Hollywood often complains that unauthorized downloads are causing the industry to lose huge sums of money. The makers of The Hurt Locker discovered that this doesn’t always have to be the case. Through an extortion-like scheme, The Hurt Locker is set to make more money from settlements with BitTorrent users than it ever made at the box office.
Two days ago, the makers of The Hurt Locker filed a complaint against the first 5,000 ‘unidentified’ BitTorrent users. Helped by the U.S. Copyright Group (USCG), the film makers are requesting the personal details connected to the IP-addresses that allegedly shared the film on BitTorrent.
With The Hurt Locker’s Oscar for the Best Picture of 2009, the case has received a lot of press interest, but it’s not the first movie for which BitTorrent users were targeted. Earlier this year, the USCG employed the same tactic for lesser known films. For one of these, Call of the Wild, obtained the settlement papers.
With the document, alleged infringers have the option to settle the case for $2,500 and avoid further legal action. Because the case is similar to that of The Hurt Locker, we assume that a similar settlement amount will be proposed. This allows us to calculate how much money is involved in this case, and the results are quite interesting.
Thomas Dunlap, a lawyer at the USCG, earlier said that in the Hurt Locker case they could pursue tens of thousands of users. Let’s be careful with our estimate and assume that some 20,000 BitTorrent users will eventually receive a settlement letter in the mail. Of these, half will choose to pay the $2,500 without complaining, a number that seems to be fair based on the results of similar schemes.
With this $25 million the film makers would have collected more money from BitTorrent users than they did from U.S. movie theater visitors. Despite the recognition from Academy members and the huge success among downloaders, the U.S box office revenue has been relatively low at $16.4 million.
The settlement money is not net profit for the makers of Hurt Locker though, as they have to give up 70% of it to the USCG. Still, if they want to earn more they can simply continue to track down BitTorrent users and send out a couple of thousand extra settlement offers. Easy money.
This whole scheme is in no way intended to protect the copyrights of the Hurt Locker producers. USCG don’t want to go to court at all, they want to see money, as much as possible without too much trouble. Lengthy and costly court cases would only get in the way of this goal and could even bust the whole scheme if they lose. The ultimate goal is to ‘monetize’ piracy, this is also how the USCG pitched their scheme to rights holders.
A good example of this ‘money orientation’ is the letter that downloaders of the film Far Cry received from the USCG. Here, the alleged downloaders were offered an initial settlement amount of ‘just’ $1,500, but this would go up to $2,500 if they wouldn’t pay up within three weeks. A classic persuasion tactic, which was followed by a threat that going to court could lead to a fine up to 150,000.
Yes, it’s all about extracting as much cash as possible. We have to say, if they can beat the Box Office revenues of an Oscar winning movie with these threats, they sure delivered as promised.