by Don Groves
Illustration: Mei Yuan
Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge won two Oscars® and has enthralled moviegoers in Australia, the US and dozens of other markets. The downside of that success: the title is one the most downloaded worldwide on file sharing sites.
The WW2 drama has been available on at least 732 Torrent sites resulting in an estimated 11.2 million downloads. That may represent, at a minimum, just 25% of the number of times the film has been viewed illegally via streaming.
According to anti-piracy agency MUSO's Global Film & TV Piracy Insight Report 2016, a whopping 73% of pirates streamed rather than downloaded infringing content.
So Hacksaw Ridge may have been watched more than 44 million times on unauthorised sites.
Hence many Australian producers are working with cyber security companies and international sales agents to secure take-downs of hundreds of thousands of sites that provide unlicensed content.
In another weapon in the fight against piracy, the first orders issued last December by the Federal Court requiring Australian ISPs to take down five piracy sites resulted in a massive decrease in traffic to the blocked sites.
Hacksaw Ridge's Australian distributor Icon scanned the web and social media for sites offering the film during the theatrical release and forwarded the links to lawyers at IMG Global, the international sales agent.
It's tough to determine how much of a difference that made but at least we were active," said Icon CEO Greg Hughes. "Online piracy is a plague which is having a significant impact on the eco-system."
Independent writer/filmmaker Siddhant Adlakha estimates Focus the Will Smith & Margot Robbie crime comedy/drama, was seen by 32 million people in cinemas worldwide in 2015.
But he calculates nearly as many people - 27 million- downloaded the movie illegally. "For every twelve people who bought a ticket to the film, ten people stole it, and it was only the tenth most pirated movie that year," Adlakha reported last month.
George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road was downloaded 54.2 million times globally last year, according to statistics presented by Creative Content Australia executive director Lori Flekser at the Australian International Documentary Conference.
By contrast, in Australia the multiple Academy Award®-winning action-adventure earned B.O. revenues of $21.7 million, sold 242,000 DVDs and was downloaded illegally 1.147 million times.
Flekser said that, in just that week in October, Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker was available on 281 Torrent sites and at that point had been downloaded nearly 4.5 million times. The latter figure would have been a lot higher if not for the efforts of producer Sue Maslin and MUSO.
As a result of MUSO's campaign a total of 141,000 sites had been taken down. "We closely monitored illegal downloads of The Dressmaker as they had the potential to completely undermine our international sales and release strategy," Maslin said.
"It is a massive problem. In a weightless and ubiquitous digital economy, content has absolutely no inherent value. The only thing that has value is the quality of experience - the exclusivity, the screening experience itself, the quality of production and star power - that is what producers are selling investors and what distributors are selling audiences. All of these things come at a cost. Piracy is just one more nail in the coffin for any of us who aspire to deliver audiences quality films."
Maslin applauds the piracy site-blocking actions undertaken by Foxtel and a coalition of film companies led by Village Roadshow on behalf of the Australian screen industry.
In February Village Roadshow and the US studios asked the Federal Court to block another 42 Torrent and streaming sites representing 74 domain names.
"There has been a massive decrease in traffic to the blocked sites," a Village Roadshow spokesman said. "The UK experience shows that we need a substantial number of sites blocked before critical mass is achieved and there is an overall decrease in piracy."
"We anticipate that will be achieved with our next round of blocking. The judge is scheduled to hear the case in May and we expect a further 42 websites will be blocked."
Garth Davis's Lion was downloaded nearly 2.5 million times from 153 Torrent sites in the first six weeks of its Australian theatrical release. The distributor Transmission Films hired anti-piracy firm Entura International to take down illegal links, resulting in more than 15,000 removals.
"It's impossible to completely remove illegal copies from the internet but we do what we can to stem the tide," said Transmission's co-founder Andrew Mackie. "It's inevitably an issue around Oscar season when award screeners leak online. We welcome any policy or action that sensibly addresses piracy."