Dark Knight… Both Most Pirated And Highest Earning Movie

from the what-does-that-tell-you? dept

You may recall when The Dark Knight opened, we pointed out that its record breaking opening was because movie makers created a movie that people wanted to see in a theater. The fact that parts of the movie were designed for IMAX theaters drove many people to pay even more (or even see the movie multiple times) in order to experience the IMAX version, which simply can’t be replicated at home. As we pointed out, this was a perfect example of how the movie studios could compete with free. In fact, in such a scenario, you could even make the argument that the more people saw the movie in download format, the more willing they would be to go pay to see the IMAX version, to get the full experience.

However, it was stunning to hear movie industry execs then claim that the reason the movie was so successful was because of their anti-piracy efforts. That was clearly untrue at the time, and now Parker Mason alerts us to the fact that The Dark Knight was not just the biggest grossing film, but also the most pirated film of the year. Of course, if you believed the studio execs, that would be impossible. After all, if so many people are downloading the movie, then clearly they’re “stealing” from the industry and would never go see the movie. But, seeing that the movie made record profits, it seems to show that’s simply incorrect. Many people, reasonably, viewed the download as marketing, convincing them to go see the movie in the theaters.

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Comments on “Dark Knight… Both Most Pirated And Highest Earning Movie”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“In fact, in such a scenario, you could even make the argument that the more people saw the movie in download format, the more willing they would be to go pay to see the IMAX version, to get the full experience.
After all, if so many people are downloading the movie, then clearly they’re “stealing” from the industry and would never go see the movie. But, seeing that the movie made record profits, it seems to show that’s simply incorrect. Many people, reasonably, viewed the download as marketing, convincing them to go see the movie in the theaters.”

I simply fail to see how you can assert a causal connection between unauthorized downloads and theater revenue. Perhaps it would be accurate to say that some who “pirated” the film were influenced to see the movie in a theater (assuming, of course, that they would have not done so otherwise). At the same time, however, it is possible that many who “pirated” the movie were satisfied with what they watched and accordingly decided to to attend a theater screening.

Noah Callaway says:

Re: Re:

“I simply fail to see how you can assert a causal connection between unauthorized downloads and theater revenue. Perhaps it would be accurate to say that some who “pirated” the film were influenced to see the movie in a theater (assuming, of course, that they would have not done so otherwise). At the same time, however, it is possible that many who “pirated” the movie were satisfied with what they watched and accordingly decided to not attend a theater screening.”

I think the important point is that the MPAA has been making a causal connection the *other* way. That is, when people steal movies their revenue is significantly hurt. However, The Dark Knight provides a (very) strong counter-example against this.

I agree that drawing a causal connection the other way is probably difficult to do. However, given that it seems there’s a positive correlation (not based just on the Dark Knight, but on many major titles) it seems to eat into the MPAA’s argument…

StuardH (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It seems to me that movie theatres, however, loose their popularity due to the existence of modern home cinema systems. What is the purpose of going to the cinema and spend money for tickets and taxi and waste time that we don’t have if you can watch this film at home. This unpopularity can be also caused by the crises hit. People cut down their expanses in order to pay off their consolidate debts and unpaid loans.

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: Re:

How? If people pirated the film with the intention of only watching a pirated version, then the movie company never lost a ticket sale because they never had one to begin with. You can’t lose what you never have.

And besides, some of the people who pirated the film may end up buying the film on DVD to get a high-quality copy of the film.

Sean says:

Re: Re:

“We’ll stop making movies! think of the children!”

We are thinking of the children by not feeding the corporate greed that is compelled to misrepresent masculinity and sexuality. That causes children to hate them selves, girls feeling that they have to be skinny and look a certain way creating eating disorders and hate crimes against those who are different or gay.

Anonymous Coward says:

To play MPAA's advocate...

Many people, reasonably, viewed the [full] download as marketing, convincing them to go see the movie in the theaters.

I’ll suggest that they were already trying to entice people to see the movie by freely providing a portion of the movie.

One variation of this form of marketing is called trailers.

