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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TAGS: Zombieland
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  1. Its different here in LA. All the stores that sell used dvd sell screeners. These screeners are usually traded for cash by a recipient or someone in the industry. There’s also dvd store promo screeners that end up in the used dvd bin.

    I personally don’t download films but I do pick up screeners.
    I guess my point is where do you draw the line with entertainment that once purchased can be sold again or traded legally in stores. The concept really is no different then file sharing…

  2. If you listen to the movie industry, the entire movie business is going down in flames because of internet piracy. Yet, they’re also bragging about making record-breaking profits. Which is it? They can’t both be true.

    If Hollywood doesn’t think it’s making enough on each movie, then I have a simple solution; Stop hiring the “stars” who demand multi-million dollar salaries. How much did Bill Murray get paid for his cameo in Zombieland? Considering that it’s been reported that he normally gets around $45 million per movie these days, you have to figure that probably 5-8 million of the movie’s budget went directly into his pocket.

    As much as I dislike the music industry, at least they’ve mostly moved to allowing the sale of DRM free MP3 files that can be saved or burned without restriction. Meanwhile, the movie industry is still in love with the idea of Pay-Per-View and only provides DRM infected files that you can’t do anything with. I’d gladly pay $1 to be able to download copies of some movies, but there’s no way I’m going to “buy” a file that can only be played by special software and which relies on some remote DRM server telling my system that it’s ok to let me watch it.

    Take Hulu. Sure, it might be nice for people to catch up on some shows, but you can’t save any of the files to watch later or in case Hulu takes the show down. You have to tie up your internet connection to stream the show every time you want to watch it. Thanks, I’d rather just download a pirated copy that I can keep. Not to mention that it’s for the US only.

    Other countries have similar restrictions. A while back I saw people talking about a BBC show that sounded interesting and which was supposedly free to watch on the BBC’s site. Oops, non-Brits aren’t allowed! So I went and downloaded a copy off the net instead.

    In some cases, piracy is the only way to get some things due to the idiotic state of copyright laws. Want to see the short-lived superhero show Birds of Prey the way it originally aired? Downloading pirate copies is your only choice, since the show’s music was changed for the DVD release. Want to see the courtroom drama Close to Home? The NBC sitcom Committed? The kids’ show Ready or Not? Piracy is your only option as none of them have been released on DVD.

    The movie industry seems to think that if they can just eliminated internet piracy, that theater attendance will suddenly sky-rocket and they’ll be rolling in money. The reality is quite different.

    I didn’t get broadband internet access until the end of 2006. Before that I only had dialup, which meant that it was virtually impossible for me to download movies or TV shows off the net. I also didn’t know anyone who had broadband. So, since piracy was not an option for me, I should have been going to see tons of movies, right? Wrong. Other than the period of time when I had a friend who worked at a local theater and who got free passes to all the movies, I’ve probably been to less than 20 movies in my adult life. The last film I saw in a theater was Spiderman 3 and that was only because I had a gift certificate I received for my birthday. I usually just waited until they came to cable.

    I cancelled my Showtime subscription when they started putting %$#@!*& popup ads on the bottom of their programming, and the rest of the premium channels soon followed. I was willing to pay $100 a month for the first year, but when the price went up to $150+, I dropped all but the basic channels. Now I have to wonder why I even keep them. Every “hour” show is only about 43 minutes. There are logos, popup ads and the same annoying ads over and over and over. I’d rather just download the ad-free pirated copies. Yes, I know ads pay for TV, but in my opinion, they’ve gotten completely out of control. Over a quarter of the airtime is devoted to ads and that’s still not enough for the networks, they have to use popup ads to hype other shows. Why is advertising the others shows more important than letting me watch the current show in peace? That just pisses me off.

    As far as Zombieland is concerned, I’d planned to download and watch it, but I never got around to it. As it is, I don’t watch half the stuff I download. I always plan to, but never seem to get around to it. If Hollywood offered a DRM free download for $1-3, I’d gladly pay for it. But they never will…

  3. I couldn’t agree more with Rekrul.

    and as for Ken J….. what a tool!!!

