Why Movie Piracy IS Bad (And What To Do About It)

Published 5 years ago by , Updated June 4th, 2014 at 10:09 am,

hbo header Why Movie Piracy IS Bad (And What To Do About It)

We here at  Screen Rant recently took notice of a post over at Shock Til You Drop referring to a Twitter-based message from Rhett Reese, writer of the recent horror/comedy  Zombieland, in which Reese claimed that a Zombieland sequel is now a questionable endeavor, largely due to the film’s current status as “the most pirated movie on bit torrent.”

Here are the numbers behind that statement: Zombieland‘s current worldwide earnings – according to Box Office Mojo – approximate to about $85 million, more than tripling the movie’s $23.6 million production budget. Looking at figures like that, a sequel should be a no-brainer, right?

If only it was that simple…

Here’s the message that Reese posted on his Twitter page:

“Zombieland currently the most pirated movie on bit torrent. Over one million downloads and counting.”

That tweet was quickly followed by this ominous statement:

“Beyond depressing. This greatly affects the likelihood of a Zombieland 2.”

The bottom line: it only matters to certain degree that Zombieland earned triple its production budget; when you factor in marketing in promotion, that margin gets a lot slimmer and really, in the end, studios watch the much-lauded bottom line to measure how well their films have done. To guarantee a Zombieland 2, Sony was no doubt looking for Zombieland 1 to crack the triple-digit millions – a feat the film should’ve easily accomplished, if those one million people sitting at their computers had decided to drop 7-12 bucks to see the film in theaters, instead of 7-12 minutes downloading it illegally.

And now the fate of Zombieland 2 hangs in the balance, and that just SUCKS.


The movie piracy debate isn’t new. Since someone first came up with the bright idea of hooking up two VCRs to record their rented videotapes, movie piracy has been a rampant crime. With the Internet and digital filming/editing came the chance to get a movie in one’s hands before said movie ever even made it into theaters. I highly doubt that many (if any) of us can claim 100% angelic behavior if pressed about our history with illegal downloads (or streaming services), but I think this Zombieland case is one where we are now seeing clear, indisputable evidence of the damage that piracy can cause.

dvd piracy 03b Why Movie Piracy IS Bad (And What To Do About It)

And yes, we’ve already heard all the “reasonable” arguments for piracy – in fact, we here at Screen Rant hosted an epic debate about the subject just this past spring, when a early, rough-cut of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was rampantly pirated by the online community. Our stance was and is this: “We at Screen Rant will never support this kind of behavior…” Stealing is stealing (or so WE think), no matter how hard you want to argue the point.

To be fair, here are the most comment arguments for piracy: Movies are too expensive these days; lack of etiquette amongst movie audiences can ruin the theatrical experience; movie marketing is often so misleading that it could be considered stealing; or (my personal fav) the time-tested “I’m just one person, I’m not hurtin’ anybody,” defense. We’ve heard it all…

IMHO, the bottom line is that most often, people pirate movies they want to see – or, at the very least, movies they “kinda want to see” (read: see, but not pay to see). But no matter how they try to quantify it, some degree of desire or interest must exist for people to even bother downloading a film. Of the percentage of people who do choose to illegally download a flick, a certain percentage (sometimes over 50% I’d say) actually enjoy the film – they reap the pleasure of a good movie without ever rewarding those who worked so hard to entertain them. Doesn’t sound fair, does it?

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Worse yet: if you do enjoy a film like Zombieland, don’t you want to see Zombieland 2 get made? Of course you do. But how will that happen if the movie doesn’t make enough money to convince the studio suits that a sequel is worth making??? Your movie ticket money isn’t just throwaway capital – often it is the measuring stick for how the ever-shifting landscape of cinema will shape itself next. If studios don’t think films like Zombieland are what audiences want (And we do! Really, we do!) then what we’re going to get instead is something we DON’T want. And if I have to watch eight more Saw movies because of some misinterpreted low profits caused by piracy, needless to say, I’m going to be PO’d!

Of course, the piracy issue isn’t going to just vanish, so what can we do to make both movie goers and movie makers equally happy in the future?

Keep reading pg. 2…

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  1. Piracy is bad because its STEALING, which is a crime.