Someone should be thinking if there’s any way of determining which is more effective in getting people to pay for the movie experience: the traditional trailer or full downloads.

I think more recently they’re been trying to find the middle ground: provide complete scenes from the movie. How many have seen a TV program say “after the commercial break, we’ll have a scene from the upcoming movie xyz…”

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Either way

Whether or not you can prove that they did or did not lose a sale you can make this link. If the movie had sucked (I have not seen either version) then those people that had viewed the pirated version they would have said so and sales would have dropped. Because they would have spread it all over the web that it was not worth seeing.

So by that token can we not say that since the movie did well that those people that watched the pirated version told people that is was good? Which may have got more people to go see it at the movies?

just me says:

Have ticket sales to concerts gone down or up because of unauthorized downloading? It seems unlikely that if U2 came to town you’d say “naw, I won’t go … I downloaded video/cd and saw them already” Same thing with a movie … it is interesting to watch it on a 19″ monitor with 5.2 surround but to see it on the big screen as it was meant to be is quite another experience.

Tom Griffis says:

Movie theaters suck!

I have only been to 2 movies at the theater, since I bought my first VCR back in 1984. I prefer watching a rental at home, where I can pause for a ‘rest’ or snack break (that doesn’t cost $20). If I really like something, I’ll buy it, but only for $15 or less. Downloads of movies just look like crap on my 52″ LCD TV, so I don’t understand why anyone would want them, except to ‘pre-view’ a movie to see if it were good enough to rent or buy. I don’t understand why anyone would voluntarily go to a movie theater and get ripped off!

Did I mention that movie theaters suck!

Liam says:

well then

my mates all downloaded this to watch it, while I was holding out to watch it in a cinema (only movie I have wanted to go an watch in the cinema in years, I pirate everything else) and they all WANTED to go see it in the cinema after already seeing it.

And I’m sure this is the case for a lot more people.
The sites I visit to get my stuffs were also saying to make sure to go see this in the cinema because of simply how awesome it was to see on a big screen.

Pirates telling people to spend money on something they could pirate from them.

I’m rambling a bit…

Ben says:


Basically, I think it comes down to Mike appreciating that pirating and paying money to see The Dark Knight (or any movie) are not mutually exclusive. I went to see it twice in theaters and after that I downloaded a pirated copy because I liked it so much. It seems as though the movie studios are arguing that people that download won’t go see it in the theaters. That is proven incorrect by the fact that The Dark Knight is the highest grossing and most pirated movie of the year. That’s a hell of a lot of people if there isn’t a huge overlap between them. The people pirating and the people paying aren’t two different groups of people, for the most part, they’re the same.

Judsonian (profile) says:

Simple fact .....

If the movie industry creates valuable content they will make money. People want quality (The Dark Knight). When people get crap (White Chicks) they would probably NEVER watch the movie if they didn”t download it illegally (even in 10 years when it came out on TV and they switched the channel). Every movie I’ve seen in the past 10 years at a theater have been positivly reviewed by the majority of the “boards”. If torrent sites say a movie is crap I don’t go to the theater. I don’t rent the DVD. I don’t get it from Netflix.
Now given that info, if by chance I did actually get access to an illegal copy and attempted to watch the film (used loosely). Did the theater loose money. Maybe. But at least I didn’t waste by 7, 8, 9 $$$ and feel “burned” toward the studio for making such crap.

Anonymous Coward says:


I just watched Madagascar 2 online (http://megavideo.com/?v=ZJ109KPY) and I am not watching in a theater. Not because it was a bad movie, it was very entertaining, but I now know all the jokes and it doesnt make sense to pay $10 to watch them again.

I watched pieces (crappy quality) of Dark Knight on internet before seeing it in theater. If I had gotten a DVD quality copy of Dark Knight (I have a great TV+sound system), I wouldnt have seen it in a theater. If there was not anti-piracy measures getting such copy would have been much easier.

Stop claiming piracy actually increases the sale of tickets!

hegemon13 says:

Re: Nonsense!

“If I had gotten a DVD quality copy of Dark Knight (I have a great TV+sound system), I wouldnt have seen it in a theater.”