  4. The whole economics of movies is messed up. It’s not a lack of customer payment. The big name draws happen because they are one of several elements that make a hit. The blockbusters not only have to pay for themselves, they really pay for the low B.O. return fare as well. By the time a blockbuster pie gets divided up, front end costs, back end costs etc, etc. pile on the other things the movie has to pay for, that odd Woody Allen movie that sometimes bombs at the B.O. and hey it happens to the best of them, well like I’ve said it’s a wonder anything gets made. Piracy is the flavor of the month.

    Companies that make blank DVDs own computers too you know. You think if pseudoephedrine can be limited on availability then big purchases of DVD blanks can be too. At the very least trip print outs could be forwarded to authorities to be investigated. I know that emerging players are having more copy protection built into the electronics, so going to Walmart and buying the stock players and recorders will make casual duplication and sales harder.

    For my status, buying pirated stuff makes no sense for me. Studios think they’ve got something big to protect from me are very deluded. In my eyes most movies are Kitsch, disposable entertainment. You might watch them once if that. The same can be said of novels too. The sheer volume of books and magazines in print has even affected the classic demarcations between high brow and low brow art. As some assert, no brow art has, is displacing the importance of high brow art. No one can keep up with even the best of the publisher’s highest quality output. When authors have to crank out three to six books a year to make a living, instead of one every three to five years, then everything is up for grabs.

    See all the transformers speed the energy flow through the system. Publishers, refiners, manufacturers they’re all energy transformers. As they become ever more efficient at transformation the speed of flow increases and the chaos, the entropy in the overall environment increases. Often in orders of magnitude as opposed to straight linear progressions. This takes even more energy to counter. Growth is limited by that which you have in the least amount. Is collapse coming? Yeah sure, it’s only a matter of how fast…

  5. I’m an electrical engineer, and that last comment made even my brain hurt

  6. You are not old enough to understand this comment.

  7. Aknot says: “If “we” are saying a movie is a service when do I get my satisfaction put into the process?”

    That’s a good point Aknot. That’s why I advocate the right for patrons to get their money back from the theater if unsatisfied. The terms of that right might be open to negotiation but it should be an option on principle. Besides with the costs of theater food high and only traveling one way, I find it harder to believe it would hurt B.O. receipts as much as piracy is claimed.

    Something I’ve seen some theaters do that could help themselves and patrons is have a summery book that puts in print the synopsis of the film, peppered with theater management’s criticisms of the film. You make that book pretty accessible and the theater owner can get a better handle on refunds. If you have doubts about what your getting having something like that at the customer’s disposal keeps the patron and the owner a little more honest about the whole issue.

  8. I steal everything I watch. I won’t purchase a TV or cable because rates are unreasonable and there’s really nothing but dross on television. I used to rent a lot of films but why bother when downloading them is so much faster than trotting down to the store and besides, it doesn’t cost me anything to download. Do I do this because I’m a thief or because there’s no value in me renting a movie or purchasing cable? Who knows and who really cares? I do watch the occasional movie in a theater if it’s something full of groovy effects but for the most part I don’t bother. Prices are outlandish and who’s to say I’m not being jacked by paying $10 for .25 cents worth of popping corn and .10 cents worth of coca cola syrup? How about paying for the privilege of having cable TV channels AND having to watch commercials? Isn’t that a double dip. It goes both ways and I really don’t feel all that bad about stealing the content that I watch. If the movie studio’s don’t think that a film that earned triple it’s cost to produce is worth revisiting for a part two then they’re greedier than I thought and if Rhett Reese wants to point a finger at me, for downloading something I never would have paid for in the first place, then perhaps he’s in the wrong industry and should try something else. I’m not the one who decides on a part two, your peeps make that call but hey, thanks for trying to pin it on me.

    Seriously, if it’s worth it then I’ll buy it but until then you can chaulk it up to free marketing. I might tell someone about your movie and maybe they’ll buy it.

  9. @the old man

    Just like you wouldn’t deny paying for what you say is a terrible meal after eating the entire thing (if it was so bad why didn’t you send it back?), I can see leaving a movie 20 minutes or so in because it stinks and asking for your money back. In my experience if a movie stinks during the entire opening 5-10 minutes, usually the entire thing will stink.