  2. Piracy IS bad, but it ISN’T stealing. Stealing removes the original, piracy leaves the original alone :) I gotta admit i saw Zombieland on divx, but I am going with my girlfriend to cinema to see it this weekend again. So, basicly, not only did i pay for the movie, i also brought a person who would never watch a “zombie flick” with me. So, i am forgiven :)

  3. Do you take it without paying? Or without permission? Then its stealing.

  4. only way i can watch movies and tv from the west in china is buying pirate and the same is true for locals .. huge business .. and you know, the other day i paid my 5 kuai for inglourious basterds, and am damn glad that is all i paid, it was worth even less, could not finish it, too boring and no value for my time spent ..

  5. I love this discussion. Not the Is it illegal or not, but the would “Bill” have gone to the theater to see the movie thus put money in their pocket?

    They can assume all they like, however without “proof” it doesnt really matter. It is just another spin on how they believe piracy is stealing money from them when the true fact of the matter is they are losing their market share because of the crap they put out, cost and as mentioned the general environment.

    Why is this any different then PN?:
    Hit $15,000 thriller “Paranormal Activity” has crossed the $100 million mark at the U.S. domestic box office to become the top grossing R-Rated thriller of the past decade.

    Add to that a DVD-quality pirate copy of an earlier cut of the film has been available online for the past few weeks and has had only a negligible and quite possibly positive impact on the film’s word of mouth and box-office revenues.

    I would venture to guess more then 80% of the people that DL movies end up paying to see the movie in theater, DVD or even buying it. The other 20% are probably made up of 1 time watchers and “pirates” as mentioned by glant above.

    As for your other methods, similar things were/are being tried in the past. What about the disposable DVD? Did that ever get off the ground?

  6. Actually Matt Keith technically it isn’t stealing. You can debate all day long if it’s wrong or not, but it certainly is not stealing. Is making a photo copy of a piece of paper or picture stealing ? Is letting a few friends borrow a dvd for a week stealing? I’m not saying that it’s ok I’m also not saying it’s wrong i’m just clarifying it’s not really stealing.

    I loved Zombieland, but honestly I really don’t want a sequel. It’s a movie that simply doesn’t need a sequel and more than likely would end up sucking. There simply just isn’t a reason for it to get one. Rest assured though if they want to make one it will happen. That twitter is all talk the studio will easily give a go ahead for as sequel to this.

  7. WHAT A BUNCH OF BS! Yeah an extra 10 million bucks is all that stands in the way of a sequel to a film that’s made over 3x its budget before dvd sales. TOTAL BS!!!

    I say again that the piracy issue is a fraud. The movie industry isn’t losing money there making craploads of it.

    The movie studios want to sell the BS PIRACY LIE that their losing money so they can one day have total control of the internet through NEW LAWS restricting ALL COPYWRITTEN material.

    This is a scam, that if left to fester will ultimately kill all file sharing and sites like Screen Rant.
    I don’t pirate films on the net, but I also don’t buy the BS these studios are pumping out like the latest Global Warming propaganda.

    This is all a scam!

  8. This is an extremely difficult topic to debate. I don’t support downloading movies illegally but I have done it in the past with transformers 2. I saw transformers 2 in the theater 3 times (I know I know I’m a dope for going back but I love the bots and cons not the story) so I downloaded it at home afterwards so I could watch it on my computer but I then bought the DVD as well. Hate me for being honest. :)

  9. Just check the Ink situation and their appropriate reaction to see that its only these overblown Hollywood types where they spend way too much money and expect way too much in return that is furthering the “piracy is bad” debate. Ink shot up in popularity and they’ve gotten way more DVD sales than they would have without the bit torrent exposure. You know what else? I wouldn’t be buying the Zombieland DVD when it comes out if not for the fact that I watched it online first and loved it. So screw this, anyone with a brain knows better at this point, and Ink is just one case study out of hundreds.

  10. I would have to agree that Piracy is bad, it is stealing and therefore is a crime. I will not argue that point whatsoever.

    But, there are some who view the “pirated” movie (via download or online), still pay out to see it in the theater, and still purchase it (via iTunes, DVD or Bluray, or however).

    You can’t stop the pirating part, they are going to do it regardless. What I find interesting is where some of the pirated movies come from.

    From what I’ve seen a large part come from someone taking a video camera into the theater (whether sitting in the theater or from the projection booth) and record it. Largely a crappy version of the film. But in some cases they’ve sync’d up the sound directly and you get crappy picture with great sound. This could be controlled a lot better and more effectively with some simple checks and balances.