Uh, you could easily have gotten a dvd-quality rip shortly after it hit theaters. The movie was widely available in a cleaned film rip, which usually look every bit as good as DVD. So, anti-piracy measures did not get you into the theaters. Your own ignorance did.

The fact is, people like you are the minority. Most people don’t have high definition projectors in their houses, or even big-screen HDTVs, for that matter. Even if they did, while the movie itself might be the same, the experience is different.

I would never go to the theater by myself to watch a movie. Likewise, if I see a movie with friends, I am much more likely to go to the theater for the social experience. Theaters provide a venue for escaping the confines of your living room and enjoying a movie with other people. That is what they are selling, not the movie itself. If that product does not appeal to you, then it is no wonder you wouldn’t have gone to the theater. No amount of anti-piracy measures will make you their target market.

Thats what happens when you wait to release to DVD says:

as i'm sure someone else said

As many people here stated, they either downloaded the movie and went to see it or saw it in the theaters and downloaded it. Its obvious that the movie industry is making their money, they probably own the sites that host the torrent files, anyway. I just don’t understand why these people (**AA) don’t release the DVD/Blu-Ray earlier and give people a chance to spend their money. Most people are anxious and don’t want to wait (including myself). When they release the DVDs has nothing to do with how many people are going to the theater to see it (I’m sure someone will argue differently). Adding features like an awesome plot and IMAX is a hell of a reason to see it in theater. Hell they could even “spoof” the public and say its coming out in 6 months, and release it in 1 (this would only work a few times on select films). But IMHO I think most who download such an awesome film, will surely buy it, as IT IS WORTH IT!

hegemon13 says:

Re: as i'm sure someone else said

Not only would releasing the DVD early not decrease theater numbers, it might actually increase it. The best option would be to have DVDs available at the theater, and have the movie ticket serve as a discount coupon for the DVD. If I knew that I could get the movie cheaper by seeing it in the theater, I would go to more movies instead of just waiting for the DVD. I get the theater experience, and, if I liked it, I get the DVD cheaper than usual. That would truly be a win-win.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another thought- Mike always talks about how going to the movie is for the experience itself- the theatre, the social interaction, etc. How does downloading a copy of the movie and then going to see it correlate to that? If we go for the experience, then why did more people go to see TDK if it was the most pirated movie?

So was it word of mouth, pirating, or the good theatre experience that caused it to be the top movie?

Just Another Moron in a Hurry says:

Pure Speculation...

I don’t think theaters are taking the hit from pirating as much as video rental places are.

I rarely go to theaters. I only go when the movie is truly awesome enough to merit paying the huge price. That hasn’t changed much since I learned how to pirate movies.

However, I don’t rent movies nearly as much. When I want to see something that I wasn’t willing to pay for a theater ticket for, I consider piracy before considering actually renting a movie. Its much more convenient.

hegemon13 says:

Simplet than that

Piracy did not increase or decrease theater numbers, and high theater numbers did not influence piracy. The fact is, the movie was GOOD and appealed to a large audience. Therefore, it attracted people both to the theater and to the downloads. For a good movie, especially one filled with fantastic special effects and an enthusiastic fan base, the theater is an irreplaceable experience.

One great example is when I recently went to see Repo! The Genetic Opera on its road tour. I bought the tickets because the writer and director were present, and that is an opportunity that does not come up often here in the midwest. The movie was not one that would normally have been a huge draw for me, and it likely won’t seem nearly as magical when it hits DVD. Why? Because the theater was full of enthusiastic, passionate fans, and seeing the movie with that crowd is an experience that can’t be pirated.

That said, would I pirate the movie right now to see it again? Absolutely. And I will buy the DVD when it comes out. It is perfectly possible to choose all of the above. Piracy may have an end effect on DVD sales, but I really don’t think it has much effect on theater sales because going to the theater is about more than just seeing the movie.

Chris says:

Poorly argued article

“After all, if so many people are downloading the movie, then clearly they’re “stealing” from the industry and would never go see the movie. But, seeing that the movie made record profits, it seems to show that’s simply incorrect.”