    I’m glad you don’t know where I live. You might decide you “like” my car or my big screen TV and entitle yourself to them because, you know, they’re too EXPENSIVE to actually pay for. If you want to direct your ire at someone, direct it at the studio distribution deals, where they make the lion’s share of the money first couple of weeks, and once the crowds have died down the theater starts to make a larger percentage of the box office. That’s one reason they have to charge so much for condiments – all the equipment and building space costs MONEY, you know – it’s not provided by little winged fairies.


  10. O boy, anyway ironically news has broke that Zombieland 2 has already been greenlit,,, (see /film)
    You can throw this post out the window,,, ;-)

  11. @Vic and Oldman,

    However (and it has been a bit since I was irked enough to ask for a refund) how do theaters handle this?

    Do they “write it off” not really notifying the studio?
    Do they say nope we dont refund based on the movie but the movie experience?

    Is there a certain time frame to be dissatisfied meaning would they say, no you didnt give the movie enough time?

    Does anyone here work/manage a theater? I would be curious as to what a typical policy is. Also do they promote said policy? I bet a lot of people dont realize if they think the movie is “junk” they have the ability to request/receive a refund….

    Again I can see requesting a refund if there was something wrong with the theater experience…and it being covered uner theater policy..

  12. @Aknot

    I don’t know what happens after you ask for a refund but I’ve done it more than once for both movies being awful and for groups of disruptive teens in the audience that they did nothing about.


  13. I download movies, I admit it. Why? I live over an hour from the city. I have to drive an hour and a half to get to the city, get through traffic, buy supper because I will be there for so long, buy my tickets and goodies at the concession, find a seat among many rude people (with colds and other sicknesses) watch the movie and then drive another hour and a half out of the city. It’s costly on gas and time. I like the theater, I enjoy the big screen and the food despite the price. But I love movies, I like to see them and having to drive all that way and put that much time into it is hard. If I was able to download a HD copy online and pay 10 bucks for it I would. As long as it came out at the same time as in the cinema.

    Watching a movie on your own time and being able to pause it with to go to the bathroom without making your way through a maze of peoples feet to reach the aisle is a nice thing. Film has to start evolving. People like to watch films at home on their HD LCD’s. Start offering the films online at a price for HD quality. I would pay to see a great version of the film rather than a pirated version. Right now, it’s basically the only option I have unless I find my self going to the city for something other than just a movie.

  14. @Dennis

    If you want to see a movie THAT bad, make the drive. Otherwise wait for the DVD. Are we all little children who will throw a tantrum if we can’t see it NOOOOOWWWW!!!??

    I have to drive an hour to see movie screenings, myself.


  15. @Vic

    This is an issue with more then 2 or even 3 sides and when you boil it down to the roots, no sides in this argument is without dishonesty or to some degree, theft.

    Do I believe downloading and watching a movie without providing compensation to the legal owner of said content? Yes I do. That said I also don’t exactl feel %100 sympathy to the movie industry as a whole for the losses either and thats because they are far from being without sin.

    For years and years before it became easy to create pirated content, the entertainment industry worked (illegally I might add) to keep prices artifically high or inflated. The best examples of this are the cost of discs be they video or music. When CDs and later DVD’s first hit the extra cost above tape was justified but as prodcution costs came down the gap between these 2 technologies did not and so the industry kept the price of the newer formats artificially high.

    Now it would be true that they could not do this in a free market if we lived in a true free market however that not what we have here or anywhere in the world. The various labels or at least their parent companies do collude (illegally I might add) to keep prices as high as they can get away with. So for years the studios & lables wer in fact ripping off their customers. Does this mean its OK for the public to now do the same? No it doesn’t; 2 wrongs do not make a right. it does however make it hard to feel much sympathy for the folks at the top of that bussiness.

    The real losers in this battle of whop should get access to what are the folks who really work to get this content made from the camera men & woman to the various support staff involved in making a movie or an album.

    You’d think after all that has happened the various studios/labels would have learned to embrace the ne digital world and while that hs happened some it is to a much smaller extent then what should have happened by now. And so again its hard to have but just soo much sympathy because of that.

