Ever wonder how pirates get their hands on the latest movies before the public even gets to see them? One method has been revealed by Variety (subscription required). Movie critic Paul Sherman was arrested and charged with selling over 100 “screeners”—preview copies of movies on DVD handed out to reviewers—to various pirate and warez groups over the last few years.
Sherman, no relation to the animated Jay Sherman of FOX’s short-lived The Critic, did not exactly get rich from his piratical dealings. He received a mere US$4,714 for the use of his screeners. If convicted, he could face a maximum penalty of US$250,000 and a three-year prison term.
It was not revealed how Sherman was identified and caught, but some suspect that the recent practice of adding digital watermarks to screeners may have played a part. Media companies are trying harder and harder to prevent leaks of this nature, including adding additional layers of encryption to some screeners that would tie them to a specific player. With the media companies already so paranoid, it seems an incredibly foolish risk for anyone to deliberately leak so many movies to the pirates, particularly given the rather paltry nature of the payoff.
So with such great risk and poor rewards, why would someone bother leaking movies to the pirate scene? If my experience working at EA is any indication, the motivation for leaking content might be merely to gain minor status and notoriety, or simply to “get back” at the large corporations that run so much of our modern lives. Despite the emphasis on security in big corporations these days, there is little they can do to prevent leaks of this kind. Once, after corporate management spent an incredible amount of time and effort putting extra firewalls and monitoring software around the QA department at EA, a developer simply walked out of the building with burned CDs of the entire season’s prerelease games in his suitcase.
Sherman was definitely no corporate lackey. In many of his reviews, he decried the industry for relying on formulaic plots and an over-emphasis on special effects. Currently, it appears as if all of his reviews that were hosted on the Boston Herald’s web site have been removed from their server, although a few snippets still remain in Google’s caches. For example, Sherman commented on the movie Alien vs. Predator by declaring “Audience loses in lame duel of horror icons,” showing that he can’t be all bad, really.