Sony Won't Support Its Own Movie For An Oscar Over Misplaced Piracy Fears

from the that-evil-internet-again dept

One of Jack Valenti’s final battles while still in charge of the MPAA was his silly, misguided war on DVD screeners. Screeners are copies of the movie (on DVD, obviously) that are sent out to people to view (to “screen”) for awards shows and the like. Valenti freaked out that since these screeners went out before the official DVDs were out, they would lead to people uploading them online, creating a piracy problem. Of course, that assumed two incorrect things: that those movies weren’t already online and that adding one more copy would create any sort of “problem.” Valenti lost his initial battle to forbid studios from sending out DVD screeners, but what came next were a series of convoluted attempts to stop “piracy” via the screeners — including sending DVDs that could only play in special players. Two years ago, studios finally realized how ridiculous and cumbersome this process was, so it dropped the special DVD player requirement, and instead went with a watermarking option. But that’s crazy expensive. Each DVD screener now needs to be individually watermarked and tracked.

Given that, it seems that some studios are simply deciding not to support certain movies for the Academy Awards. johnjac points us to the news that folks involved with the movie Moon are pissed off that Sony won’t send out DVD screeners for the movie, as they were hoping that actor Sam Rockwell might get an Oscar nod for his part in the movie. Sony claims that it’s just too expensive to do the watermarking.

It’s really no surprise that this comes from Sony Pictures, whose CEO, Michael Lynton, is on record as saying that nothing good has come from the internet, and then when questioned on that statement, stands by it. So I guess that Lynton doesn’t use the internet, or he would know, as pointed out in the Slashfilm link above, that perfectly good copies of the movie — sans watermark — are already widely available for download. In other words, there’s no reason whatsoever to waste money watermarking the DVDs. It won’t make a difference. Yet, because of Lynton and his crew’s misguided fears, Sony Pictures won’t support this particular movie.

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Comments on “Sony Won't Support Its Own Movie For An Oscar Over Misplaced Piracy Fears”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Some details.

This movie had a $5 million budget and got back $7.2 million in revenues. Limited release in mid-June 2009. DVD to be released next week (01/12/2010).

How much revenues would they expect to get from DVD sales/rentals?

As an aside, I just read Robert Ebert commenting how Netflix’s instant streaming can help one movie in the “word of mouth” and potentially the oscar voting.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

pre-release DVDs for oscar consideration are a very common source for excellent quality digital versions of movies that are still in theaters. Sony is on the right track here, it is very sad that even people inside the industry are so careless or thoughtless as to allow their private copies to move rapidly to the piracy sites.

If every pre-release copy was watermarked, I suspect the only good copies you would see online would also be watermarked. After all, those copies aren’t coming off of camcorders.

This is another one of those “the shoplifters are winning, let’s just give up” stories, which is a total defeatist attitude.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

1) The DVD of this movie is already out (just not in the US). I know you don’t read the articles, so I can see how you missed that.

2) The only logical conclusion of preventing piracy by not sending out copies of your movie is to never release your movie in any format ever.

3) The industry should be defeatist; after all, they’re defeated at every poor flailing attempt to stop piracy. I wonder why.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


Do you have any perspective regarding the actual costs of adding a watermark to a video? It’s quite simple, actually. On the contract market, the total cost would be around $350 for the film.

I come to this conclusion that the film is 120 minutes in length. 30 minutes setup time, and then 2 hours x 100 an hour for a post-production editor. During this time, the editor fixes themselves a cup-o-noodles from the vending machine and occasionally watch the video editing overlay every so often. I’m being generous, of course.

If it’s not contract, the costs hover around $20-$25 an hour for the editor, and I’m sure Sony has in-house staff that could cover that.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

How did I know this fool was going to dive into this thread?

“1) I didn’t specifically talk about this movie, notice I said “pre-release””

Everybody else was talking about this particular movie, and noting how watermarking was an utterly ridiculous notion since it’s already out, both illegally and legally (in other countries). How does a watermark make sense here?

Even if you consider pre-release copies as a whole, do they really stop “piracy”. I doubt it. People who leak copies don’t tend to assume they’ll be caught, and IIRC correctly only one or two people ever have been caught through a watermarked copy. They’re not impossible to strip from movies anyway, and even if they were 100% successful, what would they do? Prevent a “pirate” leak for one, maybe two weeks?

“2) the logical conclusion on pre-release movies is only to release them with massive watermarks or not at all”

You have to, again, assume that watermarks work, and that they work 100%.

