36 films have been nominated for this year's Academy Awards. And, as of writing, just two of those haven't been leaked in DVD quality online, most whilst they're still in theaters. Whether you think piracy is a libertarian dream or criminal theft, it's clear that this is how things work now.
You might not think the leaks are a big deal. After all, copies of films that are sent to Oscars judges have been spreading online for over a decade. And whilst that's true, the extent of this year's piracy efforts, combined with other leaks this year, make this something of a watershed moment for piracy.
TorrentFreak has called this year's level of leaking "unprecedented"; the MPAA would probably call it a "disaster". Big-name, in-theater movies like the latest Hobbit have been torrented well over a million times, and almost all the other nominees are available online and popular.
It's obviously a problem that the MPAA is trying to address, unsuccessfully. To crack down on screeners, the MPAA adds watermarks, which works about as well as any other anti-piracy mechanism (i.e. like trying to part the Red Sea with a damp paper towel). Sure, one or two leaks have been traced back to the individuals, but the pirates are fighting back: this year's Hobbit leak was technologically sanitized by the group responsible for sharing it.
On a wider scale, targeting the pirate sites isn't working either. You'll notice that this year's leakfest came a couple months after The Pirate Bay unceremoniously got the boot from the internet. Big lawsuits don't work. Scary letters to the torrenters don't work. In fact, there's only one thing that consistently reduces piracy: changing the broken way movie theaters distribute C O N T E N T.
If you need any more evidence that the current system is totally screwed, 2015 Oscar Nominee Leviathan provides a pretty damn good example. After the film was leaked online alongside the rest of its cohort, the team behind Leviathan decided to solicit donations. After all, studies have shown that pirates don't mind paying for films — in fact, they spend more than your average law-abiding Joe on movies.
Subscription streaming sites (Netflix, basically) seem the most obvious solution. Consistently, when legal, simple, affordable services like Netflix and Spotify are introduced to new markets, piracy drops dramatically. Movie piracy in Norway dropped by half after the introduction of Netflix. It'd take a lot of letters and lawsuits to get the same kind of decline.
This doesn't mean, of course, that Netflix is the Holy Grail of TV and everything would be better as a Netflix show starring Kevin Spacey. Streaming services like Netflix and Spotify come with their own set of problems: compensation, for one, and the introduction of a whole different kind of piracy, for the other.
Whatever model we end up with, though, change is clearly necessary. The old movie theater, DVD, streaming cycle (and staggered geographical release) clearly isn't helping anyone, something that even Leviathan producer Alexander Rodnyansky agrees with. We don't watch movies like we used to — we watch them as soon as possible, with the smallest amount of hassle. Unless movie theaters want to make torrent sites their major distribution channel (and hey, why not!), they're going to need to work this out. And preferably before the next season of Game of Thrones.