Come’on. Really? The fact is that the ratio between Legitimate Screenings/(estimated illegal downloads) was higher than other movies.

I’ll tell you what, people stealing movies can continue to steal movies as long as there are still people willing to pay, and the studios can still make a profit. As stealing becomes more main stream, expect studios to react accordingly.

That is to say, the too populations (people who steal, and people who don’t) don’t overlap as much as this author thinks they do. While people computer geeks might think the whole world sits around spends their time searching and riping movies, some of us just pony up and pay.

Piracy is stealing, plain and simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Continued Piracy will a Lead to Reduced Corporate Funding

If they don’t defend their copyrights then anyone could steal the movie and put it in their own IMAX theater without paying royalties to the studios. And by the way, the studios werent the ones that were rewarded for including IMAX, it was the IMAX theater owners. DUH!! The studios would still have been paid if the movie had been viewed in a standard theater. I for one can not stand watching a feature length film at IMAX, I saw Polar Express there and it was a terrible experience, I ended up missing soooo much of the periphrial (sp) content it ruined the movie. IMAX is best for immersive experiences like nature films instead of action movies.

Mike, you wont be happy until they end copyright laws, and make content public domain. But then when that happens you wont have movies like The Dark Knight, instead you will have movies like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. God Help Us if you get your way.

Another Planet says:

Re: Continued Piracy will a Lead to Reduced Corporate Funding

“If they don’t defend their copyrights then anyone could steal the movie and put it in their own IMAX theater without paying royalties to the studios.”

IMAX is a *film* format; each frame of film is about the size of an 8 x 10″ sheet of paper. This is what makes the extremely high resolution of an IMAX film possible, also it enables the unique geometry of the theaters themselves so everyone gets a clear view of the entire 8-story tall screen.

You can’t steal the IMAX experience.

Big Mook (profile) says:


Got hammered in Techdirt about this very subject over the last 2 days:


The consensus in that thread was that piracy isn’t theft, and no one loses when content is pirated, along with ideas like piracy is convenient and free, paying for what you want costs too much, and besides, the DRM kills the whole experience because it’s way too much trouble to have to sit for 30-60 seconds through the warnings or to have to forward through previews.

Someone else already stated it, but Mike’s leveling the wrong argument in this article. Piracy has very little effect on theater sales, as no home system can compete with the huge screen and theater sound. I’ve got a sweet setup, but it ain’t the theater. People who want the theater experience have no other option other than the theater. But it does have ramifications for the rental and DVD sales aftermarkets.

My example:

I know a guy who states he has over 700 movies in his collection, all DVD rips to physical media. He rips from his Netflix subscription, and from friends and family who have purchased the movies, but to my knowledge has never paid for a movie for himself, other than the cost of the blank DVDs.

He isn’t ripping these to port them to other devices, or just to remove the annoying features, he’s ripping them to watch on a TV at home and to avoid having to purchase anything in the process.

That’s theft, but the majority of people who advocate piracy will find any number of reasons to justify it or use semantics to say maybe it’s infringement, but not theft, or similar arguments.

I’ve been accused of being an industry shill, and of using multiple sock puppets because of my stance on this.

Glad to see at least a couple of people posting here who also see this for what it is, theft.

As for the geek sitting at his computer downloading pirated copies instead of renting, I don’t have that kind of time. Netflix is quite adequate at keeping me stocked with stuff to watch and it doesn’t require me to download or rip anything. And at $10/month, it’s not worth the trouble to even consider the alternative.

Mark K (profile) says:

Re: Piracy==theft

@Big Mook – Two points for you to consider.

Piracy != theft
Piracy == infringement

There is a difference. Both are illegal, yes. But if that was the only measure of equivalency, then it would be just as logical to say that Jaywalking == Murder, and TPing someone’s house == Rape. Yes, I’m using extreme examples to make my point, but the logic is the same. The reason that many of us from your linked thread argue that point is that the publicity arm of the RIAA is trying to use the emotional baggage that comes with calling something theft as a way to push for legislation that doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t fulfill the purpose of what copyright is meant to be. Instead, they just want to protect their own business, rather than competing with an open market.