Also, going back to the issue at hand, watermarks are clearly pointless in the case of Moon. Not only are the “pirate” copies already out there, but movies with Oscar nods are *absolutely demonstrated* to generate more revenue.

It’s an argument for common sense, again. You’re arguing for the corporate drones who are so scared of piracy they can’t even see that it’s not preventable in this case. Meanwhile, in doing so, they’re destroying a virtually guaranteed way to generate more income for the future. All because they don’t want an additional expense which is absolutely unnecessary. In 3 months time, the Oscars will be over and the US DVD/Blu-Ray will be out. An Oscar nomination would make a big difference over how many are sold – piracy or no piracy.

It’s a shame that in a year where Moon and District 9 proved there were still intelligent sci-fi stories to be made, the people behind (and defending) the business side lack any measure of common sense.

“3) “the shoplifters are winning, let’s just give up””

You’ve been warned about this dumb logical fallacy many times, so I won’t repeat it here. But, as ever, nobody’s saying “give up”. We’re arguing for a logical and profitable way to bypass any negative aspects of file sharing. In this case, pushing for an Oscar nomination with standard DVDs would fall into that category.

Not pushing your critically acclaimed movie because someone might pirate it? That’s giving up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s what shill/trolls do, they make specious arguments because stealing has a moral heft to it that isn’t quite there with copyright infringement.

People who steal and shoplift are bad but it does happen. People who infringe copyright are bad but it does happen.

Just the other day I watched as someone made a copy of a film that came out in 1924. That’s wrong. That’s copyright infringement and that person should be punished.

SomeGuy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But this isn’t good for Sony.

Sony makes movies, movies require actors, actors like recognition, and one of the best sorts of recognition is awards like this. if people think this Moon actor has a shot at an award and Sony won’t support their own movie people are going to get the message: work for Sony and you’ll waste your time and lose any chance of an award for your efforts.

Actors in Sony movies will get fewer awards, so the good talent will stop working with Sony and Sony will be unable to make good movies.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Let me get this straight. The movie studios are afraid to give out screener DVDs because it might lead to piracy which might lead to lost sales. So they come up with a highly expensive and utterly futile system, which because it is futile, is pointless. But because they came up with the system, they have to use it. But only they can’t use it, because it’s too expensive.

My brain hurts!

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You forgot the second part of the equation …

Movie studios, fearing downloads and lost sales, don’t distribute a screener of a movie already p2p-available to industry insiders, which in turn limits the potential reputation & marketing of the movie that could have increased its sales. Oscar-nominated movies always receive a sales boost, and by not putting the movie up for consideration they’re costing themselves more.

So, for fear of losing sales they cost themselves sales. It’s particularly sad when the lost sales to file sharing are unsubstantiated, but decades worth of previous market patterns demonstrate how an Oscar nod can increase a movie’s income.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Actually, numbers I heard over the weekend suggested that while there are twice as many films released, ticket sales for the year are up only 4%. On average, that means that ticket sales per released movie is down 48%.”

Okay, assuming those numbers are in any way accurate, it says that the growth of money spent on movie tickets is slowing, though still growing, while the number of releases in theatres is growing far more quickly.

Meaning the market is simply saturated. Profits will fall or less movies need to be made for theatrical release. Nowhere in those numbers is there an indication of the effect of piracy, good or bad….

dorp says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Actually, numbers I heard over the weekend suggested that while there are twice as many films released, ticket sales for the year are up only 4%. On average, that means that ticket sales per released movie is down 48%.

As usual, you made those numbers up or pulled out of your ass. Please show your source for “twice as many films released.” Meanwhile, here is a link showing that there were more movies released in 2008 than 2009.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Here are some simple numbers:

2004 Total Movies Released: 567 Total Combined Gross: $9,327,315,935
2005 Total Movies Released: 594 Total Combined Gross: $8,825,324,278
2006 Total Movies Released: 808 Total Combined Gross: $9,225,689,414
2007 Total Movies Released: 1022 Total Combined Gross: $9,665,661,126
2008 Total Movies Released: 1037 Total Combined Gross: $9,705,677,862
2009 Total Movies Released: 1177 Total Combined Gross: $7,596,626,766

The 2009 number was only up until september. The actual number of releases should, in theory, have followed along to hit somewhere around 1400-1600 movies.

that would be 50% more movies than last year, and almost 3 times as many releases as 2004, with only a 25% increase in income.

So what you are saying it that Torrent Freak is wrong, and Mike was working from incorrect numbers?

