The FBI arrested 47-year-old Bronx resident Gilberto Sanchez earlier this morning and accused him of copyright infringement for allegedly uploading a copy of the summer action flick X-Men Origins: Wolverine earlier this spring. If convicted, Sanchez could spend up to three years in prison and face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
There are several obvious questions, of course: Why Sanchez? Why that specific film? Why now? Obviously the FBI is making an example of Sanchez, puffing up and showing that they still have the power to stop leaks–or at least crack down on them more than six months after upload. But a quick search on MegaVideo and RapidShare shows dozens of other copies of the film, not to mention pretty much any other recent movie, including some that are actually still in the theater today.
Not that we’re justifying illegal uploads. It’s become unfortunately common for an early cut of a film or upcoming music album to leak weeks, even months, before the official release date. And they aren’t always finished versions–Sanchez’s copy of Wolverine was missing much of its polished CGI, and the actors still had visible strings for stunts. Studios have added forensic marks on copies of the film that float around the studio to catch leakers, but that doesn’t appear to have helped in Sanchez’s case–it appears that he was just the uploader.
According to market researcher BigChampagne, Wolverine was viewed 4.1 million times before the official release date this May, causing huge worry in the industry. It then went on to open at number one with $85 million the first weekend, eventually bringing in a respectable $179 million in the U.S. Compare that to Star Trek, another summer action blockbuster that opened a week later at number one with a lower $75 million but went on to gross $258 million in the U.S. The difference here probably isn’t leaks–Star Trek was surely online right after if not before the release–but quality: Rotten Tomatoes gave Star Trek an extremely high 95% while X-Men Origins: Wolverine received a pouty 37%.
Was there a correlation between the movie leaking online and a just-decent box office? Probably not. Does the movie industry once again look like a slow, crotchety old man, bitter about an over-budgeted film lacking in quality that didn’t gross a billion dollars at the box office? Definitely.
It’s almost guaranteed that there’s a copy of any given movie online as a Bit-Torrent at any time, and they aren’t difficult to locate. Knowing that Fox made such a fuss about Wolverine in the spring, then seeing the FBI pick one random man and one seemingly random movie that happens to be Wolverine, again, makes this look like a story of industry execs having friends in high places. Of course property owners have the right to protect their property, but why not start with films that are in the theater now? Why go back so far?
Now, please excuse me. I’ve got a copy of 2012 to, er… um… pay to watch in the theater…