    I have seen downloaded content before however I make it a personal goal to never consume anything that I do not compensate the legally entitled owner for and so any movie I have seen from downloaded sources I either see at the theatre or I purchase on DVD (BluRay in most cases which I pay a premium for) or more commmonly both; go the theatre and purcahse the dvd. I know not all do this but I do and this helps keep my concous clean.

    If the stuiods, lables & distribution folks really want to find the best way to minimize piracy they’d learn to fully embrace the digital age and quit going after the individual downloader in an attempt to make an example of them and focus instead on the Billions lost in piracy from over seas in places like China. This is where the real loses occur but because it is outside the legal reach of the US they instead focus on the indivual downloader. In the end they only cause more and more folks to feel less and less sympathy and thats really a trajedy for in the end the real losers are the blue collar folks who are the support staff on movie sets.

  16. Vic,
    I’ve noticed that particular mentality that for some reason, folks need to have / see it NOW as their reasoning, amongst the other excuses. Odd, but there it is.

  17. One of the reasons for the see it now mentality as you put it is because we are constantly berated with trailer after trailer forcing us to either be disgusted with the thought of the film or be so excited that we need to see it now. That’s the point the movie industry is trying to make us feel the see it now mentality. That’s the point it’s what they want. So you have to ask your self despite the fact that they pushed so hard to make you want it now did they push hard enough that you are willing to suffer at the theater? About 85% of the time for met he answer is no. Does that mean I’m taking money away? No I wouldn’t go to the theater more often if I suddenly could not download and I would actually buy less DVD’s if I couldn’t download. There is a very large percentage of DVD’s that I never would of bought had I not test drove them from downloading first.

  18. I’m sorry, and please don’t take this personally, but I think of all the “reasons” to illegally download a movie is “I have to drive too far to watch it at the theater”. Please. When I think that movies open here (in Venezuela) some three months later –sometimes up to A YEAR later– now THAT would be a good excuse to download a movie. And yet I hold to watch the movie at the best theater here, which given the traffic in Caracas takes me at least some two hours to get there. But that’s the way the filmmakers intended for me to watch the dang thing. Know how I stick it to the studios when they make a crappy movie (I’m thinking of you, NEW MOON)? I either wait for a screening or DON’T WATCH IT.

    This isn’t like the music industry (which I’m not saying that it’s OK to illegaly download mp3′s, although I’m not entirely agianst it), where you can preview a track or three to decide if you buy the CD. EVERY movie downloaded is money that not only doesn’t go to the studios, it makes the creators less inspired to make them, as this article and the Wolverine one has made clear.

    I’ve read all your comments very closely and fascinated. But trust me, when you look outside the US, the problem’s much worse. Like I said in my first comment when the article first came out, I don’t have the numbers for illegal downloading in the US, but I’m very certain that it’s where the smaller problem is. Rental stores (Blockbuster, for example) are a very rare breed now, and it’s close to impossible to buy original DVD’s, precisely because bootlegs and downloads are the real bulk of the market (nearly 80%, according to recent studies). This is a federal issue, and as such it should be treated (universal copyright laws being enforced, for example). All I can say for all US moviegoers, don’t mnake it worse by advocating piracy in your own country, where you can still rent a movie (Netflix down here? Yeah right), buy a DVD and see every single movie that comes out. Don’t take that away from me!!!!

  19. PS: I meant “the theater’s too far away” is the worst reason of them all.

  20. My “drive is far” to the theater argument was just one of my reasons for downloading. Did I not say if I could legally pay to download a version of the film at theater price I would? Fact is the film industry has to evolve. More and more people are buying new, fancy televisions and have access to high speed internet. Why not offer downloads of brand new films to these people so they could stay home and enjoy the film but at the same time, pay to see it.

    Also in Canada downloading isn’t as big of deal as it is in the U.S. Here the police have stated that targeting individuals is a waste of resources and time and that stopping the internet is a losing battle.