    There are some pirated copies of the movie that are “somehow” gotten from advanced copies sent out to a small few execs and critics. These are copies that haven’t had the post-processing done yet (but not all cases). Better version of film, though still not a digital copy. I would think the movie industry would know “who” they’ve sent them out to and who to blame if they were illegally uploaded.

    Another pirated version comes from someone has gotten a hold of the pre-DVD copy and ripped that then uploaded it. Again, shouldn’t the movie industry have an idea of where these are coming from as well??

    I do know that the movie industry is cracking down on anyone who has distributed. In one case, a friend of mine’s boss is being sued by Paramount (I think) because her husband, using a BitTorrent, was downloading movies to his computer and leaving those downloaded movies available to anyone who wanted to download them from him. They are being sued for “each” copy that he had available on his hard drive. Approx. $250,000.

    In all of the above, it is too easy for anyone to gain access to pirated copies of movies. Simple point and click. Yea it’s wrong and illegal, but when you have copies that come from the industry directly. It’s almost like they are validating it as okay to do so. I know that it’s a smaller percentage, but still they do let it happen. And I’m not saying that is right either. Just saying that a lot of it could be prevented. Just my two cents.

  11. I hate this kind of thing, the film made up it`s budget and still they complain about not making money, is like a chain of stores/resturants close one down, it does not loose money, it just dont make enough – so lets close it down, I hate this- stupid capitalism :(

    – Now In Norway I think the box office numbers were hurt by the film not beeing shown before 9.15 at night, lots of other 15 year age limit films(Norway rating for the film) are shown at both 4 and 6 a`clock, why not this one?

    Also there was a good version out on the net before it hit theatres in Norway 1 month after its Us release..

    I waited to see it in the cinema, and it was fun. I know of people that downloaded it and did not see it in the cinema for the two reasons above.

  12. @Badvillemojo,,,says
    “I know that it’s a smaller percentage, but still they do let it happen. And I’m not saying that is right either. Just saying that a lot of it could be prevented.”
    Yes the studios are enabling piracy to happen,,,
    without the [problem] online piracy issue they can’t initiate the [reaction] restrictive new laws that control [solution] ALL copy written material,,,
    They never caught the “person/place/or thing”, that leaked the Wolverine print, even with the help of the FBI,,,
    Geee I wonder why?

  13. “Is making a photo copy of a piece of paper or picture stealing?”

    Actually using a copy of an image CAN be considered stealing. And would you not (as in the Zombieland example) not consider making a million photocopies of an entire current best seller and giving those away stealing?

    Ugh. Of COURSE downloading free copies of a movie is stealing. It slays me how we can rationalize almost anything.

    And don’t give me any B.S. excuses about how it helps promote/encourage people to pay for the DVD. The fact that it’s not a physical product doesn’t matter – there are these pesky things called copyright laws to protect intellectual property. If someone took the e-book version of the latest Stephen King novel that is currently for sale and put it on a server for a million people to download that’s theft. Period. If it’s available to be purchased and people are grabbing it without paying for it they’re stealing it. It’s intellectual property that the creator of the product should be profiting from – if it’s being distributed without them making any money from it, that’s wrong.

    Freaking moral relativism….


  14. Alot of the time i do not have the time to go to the theatre because of work or school and films such as Moon and The Cove and other smaller films dont stay in theaters where i live for too long and i miss them. The next place that has them is over 2 hours away, thats gas money, movie tickets, and food. Thats alot of money to spend. So its easier for me to get my movies at home online. Torrent downloading is file sharing, not file stealing. I think that studios most of the time will “leak” some films to create and earlier buzz. I majority of films i download are either not shown anywhere near me or are films im not sure i want to pay in theaters for. If its stealing, then thats what it is, but i find it more convenient and saves me money. I think if they made movies more readily available over cable i would like to watch them on my 52 inch tv instead of my small lap top screen.

  15. @jeremy

    Sounds to me like that site isn’t legit. They’re charging you for movies they’ve pirated. I’ve seen sites like that before. If they get busted, you can, too, even if you’re paying for what you download. If they upload camera records, then they’re obviously not paying the studios any of the money they get from you.


    I found the first page somewhat ironic, as I actually went to see Zombieland in theaters but have downloaded the last four Saw movies.

    And honestly, the whole article is somewhat flawed. Your entire argument, Kofi, stems from the idea that we all have digital cable. I’m a college student. I’m unemployed. I have six bucks in my wallet right now. I don’t even have regular cable. If I could afford 100 bucks a month for TV, I highly doubt I’d download as much as I do.