Anyway, if you follow along the numbers, you can see that the 567 movies in 2004 made much more per movie than the current releases have done. Oddly, in 2004, movie file sharing was difficult to do (most people didn’t have enough bandwidth to really do it in a timely manner). It’s a big change, and I won’t even get into discussing the effects of inflation and general costs on making movies.

Bottom line, there were more movies, they made not that much more money, which means less income per movie.

Carry on.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

All of which is meaningless unless you know how the revenue was distributed across the movies made.

The figures are consistent with a core of “successful movies” which bring in most of the revenue and a tail of “unsuccessful movies” that keeps getting bigger (because people see the profits made by the successful kind and want a piece of the action) and makes a loss. Although the figures are consistent with this conclusion you can’t really draw it (or any similar type of conclusion) without more data.

However two things stand out as irrefutable from the figures:

1. People are spending more on movies than before – even in a recession with disposable income falling.

2. Movie makers believe that it’s worth making more films than ever before – otherwise they wouldn’t do it. So they do not actually believe their own rhetoric about filesharing when they come to put their money down.

Neither of these is consistent with the theory that filesharing is causing significant damage to the film industry.

dorp says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Ahh, yes, Anti-Mike, so now you decided to misrepresent the data.

The numbers that you are using are for ALL movies, no matter how small of a showing they had and what indie group released them. You, on purpose of course, are ignoring that since September several huge blockbusters released: Avatar, Twilight, The Blind Side, 2012, Alvin and Sherlock Holmes. They alone added up to more than $1.2 billion gross and pushing the 2009 number beyond 2008. And that’s still missing many movies that made more than $20 mil.

If you are to compare the haul for the big movie studios (you know, the ones you defend), they made out like bandits. So yet again, you have no data to back up your assertions, in particular in context of big movie studios. But go ahead, keep on trolling. Meanwhile, here is the link with numbers for all that “suffering” big studios are going through:

Anonymous Coward says:

My roommate is a SAG card-carrying member and gets screeners all the time. Often, across the bottom of the video is big letters that read “SCREENER COPY” or “PROPERTY OF XYZ” or “DO NOT COPY”.

I guess I don’t understand the problem. Often I feel inclined to buy them when they come to DVD, even “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” which had no idiotic text on it to distract me from the storyline.

If it’s such a problem, maybe Sony should just use DVD Discs that self-destruct (with oxygen) in 24 hours. If Sony thinks they need to get paid every time someone watches more than 5 minutes of a movie, well, I think they’re rather shallow in their business methods and will be more cognizant to ensure I pass on all their movies.

I’ll have no part of that, and my roommate can watch them alone. They probably suck anyway.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If it’s such a problem, maybe Sony should just use DVD Discs that self-destruct (with oxygen) in 24 hours.

Because…you can’t rip a disc in the first 24 hours that you have a screener?

I actually meant “Little Miss Sunshine” and not “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Not that it matters to this crowd.

Damn, dude. Why the hate? You don’t think that people who are interested in the legal aspects of technology and media would be interested in movies too?

Tyanna says:

In the end I see this hurting Sony more.

From my understanding, an actor with an Oscar and/or Oscar nomination under their belt make more money per picture they are in. If actors know that Sony won’t be giving out screeners to get that Oscar nod, then there is a chance they might not choose to do a film with Sony.

Correct me if I’m wrong….

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think that’s a perfectly logical possible scenario. If the movie studio isn’t going to support your career as an actor, why support that studio with your talent. Particularly when they aren’t going to let the industry recognize your talent with its back-patting awards shows.

Though, the biggest flaw is not that actors with nominations make more money, but that actors that are good enough to get nominations have enough talent to command higher salaries. The nominations are just an indicator of industry-perceived talent, not a prerequisite for salary grades. Just like a college diploma doesn’t mean you’ll earn more in the real world, just that people who complete college tend to have other characteristics that allow them to excel in jobs that pay more … the diploma doesn’t make you earn more.

SomeGuy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:


An actor is better off turning down a part in a bad movie, for example, because they have a reputation built on the parts they play and the movies they’re in. If they’re in a bad m,ovie, it hurts their reputation.

Similarly, an actor who gets more awards builds a better reputation and becomes more desirable. Unless THE ONLY JOB they can get is from Sony, they’re better off taking a part in a film that just might get an award nomination.

Essentially, if this continues, the only ones who will work on Sony movies will be the ones who HAVE to, and desperate actors probably aren’t good actors… and bad actors don’t make successful movies.

