Brad Pitt’s war movie “Fury” has been a hit on file-sharing sites since it was stolen in a Nov. 25 cyberattack on Sony Corp.’s film and TV studio.
The World War II drama, which was released Oct. 17, has been downloaded 500,000 times from one service alone since the Sony attack, said Ernesto Van Der Sar, whose TorrentFreak news site tracks copyright, privacy and related issues. Later today, “Fury” will land at No. 5 in TorrentFreak’s weekly list of the most-pirated movies, he said.
The flurry of illegal downloads of “Fury” is a sign of the economic damage hackers can inflict on film studios. The scourge facing Hollywood, Silicon Valley and investors costs the global economy as much as $575 billion annually, according to a study published in June by McAfee, a security-software maker owned by Intel Corp., and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It’s only been out for a few days” since the attack, Van Der Sar, who measures downloads on the BitTorrent file-sharing site, said of “Fury.” Entertainment industry news service Variety.com reported the number of downloads may exceed 1.2 million across multiple sites, citing piracy tracking firm Excipio.
Sony’s yet-to-be-released “Annie,” “Still Alice,” “Mr. Turner” and “To Write Love on Her Arms” have also appeared on sites offering pirated movies since the attack last week that continues to affect computer systems at Sony Pictures Entertainment, said a person with knowledge of the matter.
Sony Pictures is continuing to investigate the breach, including the possibility it may involve North Korea, the person said. The website Re/code reported Nov. 28 that the studio was looking into whether the attack coincides with the release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a CIA plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
Sony Pictures, the entertainment division of Tokyo-based Sony, called the theft a “criminal matter” in a statement and said the company is working with law enforcement to address it.
The theft of completed motion pictures shows that cybercriminals are targeting more than credit card and bank account numbers. Vast libraries of films and TV shows are the main assets of studios such as Culver City, California-based Sony Pictures. Online theft, along with pirating of DVDs, costs the industry billions of dollars annually in lost ticket sales or retail purchases.
The hacking incident came to light when a picture of a skull appeared on company computer screens. The image was accompanied by a message saying Sony had been hacked by #GOP, believe to stand for “Guardians of Peace,” and that private data would be released if undisclosed demands weren’t met.
The attack has forced some employees to communicate via text message and private e-mail accounts. Some systems at the division have been brought back online, according to the person. E-mail and some other systems remain down. The studio’s home entertainment division was able to fulfill Black Friday orders, the person added.
The attack came a month before the scheduled release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a CIA plot to kill North Korea’s leader.
The Seth Rogen film, currently being advertised for release in theaters on Dec. 25, features Rogen and James Franco as TV producers who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim. Plans for the film drew a rebuke from the country, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying in state media that the release would be an “act of war,” according to the BBC.
The remake of the 1982 “Annie” is Sony’s next big film release, schedule to hit theaters on Dec. 19. The new version stars Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx.
One comfort for the studio is that the targeted audience for “Annie” doesn’t often use pirated content, the person said. The website BoxOffice.com predicts “Annie” will generate $100 million for its run in U.S. and Canadian cinemas. Films frequently do much more in overseas markets.
Two other new films, “Mr. Turner” and “Still Alice” are considered possible Oscar contenders for their lead actors Timothy Spall and Julianne Moore, according to the website GoldDerby.com.
This week’s cyberattack isn’t the first for against Sony. In 2011, Sony’s online-entertainment service was targeted by hackers who gained access to information on millions of customers. The company was criticized by U.S. lawmakers after the hacking.
In August, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (LGF) won a court order blocking websites from distributing an allegedly stolen copy of the action film “The Expendables 3” starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. Downloaded copies were viewed by more than 2 million people before the movie was shown in theaters.
Detectives from London’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit arrested two men Nov. 25 on suspicion of leaking the movie online before its Aug. 15 release date. The pair “are believed to have stolen the film from a cloud based system,” the police unit said in a statement.