    I’m not claiming piracy isn’t wrong; far from it. But it’s just as hard to argue against it as it is for it. Look at your list of pros for paying $6.99 for a digital rental. Every one of those pros is a pro for illegally downloading, too. $0 is much cheaper than $7.

    Fact is, I don’t have much of a problem paying $7-$12 to go see a movie in theaters. IMO, even with all the noisy people, nothing beats the big screen. But we don’t all have the time or money to do that as much as we’d like. And $20 for a dvd is ridiculous. I buy all my dvds used because of it.

  16. @Vic,
    how come sometimes you are in red? 😀

    Besides the push for Alternate methods you seem to “agree” that illegal downloads cut to much into the revenue of the film and is “wrong” overall? Correct.

    Yet you then say early we are all not “angelic” in our methods in which we view some movies. Then when people (correctly or not) state they think and or believe pirated movies can help you call BS.

    So why did or do you DL a copyrighted item? Or are you one of the ones that have never?

    I was reading somewhere else that the “entertainment” business (movies/songs) is one of the only ones that you really cant complain about the product and get your money back and or pay a fair price for the service (if you consider it a service) you received. If the method is available it is usually to time consuming/frustrating to get it.

    I had never heard of Equilibrium. A friend of mine let me borrow his “pirated” copy. I was like wow… and ended up buying it. What is wrong with deciding if you like something then paying for it. Instead of paying for it not liking it then beig out (regardless of the amount) of time and money.

    On the other side of the coin same thing with Wolverine Origins. EXCEPT I never went to the theater (thank god) based on the early copy. We did however rent it (legally) and still was glad we only paid $5.99 for the rental.

    So I do believe there are a lot of people that pirate and then pay. Or would have never seen it before.

  17. SORRY VIC! Did not actually see where you were not the original writer. MY BAD.

  18. What about the whole Dr. Horrible experiment? It was freely available on the internet and fans fought to get a soundtrack released on iTunes, even though a bootleg one was available for download.

    When it came to releasing a DVD they specifically created new content for the DVD and had no problem selling it. People who bought the DVD (like myself) did so not only for a DVD copy of the film, but for the extra features.

    One of the main reasons why I’d rather buy the DVD than download it is because of the extra features and commentary. Especially if it’s a movie that I’ve seen in theaters.

  19. @Aknot

    When the writer of an article leaves a comment, it’s highlighted so you can tell. :)


  20. You’ve got some great points here. What I would personally love to see is the option for SDOD/DD WITHOUT needing to pay for a monthly TV/cable service.

    Let’s face it. Much of what’s on TV these days is garbage. There are some good shows scattered around, and of course it’s all subjective, but I’m willing to be that even you Kofi only watch a fraction of what you’re paying $100/month for.

    I’m not interested in what TV has to offer. But what does interest me are movies. There *should* be a way for me to enjoy SDOD/DD without the need to pay a ridiculous monthly fee for something I won’t use. And guess what – I’d watch MORE movies at $6.99 per showing via SDOD/DD than if I go to a theater or pay for a monthly cable service.

    Thanks for your great article here!

  21. Moral relativism or not, Vic, people will do what they feel is necessary to get what they want when they have no money. Stealing being at the top of that list. Oh sure, a lot of them will justify what they did by saying I couldn’t afford it (as in the case of Syrus817), but I also remember those days when I was in college. I had very little money, and had the movies been available to d/l then…I would have done the same to see it. Not saying it’s okay, it’s stealing plain and simple. Stealing used to be something you’d have to plan out in advance to accomplish, but when all you have to do is move your mouse and “click”…justification and theft becomes easy and doesn’t even seem like it is stealing.

    I still think that a lot of all the piracy could be nixed by a few simple things:

    1. Keeping track of what the companies send out or who has access to what, so they know if they’ve been compromised. Two out of the three things I mentioned before are internal leaks. How can you b**** about piracy when your own people are contributing to it?

    2. Stop letting people walk into Theaters with huge-ass purses, large coats, etc. They had my gf’s open her purse the other day before we went in to see 2012. Hell get a metal detecting wand before allowing them to go in. If your employee’s are sitting in the projection booth during movies, lock them out. I worked for 4 1/2 years in a four screen theater doing just about everything. We were not allowed in the projection booths except when the Mgr was there. It was always under lock-n-key.

