economy. The stealing of digital content is not a victimless crime,” said Matthew Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, in an oft-repeated comment. “It’s also the theft of tens of thousands of American jobs.”
Estimates of the cost of Internet piracy run into the billions of dollars, but James Cooper, an intellectual property expert and researcher at California Western School of Law in San Diego, says such figures are nearly impossible to gauge and risk turning off the public with their inflated sums.
He cited a US Government Accountability Office report from last April that found that the illicit nature of counterfeiting and piracy makes estimating their costs difficult. "Efforts to estimate losses involve assumptions such as the rate at which consumers would substitute counterfeit for legitimate products, which can have enormous impacts on the resulting estimates,” the report found.
But “this issue isn’t just about making more money for fat-cat producers with swimming pools," says Mr. Cooper, who has written extensively on the subject. It's about "the little guys in the industry – the gaffers and caterers and sound people who are just trying to make a decent living,” he says.
The success of this crackdown will be judged on how well it can be sustained over time, Cooper says.
“Sometimes government and association initiatives like this make a big stir and then drop out of sight,” says Cooper, who directs Proyecto ACCESO, a program that strengthens the rule of law throughout the Americas. “There is often a disconnect between what [industry officials] know and what conditions are like on the ground. This sounds very promising but I will take a wait-and-see attitude.”
Others agree that stopping piracy will prove difficult, and may involve considerable expense that will be passed on to consumers.
“Piracy will be with us for the foreseeable future,” says Christopher Sharrett, a professor of communication and film studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. The Internet "is seen as a source of free goods easily accessed," he says. "The wide-ranging consequences of all this are yet to be seen, but I suspect, as in any kind of theft, that consumers will be faced with higher prices and fees to offset piracy.”