This is not one of Mike’s better articles. It seems like all the attention went to the wrong area. But given his history, I like to think that he would support the following statement.

What I would take from this article is not that piracy causes good theater sales, but rather, that a good movie can still make money, regardless of piracy, and that if the movie industry would focus more on making quality products, rather than alienating the customers with DRM, lawsuits, and anti-piracy propoganda, they would find that they can still be a successful business. They just have to learn to innovate, and work with the new environment, rather than working against it and trying to protect and outdated business model.

BigKeithO says:

Re: Piracy==theft

What exactly are you stealing from the movie studios when you download a movie? I bet they still have their copy of the movie…

From talking to people who do download movies the biggest draws seem to be convenience and price when it comes to movies. People in this day in age do not want to wait 6 months to get a DVD and they do not want to be paying upwards of $20 a disc for them, so they turn to piracy. I don’t want to argue if piracy is right or wrong or if it is stealing or not, the plain and simple reality today is that pretty much anyone with an internet connection and a brain can pirate a movie and pay the studios nothing. The real question in all of this is how do the movie studios react to this while continuing to make money? They can take the route of the RIAA and sue a bunch of fans and watch the problem get worse or they can embrace what is happening today and figure out a way to make money off of it.

Why can’t the MPAA open their own website, a movie store, with DVD (or better) quality versions of their movies released around the same time as the box office? Charge a flat monthly rate for unlimited downloads and remove the DRM but keep the P2P distribution. If I had to pay something like $10/mo to get all of the convience of torrenting movies but I was sure that I would find a good copy without DRM or viruses I would choose the route over The Pirate Bay any day.

Sure some people would still “steal” these movies over torrents but I bet that given a viable alternative a lot of people would choose the legitimate store. At least the studios would be making SOME money off of P2P.

The whole basis of all of these IP arguments on Techdirt are that people don’t WANT to do things the old way. The movie (and recording) studios want to cling to the old ways for as long as possible and are missing an opportunity to actually make money off of all the people torrenting movies. Things don’t, and never will, work the way they used too, the internet changed everything. It doesn’t matter which side of the argument you are on, the simple fact is the movie studios are being short sighted by not finding a way to make money off of the digital download craze that has already begun.

rockman123 says:

dark knight

was going to comment why i pirate movies, does it break the law per se, does it break the business model that causes the movie to get made, what does it do- piracy.if your a little older, you probably did the vhs tape hbo cinemax ect thing, piracy is just a nudge past that line in one way or another.did stealing a cam rip break the business model- dark knight is going to end up on commercial tv anyway- cable, i just got mine a little early.the reason i started using emule ect was to find all the stuff you can’t find anywhere else.for instance for a long time the only version of viva zapata was a spanish rip, no dvd no vhs except amazon or ebay for 75 dollars, straight time to my knowledge has never made it to dvd my copy is off french tv.anyway the reason i pirate is the lawyer does not own culture. he might of made the movie but he did not make the significance, he is nothing but a pimp whoring art for his dollar, what happens to the movie studio, i could give a shit,people are going to make art regardless, just like music. dont be afraid.you are not going to miss anything not anything of value,besides i spent a little bit of money building this computer and i like doing all kinds of shit with it, stealing a cam from time to time is just something to do nobody is getting hurt at least nobody that matters

bort says:

what the industry really seems afraid of is being held accountable when it comes to the quality of their product. they’ve producing so much trash in every possible aspect of the word for so very long. the collective cancers that control and produce it are lashing out at anything they don’t control, or that doesn’t fit into their narrow minded view of reality.

they and their methods are now obsolete, and hopefully soon they will wither, die, and passively pass the torch onto others who are, and have been for a long time, much more capable and creative than they could ever hope to be.

it may lead to less movies for a while, but it is a good thing, for a lesser amount of a good thing is much more valuable than an enormous amount of bile and trash.

CN says:

Infringement vs theft / Loss or not?