    Both sides have valid points but I won’t stop downloading films because it is simply easy and cheap. I say cheap, not free because I pay for my internet access. Feeling sorry for these starving film companies and actors is not something I will be doing anytime soon. And saying that the people behind the scenes lose money because of it is false. These people get paid for what they do, plain and simple. If a movie makes more money, the company keeps it, they don’t throw out bigger checks to their employees.

    Hail Pirate Bay

  21. Dennis says: “If a movie makes more money, the company keeps it, they don’t throw out bigger checks to their employees.”

    Don’t forget it takes a war chest to make these things and what do you do when your maxed out with the finance people? You know people don’t excrete money, no matter where they live. Additionally, every once in awhile somebody works for a percentage…

  22. The Old Man well I guess it’s a good thing they are still making record breaking profits despite piracy the industry is still going through amazing growth financially and are currently having the best decade the industry has ever seen.

  23. Yeah Daniel when your up it seems like you can do no wrong but when you down it feels like you can’t buy a break. Your right it seems, name just about any director and s/he’s got at least one if not three projects in the pipe. Having been in business both situations are harrowing. Feasting can take such a favored pace you don’t know whether your coming or going. Famine makes you feel like a piece of coal under great pressure so that you think it’s either going to crush you until you crack into smithereens or become a diamond.

  24. What are you even talking about how does that have anything to do with piracy?

  25. I have a question: What if you watch the film off youtube? Is it still stealing, then?

  26. Matt look at it this way,,,if the studios/lawmakers have there way YouTube is history.. ^
    YouTube would change into something you would either have to be on a different internet to access (www2) or register and subscribe (pay) for.
    All the videos would be subject to new copyright laws. So really it wouldn’t be anything like it is now,,,

    Watch YouTube while you can,,, :-)

  27. There is one tiny flaw with saying downloading movies or music is stealing, and that is, when you steal something, you take it away from someone else. When you download a movie, you not only don’t take it away from anyone, you’re generating one more. Now, imagine a world when you see a friend has a new iPhone and you want it, and you magically clone it, with no cost, would that be wrong? Illegal perhaps, but not wrong, in fact it’d be wonderful, but living in a world like that would imply lots of changing in the way we think about objects and possesions, and the contrast between the material world and the virutal world is where the problem lays, trying to apply the rules of one to the other.

    So what is this problem? The supposed money that you would spend buying that iPhone (or movie for the matter). Now, when the prices of DVD’s are so high you’ll have to spend half your medium salary to buy the film, who is stealing from who? Because while in some countries it is pretty accesible to buy DVD’s, in others, you either have to import it from half around the globe, pay sometimes 3 times the price of the movie just to send it AND risk that it’ll get confiscated, stollen or damaged on the way here. I live in a part of South America where Amazon, e-bay, and any other international stores either don’t deliver or have the problems I just mentioned, what can I do to see let’s say Thirst? Well, until I move, all I can do is wait until someone gets the DVD and uploads it. Will that stop me from buying it when I get the chance? Nope.

    Some laws are outdated, and the simple truth is that you can’t really stop piracy any other way than either lowering the costs or increasing the money people get. One example to show how absurd this can be: I’m a huge Lost fan, used to watch it on cable. Then I got internet, but my parents still keep the cable, and I started downloading Loat. Could I wait a few months to watch the episodes on TV? Sure, but why? Because other people say it’s wrong? There is absolutely nothing anyone loses in this scenario, and I get to choose when to watch it, and in great 720p quality. Now, if I ever get enough money I would still buy the whole set of Lost without a second thought.

    So again, the problem is money, and money that mostly the big corporations lose, so maybe it’s even good because I consider that a LOT of this works (Twilight and Oldboy remake come to mind) should be a crime to make, spending that huge amount of money… to make more money.

    Simon Pegg said he thinks it’s great that Spaced is on YouTube, and I think that’s the right approach. If you treat a film like a product, yes, make piracy illegal, if you treat ir like Art… well, do you also think it should be illegal to look at Salvador Dalí paintings online? Or in free museums?

  28. On a side note, I find it ironic that people blame the audience for not buying the DVD/going to the theatre if a movie is put on hold by the producers, yet they blame the studios for cancelling the shows if they have low audience.