  22. i don’t know about the rest of you but i actully pay for my torrents. so as far as i know i’m not stealling them. the site i go through pays royalties annd stuff and for a flat rate i can download a sertin amount. so i know i don’t stel them but i di get them sometimes before they come out but for the most part i don’t feel like i’m stealing if i see something on there that says cam i don’t download it cause i feel that that is stealing. but my stuff is lagit so say that it’s stealing for those people that don’t pay for it.

  23. I Wrote the article.

    @ Joshua Rose

    I hear your side of the argument, bro. As I state IN the article, I’d be surprised if ANY of us is 100% angelic about this sort of thing all of lives. (Vic, maybe :-) )

    I just got out of grad school so I know about being broke. But yes, my argument IS aimed at an assumed CONSUMER BASE. I can’t predict how a money-exchange market like cinema should adapt itself to a “I can’t pay for your service” consumer.

    Not to make fun, I hear your point, but that’s a whole socialism debate right there. I’m talking how to better model some good old fashioned capitalism.

    In that sense, I don’t think my argument is “flawed.”

  24. Boils down to is it a good movie or not – if its then it will earn money – if it isn’t then it won’t.

    we’ve had this amoral system for decades where people have to pay to watch it without a way to get their money back if they didn’t like it (cut to: But how would you prove bla bla bla – not relevant – the system is broken then)

    Doesn’t matter if 50 million downloaded zombieland, if all them think it sucks big time, they are not going to give them a dime. But if it matters to them, then they are going to pay for it precisely because they know its a way of voting for more or less.
    But if most can’t be bothered, well, lets face it 99% of everything is junk, we could well do without.

    And regarding the semantics, no its not stealing – that requires an physical object to be removed – its a violation of the Copyright law.

    And lets not forget that Copyright in itself is steeling.
    Its an amoral concept which allows a tiny minority to keep making money over and over and over and over and over on something done once (and why Zombie land will be a financial success in time)

    Imagine a carpenter builds a door – and expects money every time someone uses that door. No. Doesn’t work.

    Likewise, its amoral and wrong to keep demanding money for movies or music etc. Ah, you start whining “but this system is different” yes, its designed to screw people over for money for decades – they keep extending the copyrights for decades, so descendants of someone who created something years ago are expecting to get money – not to mention the big multinationals.

    No. Its wrong. Its amoral. And finally its dying.

    A few will survive, because they are worth supporting – as for the rest – good riddance.

  25. Oy. The eternal drama. I stand alone (I think in the whole of Venezuela)as an adamant opponent of illegal downloading. ZOMBIELAND MIGHT show here in late February, early March, as are all good movies. And piracy is one of the reasons. This is not just a matter of VOD, since most piracy comes from abroad. It’s a matter of trying to release a movie worldwide the same day, which I think is the ONLY way to really combat piracy –and with copyright laws and most governments not caring so much, I see that near to impossible. I hate it, I hate it so much…

  26. GK333, at what point do you resist?
    Could the piracy problem be fixed without turning individuals into criminals, you bet! Instead of filing huge frivolous lawsuits on common individuals and restricting their online freedoms, why don’t they focus their piracy attack on blocking sites/ports and services…
    This same counter productive double-speak logic from the Entertainment Industry mirrors the open border policy during this so called “war on terror.” Let’s leave the borders open and remove the freedoms of the individual. How does that prevent terrorism? It does just the opposite while turning (us) into suspects that need to be watched, controlled and fined 50.000 for downloading “Zombietown”… 😯
    (Total insanity)
    Recently The Internet Chapter of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), a secret copyright treaty (soon to become international law) whose text the obama admin. refused to disclose due to National Security was leaked…
    In this “treaty” it says that ISPs (internet service providers) have to proactivly police copyrights on user contributed material.
    (Goodbye YouTube, Goodbye Gravatar, etc)
    It also states that ISPs have to cut off the internet access of accused copyright infringement or face liability.
    (This means your entire family could be denied internet access, no civic participation, no heath information, no educational access, no communication, no Screen Rant, if one member is accused of copyright infringement. This of course without access to a trial or counsel.)
    Again, the point I’m trying to make is, the war against online piracy is greatly exaggerated at best. Its a blatantly fixable problem created by the entertainment conglomerates and their masters to take over and control the free internet…
    So sure piracy is bad, um kay’ but let’s not let it destroy the internet. Make no mistake, that’s the endgame the entertainment companies desire…

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