Copyright infringement is just that, infringement. Not theft. If an individual downloads a movie, nothing is technically lost. If the individual steals a DVD, actual loss occurs. Pretty simple, the difference is obvious. Even if nobody watches the DVD, it is still gone. Even if the person went to the theater, the DVD is still gone. I’m not saying infringement is okay, but it is clearly different.

Is infringement a loss? This is a huge grey area. Sure, sometimes it is. If someone gets it for free, maybe then they won’t go to the theater or buy the DVD. This would be a loss. But maybe they wouldn’t have done so anyway, so nothing is really lost. And in some cases, it results in a sale.

A lot of crap comes out these days, and I know for a fact that *some* people do use downloads as a preview, and will still buy DVDs even though they had it downloaded for free. Is it right that they do this? Is it right that they pay good money for crap?

I think a lot of “true losses” to Hollywood are more than compensated for by the “true losses” of the customers who pay to see some of the turds the movie industry puts on the screen.

bort says:

no one to my knowledge advocating piracy or more so, advocating the way copyright laws apply to the individual, is a proponent of publicly broadcasting for the sake of turning a profit. unless you want to see being entertained as a form of profit for the individual. i’m sure many of you milton friedman worshipers would love to find a method for such a thing.

the majority of copyright advocates have drawn a line in the sand, based on words written for another time in an ever changing book. things have changed. the holes in the ship that used to be acceptable are now causing it to sink. taking a hard line is not an option as the current ship is no longer a viable vessel in this reality. the new ship must now properly address human needs, and behavior, not try to control them or destroy behavior it deems unacceptable within it’s vision. If it’s construction yields to the dinosaur architects of the past it will find itself yet again sinking in the not too distant future.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Totally agree with Mike on this one. I wait with bated breath for the movie to be released for over a year, then watched it on the very first day, then held off from downloading cam/TS/R5 copies because I couldn’t stand watching a dark jittery piece of trash (esp. after watching it in the theatre), then downloaded a Bluray rip and now have ordered my very own copy that should be arriving sometime tomorrow. Yay! 🙂

Debby (user link) says:

Microsoft is preparing 55 legal actions worldwide against sellers on auction sites who are hawking illegal copies of the company’s software, the company said today.
The actions are a mix of lawsuits and criminal complaints, said Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, a Microsoft attorney for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa region. Microsoft has or will file 34 actions in Europe including Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the UK, and the Netherlands.
The company will seek prison terms for high-volume sellers and fines for less flagrant violations, Le Toquin said.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Dark Knight was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in North America on December 9, 2008. In the United Kingdom, the film had combined sales of 513,000 units on its first day of release, of which 107,730 (21%) were Blu-ray Discs, the highest number of first-day Blu-ray Discs sold. In the United States, The Dark Knight set a sales record for most DVDs sold in one day, selling 3 million units on its first day of release – 600,000 of which were Blu-ray Discs
The Dark Knight was ranked the 15th greatest film in history on Empire’s 2008 list of the “500 Greatest Movies of All Time,” based upon the weighted votes of 10,000 readers, 150 film directors, and 50 key film critics. Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker was also ranked number three on Empire’s 2008 list of the “100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
Thus, the Dark Knight was quite a success, bringing significant profit to its creators. To learn more about financial operations click here: payday lending

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poker online (user link) says:


This obviously doesn?t excuse piracy at all and I?m sure the movie studios would burn me at the stake before admitting piracy seemed to have no effect on the viability of The Dark Knight at the box office.

Maybe if the movie studios dedicated more time, money, and resources to making the best films they could, and ones people actually wanted to see, rather than chasing Internet pirates, Hollywood wouldn?t be in the mess it currently is.

Negoita, CEO at pokerstars

Josh (user link) says:

I disagree

I think the movie was just simply popular. People didn’t see it in the theater because they saw a pirated version first. I think the opposite happened. They saw it in the theater and then wanted to see it again when they got home. What this hurts is not theater sales but rather dvd or blu-ray sales. Any way that is just my 2 cents. Interesting point regardless!

Josh from Atlanta Insurance

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