Message to Pirates of the Caribbean hackers – piracy no longer pays

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, due out on 26 May, was only 10 days from release when hackers stole a copy from a post-production company in LA.

They demanded a ransom, believed to be $80,000 (£61,700) – peanuts for a franchise that has pulled in $3bn globally. They threatened that, if the ransom wasn’t paid, they would release the film to torrent sites in chunks, carved up like shark bait.

So far, the film world has reacted with a shrug that suggests the digital pirates have scuppered the wrong vessel. It’s a sign that times have moved on. In 2011, BitTorrent accounted for 23% of US broadband traffic. Now, it is 5%. The equilibrium has shifted. There will always be a minority who see torrenting as their birthright; most, though, have moved on to Netflix and the like. Why deal with popups from adult websites and eyeless malware beasties if you can get thousands of films a month in a safe space for less than the cost of lunch?

Family-friendly features are less affected anyway. The Brad Pitt war film Fury was a smash hit on the torrent sites when it was leaked in 2014, yet the remake of Annie, which came from the same cache of films pilfered in the Sony hack, got a fifth of Fury’s downloads. Anything that targets men aged 15-25 still has a life in the torrentlands – other demographics have grown up and moved on.

That is why last month’s attempt to ransom the fifth season of Orange is the New Black seemed a bizarre choice. It may be Netflix’s most popular original show, but with a key theme of “the complexities of female friendship”, The Last Jedi it is not.

Netflix ignored the hack with a terse press release – the show remains due for formal release on 7 June. The hackers made good their threat. But the industry judged it hollow. Partly, because they had failed to understand that the subscription model renders this kind of larceny redundant. It becomes the equivalent of: “Here’s some stuff for free that you’ve already paid for.”

Similarly, anyone still keen enough on Johnny Depp’s cackling and cutlasses epic will go to the cinema for the full experience. Big releases are destined for piracy as soon as they hit the multiplexes anyway, so how much difference does 10 days make in a world already drowning in content?

So far, Disney is ignoring the demands, and it seems that a tacit agreement by big media houses never to pay ransoms may hinder this sort of crime anyway. It’s an anachronistic use of hi-tech – like using a 3D printer to forge doubloons.


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