Batman Vs. Pirates

The first place to see new theatrical releases is not in movie theaters, but on online file-sharing sites and DVD. Pirated copies, ranging from hazy camcorder copies, to pristine copies from original prints, can sometimes be found circulating weeks, or at least days, before the opening weekend. It's a lose-lose situation. If the movie is good, online and DVD copies can lead to lost sales. And if the movie sucks, online copies generate poor word of mouth, and hence, lost sales. Given substantially good buzz around The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. was most worried about scenario #1.

The LA Times is reporting how Warner Bros. was careful and cagey in keeping The Dark Knight out of the hands of pirates for as long as possible. Warner spent six months developing an elaborate anti-piracy strategy . . .

Tight security measures are standard practice as studios try to protect their blockbusters. The LA Times reported how Warner created a chain of custody that tracked everyone who had access to the film. It varied its shipping procedures, and staggered delivery of film reels to theaters, so the entire film couldn't be copied or stolen in one swoop. It also performed spot checks at hundreds of theaters, looking for camcorder-wielding pirates. The Times reports that investigators caught a suspected bootlegger during a showing in a theater in a suburb of Kansas City, Mo. He was spotted in the back row, allegedly making a recording. Warner even used 'swat teams' with night-vision goggles in Australia (where the film opened two days before its U.S. launch) to scan the theater audience for camcorders. Creepy? You bet.

In the end, Warner claimed success, saying it delayed camcorder copies from appearing online, for about 38 hours, and kept pirated DVDs off the streets during the opening weekend. Of course, delaying the inevitable is the best any studio can do. The first pirated copy appeared on Friday night, two days after the Australian premiere. By Sunday, it was on BitTorrent. Is that a big deal? The Motion Picture Association of America says studios lost $6.1 billion to pirates in 2005. Where's Batman when you really need him? -Ken C. Pohlmann

Photo credit: Warner Bros.