R. Miles (profile) says:

The easy solution.

…folks involved with the movie Moon are pissed off that Sony won’t send out DVD screeners for the movie, as they were hoping that actor Sam Rockwell might get an Oscar nod for his part in the movie.
The folks should hop onto a torrent site and create their own screener and send it given it’s probably already out there.

Without tracking, they could get away with it.

RD says:


“I don’t have to do homework. You know, you pass the class, you don’t have to keep studying.”

Not sure why you bring this up, since you clearly have NOT passed. You are still mired in the “it must be DRM’D or it CAN NOT BE RELEASED! PIRACY WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING!” mindset that you cant see past the end of your dogmatic nose.

Hint: ALL movies (or at least, for this article and example, oscar contenders) are available on file sharing networks LONG BEFORE THEY ARE ON DVD. If you dont understand this, then you have nothing relevant to add to the discussion.

Avatar has at LEAST 3 versions available online. This is WIDELY “pirated.” The movie is the 2nd biggest box office champ OF ALL TIME. If you cant see that “piracy” isnt the issue, you are a pathetic worm of a shill and you just need to crawl back in your little hole and let the grown-ups discuss the issues of the day without your constant “ITS THE END OF ALL! DRM IS THE ANSWER! EVERYTHING SHOULD BE PAID-USE IN EVERY INSTANCE!” incoherent, specious, doomsaying blathering getting in the way.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because it isn’t good?

Or, because Sony Online Entertainment, LLC didn’t come FROM the Internet. And considering nothing comes FROM the Internet, but merely passes through it, his statement isn’t technically wrong. Nothing good has come FROM the Internet, of course, then again, nothing bad has either … the Internet doesn’t produce anything in and of itself. Just being a semantic bastard now.

Anonymous Coward says:

—“One of Jack Valenti’s final battles while still in charge of the MPAA was his silly, misguided war on DVD screeners. Screeners are copies of the movie (on DVD, obviously) that are sent out to people to view (to “screen”) for awards shows and the like. Valenti freaked out that since these screeners went out before the official DVDs were out, they would lead to people uploading them online, creating a piracy problem. Of course, that assumed two incorrect things: that those movies weren’t already online and that adding one more copy would create any sort of “problem.”—

There are a lot of movies whose first DVD quality copy to appear online is a rip of an Oscar screener copy. Movie down loaders lover Oscar season because before that often the only copy available of some popular movies are telesyncs or R5 rips.

Valkor says:

Re: Re:

So, are you just making stuff up, or what? Do you actually know people who check tracker sites periodically just to see if there’s a good copy of, say, “Julie and Julia” up yet? Are you arguing for or against DVD screeners?

If I download a dvd rip to replace my crappy cam job copy, am I double damned, or just extra damned?

Jimr (profile) says:

The actual movie is not really important. To me the story is Sony is so fearful of piracy that they are willing to take a potential finical loss in a pitifully vain attempt to stop it.

First point is that something good has come from the internet – a torrent of the movie.

Second point is that something good has come from the internet – the demonstration that the absolute fear of technology can have on the non-tech savvy. This clear shows Michael Lynton should not be CEO as he deliberate lost revenue for SONY out of his own personnel fear of technology.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Somethings gotta give...

The world is shifting, undeniably. People watch less and less commercials, which includes TV previews to movies and such. I record everything I watch, just to avoid the commercials, and sometimes will even pause live TV to go do something else and come back to watch the program I was interested in, again, just so that I can FF through commercials.

With that shift, I no longer (or at least at this point much much less frequently) become interested in a movie because of a TV commercial I saw, or even an ad online (Adblock Plus :-)) but from the buzz about the internet that I hear. I wait for reviews so I can hear what other people think. I ask friends who’ve watched it illegally online if they think it’s worth the theater prices, or if I should wait for the DVD. EVERY SINGLE time that my friends see a movie and think it’s good enough to pay theater prices for, they go with me to the theater to see the movie AGAIN!!! With the quality of movies being made today, and let’s face it there’s a lot of crap out there no matter who you are (though one man’s crap may be another man’s treasure, I get that…) and with the prices of theater admission these days, it’s unfeasible to expect people to just up and go see a movie that could be such crap…

What is the breaking point where the industry finally hears what the market is telling them, and how can I speed up the process?? Corporations NEED to be brought back down to Earth where the rest of us are living…

RD says:

more BS from TAM

“$350 per copy if you individually water mark them. Sending out 1000 individually watermarked copies would be a little more pricey, no? heck, Nina Paley could make another movie for that.”

