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Hollywood has long eyed the struggles of the music industry as a leading indicator for potential movie business woes. Piracy has ruined many an album pre-release campaign, but the box office has so far been protected, at least in terms of keeping movies under wraps until they hit the silver screen.

But ‘The Expendables 3’  – not due out until next month – has already been leaked and could be the first of many high profile advance thefts for studios and filmmakers.

Pre-Release Piracy Hits Hollywood

Hitting torrents last Wednesday, the leak comes a full three weeks before the movie is scheduled to appear in theaters. Although films regularly hit illegal sites within days of early screenings, pre-release piracy is clearly an even bigger concern for Hollywood.

This leak provides not only an illegal alternative, but the only way to watch this big-budget blockbuster for several weeks. Even with the greater allure of watching the action unfold on the big screen, as only movie theaters can provide, the temptation to get in earlier is now there for fans of the movie, as well as those who steal content out of habit.

Interest is already booming in the movie and the initial 24 hour period yielded more than 189,000 downloads, according to German analysis firm Excipio.

At that rate, the download count will be well past the one million mark as this post is published.Multiply that by those who would have otherwise paid to see ‘The Expendables 3’ at their local theater but will now see an inferior version, and you have the cost of this issue to all of those involved, from the film crews and technical teams, all the way up to the actors and director.

And this is only the beginning, not just for this movie but potentially the industry as a whole.

Time to Act

The importance of fighting back against illegal leaks and pre-release piracy has never been more clear. The music industry has suffered heavily due to the ease of making albums – often inferior copies – available for download before a legal purchase option exists. For movie makers, who are arguably far more reliant on opening week success to secure future projects, the impact will be felt even harder.

In this post last week, Michael Smith of the Technology Policy Institute highlights just how much damage this new trend could do. As it stands now, pre-release piracy knocks off almost one-fifth of box office revenue when a film is leaked. This is without taking into account post-release theft, and well before the habit takes hold. If allowed to proliferate, it’s easy to imagine just how quickly the figure could escalate to levels even worse than this.

The real victim in this scenario would be filmmakers and those who work on their vision to make movies a reality. Should the main drive to see a big budget movie be diluted, it won’t be long before budgets shrink and investment dries up for the more exciting, adventurous projects.

For this reason, as well as the general requirement that government and technology companies have a role to play in ensuring intellectual property is protected, it’s time to move now on the issue of pre-release piracy. The potential to cripple a major, much-loved source of American family entertainment should speak to all lawmakers to either cajole or compel those who enable piracy, directly or indirectly, to change direction.

We have the early warning, as well as the cautionary tale of the music business. The time to act against pre-release piracy of movies is now.

Many will still see, but the dangers are clear as bandwidth expands and sites like Popcorn Time test the mettle of studios to pursue their illegal activity.