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Pirate version of The Phantom Menace online now

UK internet users are defying the film's mid-July cinema release date and
accessing the film via the internet. Madeleine North reports

Wednesday June 2, 1999

George Lucas's worst nightmare has reared its world wide head. Pirate copies
of The Phantom Menace are now available to download on the internet, and
Lucasfilm is not amused.
The first copies of the movie appeared online over the weekend, and CDs
containing the film are being distributed among the UK's net community.
A net user who prefers to remain anonymous told Film Unlimited he downloaded
the movie - not due in British cinemas until July 16 - in around five hours,
which he then burnt on to two video CDs.
"It's not that difficult if you know where to look", he explained. He
believes the copy, which he found on Hotline, a community site specialising
in downloading and uploading material over the internet, was recorded in a
US cinema with a camcorder.
However, having downloaded and watched Episode 1, our net user says
Lucasfilm has nothing to worry about. "I'm going to see the film anyway -
it's one of those things you want to see on the big screen." He added that
the pirating would never have happened were it not for the delay between US
and European release dates. "If it was out here now, people wouldn't bother
with the net version."
A Lucasfilm spokeswoman said: "We are taking a very aggressive stance and
working with the FBI to go after anybody who has put or intends to put our
film on the web."
Denis Seguin, Managing Editor of Screen International, says that one result
of this leak may be that in the future "companies [will] release films in a
tighter pattern." Seguin also pointed out that this wasn't the first film to
illegally find its way on to the net. The Matrix, the sci-fi thriller
expected to rival The Phantom Menace at the UK box office this summer, is
currently available online.
Sight and Sound Editor Nick James thinks it's a sign of the technological
times. The distributors - film's middle men - are effectively bypassed by
the new technologies of DVD and the internet. "Any kind of theft is to be
disapproved of," James stated, "but the positive side is that filmmakers can
cheaply get their films out to the public."

Thursday June 3, 1999
Following yesterday's news story revealing that pirate copies of The Phantom
Menace are available on the internet, Screen International reports that
bootleg copies of the movie are being flogged on the streets of Hong Kong
and Moscow.
Lucasfilm is now fighting a two-pronged battle to intercept illegal copies
of their blockbuster movie. "Episode 1 is not unique in suffering the
problems of piracy", Lucasfilm President Gordon Radley pointed out. "The
billions of dollars of revenue lost as a result of piracy not only affects
the economic needs of the studios and film investors, but also affects the
financial benefits that accrue to all of the crafts and talents who have
contributed to the making of the movie."
"The products of our entertainment industry are one of the largest exports
of the United States, so it also affects the nation's economic strengths",
Radley told Film Unlimited.
In Moscow, where the film is not due to open until August, pirate copies are
reportedly being sold for just $2.50. Local distributor Gemini Film
estimates a $1m box office loss as a consequence, although chief executive
Michael Schlicht does anticipate that "most people [will] want to see the
film in the cinema," given the poor reproduction quality of the pirated
Film Unlimited however has been informed that the internet copy - which has
apparently been copied directly from the movie reel, not shot from the
screen as originally suggested - is of a satisfactory quality.
Nick James, editor of Sight & Sound, thinks piracy is not the only threat to
distributors. He cites a film shown in Cannes this year - The Last Broadcast
- which reached its viewers via satellite from the American film-makers'
home computer. In this case, distributors were rendered superfluous, and
James envisages a film future free of these middle men.
"The potential political and industrial consequences is that film
distributors don't need to exist anymore," he said, before adding: "But they
are the most powerful people in the industry and will do everything they can
to make sure this doesn't happen."  
Guardian Newspapers Limited 1999

Paul Grace

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