Thats what they CLAIM it costs. Does anyone REALLY think it costs $350 to make a custom DVD? Please…they arent doing full MASTERING on EACH copy for shits sake. All they are doing is running the main master through a filter and burning it out. With the facilities they have, it shouldnt cost anywhere NEAR that much. I could do the same job for $3 each. I’ve know these processes. The only way it costs that much is because they can use that excuse as a smoke-screen to not make them. Its a lie on its face.

Laurel L. Russwurm (profile) says:

In 1977 I was a kid yet I managed to see Star Wars in the theatre 13 times. Twentieth Century Fox issued a special anniversary movie poster to the theatres that made it to the anniversary.

Today in Ontario, the hit movies are lucky to play for a couple of weeks.

From where I sit when I’ve wanted to go the movies lately, the ones we wanted to see were usuallt gone after a week or two, sometimes before I even knew it was playing.

Granted, I live in Canada where we are down to a single 1st run movie theatre chain, but still, it’s as though they don’t want is to go to the movies. All movies are released wide and only the mega hits get theatre play for more than a week. A large number of Hollywood movies don’t play here at all.

First Problem: The window to see movies in the theatre is very small.

@The Anti-Mike: During the time you are talking about, 2003 would have been Matchstick Men, Return of the King, Bruce Almighty, a Harry Potter or two before they became unwatchable, the second and third Pirates of the Caribean movies which were both fairly bad… Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-RabbitThe Legend of Zorro… Evan ALmighty

The last movie I saw in the theatre was The Spirit in 2009 and that was a huge disappointment. The whole family went since my Dad had been waiting for over 50 years… and it was terrible.

Second Problem: Many of the Movies are not very good.

In the time you’re talking about I’ve probably seen more movies in the rep theatres around the time the DVD is released. But mostly I buy previously viewed DVDs, or cheap ones from the bargin bins in the supermarket.

Comparing years only goes so far if the content is pathetic.

I very much doubt there is any validity to the notion that piracy is affecting sales here as much media company practices.

The three I REALLY wanted to see theatrically and couldn’t were Bon Cop, Bad Cop, The Rocket and Passchendaele. Interesting. Those were three extremely good Canadian movies. Which means that the Canadian film industry is doing very well indeed. Could this mean piracy is good for movies?

Third Problem: Advertising?

I don’t watch broadcast TV. We don’t have cable. I haven’t willingly listened to the radio in twenty years. We listen to CDs, pod casts and watch DVD’s. And I don’t buy the paper. Basically, I only find out about movies by word of mouth, internet, or driving past the marquee.

@Anonymous Coward: Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind was excellent. I buy most of my movies previously viewed from the local video store, or the cheap bin at the supermarket.

:) says:

Watermarking is expensive?

Wow! the IT guys at Sony must be getting a lot of money LoL

Making watermarks on sounds is a bit more difficult then doing it on images still I don’t see a problem with cost or even speed.

Anybody want to watermark their work?
Do a very faint yellow mask and have Gimp(or photoshop) do a merging of that unique pattern like ink printers do in paper.

Want to see hidden images on sounds?
Sonic Visualiser

Example of a hidden image on sound.
Want to create some sounds from images?

Is not like Sony would have to make millions of those things just 30 thousand or so and keep a database and they do have to watermark all digital copies that are already going to theaters so I don’t think that excuse is one that holds any water.

:) says:

Image watermarking.

Hmmm…I just remembered that VLC can merge logos meaning that you only need to have one image and it would merge that with the video.

In the worst case scenario it would take one computer a month do to audio and image watermaking for 50.000 but since I read somewhere that there is only about 20.000 screeners send out that could be done in 15 days for a movie.
Now Sony movie branch have some 300 releases and a very big farm of PCs so they should be done in hours.

Of course if they don’t use a master press for the DVDs otherwise the cost would skyrocket because the master print cast would be a physical object and each cost in the neighborhood of 10 grand and it would take months to do it.

And one thing about watermarking is that it doesn’t show the guy who did it.

If you send something to a guy and he lives with four other people who did it?

The guy could have lend it to someone, could have someone who works for him do it without his knowledge.

Watermarking doesn’t prove anything and it needs to be followed by a proper investigation which of course is the bane of the entertainment industry they don’t like to follow proper procedures they like to invent absurd laws and be damned with common sense and justice.

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