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Sunday, 3 November, 2002, 08:05 GMT
Digital headache for Hollywood
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars films have been pirated online
Shooting movies digitally offers many advantages to film-makers. But it also makes it easier to distribute the digital media illegally, as BBC ClickOnline's Ben Silburn found out.
Hollywood is home to a movie industry that is worth billions of dollars each year and naturally studio executives are keen to keep their hands on all that cash.

But with the transfer from physical to digital media distribution, they are now concerned about losing their precious product to pirates.

Where Hollywood's concerned, everyone wants a piece of the action. But nowadays the trophy hunters have got an extra weapon, computers.

Scripts, top level studio e-mails and even the digital copy of a day's shooting have been stolen by trivia hackers. It is no wonder the studios are fighting back.

Leaky networks

"Security is so important because of the proprietary data that all these companies hold," said James Sinclair of the security firm, Global Network Security Services.


It's not only the media, it's also maybe the e-mails flying around the company with certain ideas

James Sinclair, Global Network Security Services
"So many people get to work on the media that there are too many points where it can leak out. Of course every company, no matter what industry, has the internal threats of employees coming inside and taking the data."

In the past an employee would have to get a physical copy of a movie and distribute it. With digital technology, copying a film has become much harder to detect.

"They can just transfer it out of the company through the network because the policies are not in place to prevent this happening," said Mr Sinclair. "It's a lot easier for internal employees to distribute it and leak the media."

Film studios could also face the additional danger of hackers trying to break into their computer networks.

"You've got to worry about both proprietary and confidential data," explained Mr Sinclair.

"It's not only the media, it's also maybe the e-mails flying around the company with certain ideas, the financials."

Film downloads

Embarrassing as all this can be, far more worrying for the studios is the massive amount of online piracy which they say is costing billions of dollars.


An awful lot of films are traded in more established, conventional internet forums like Internet Relay Chat or newsgroups

Andrew Frank, Divine
The latest Star Wars films have been the subject of rampant file-sharing online.

By the time the Phantom Menace reached Asia for example, box office receipts were far lower than expected. Piracy was blamed because so many people had already seen it.

The second film was given a simultaneous world wide cinema release as a result, probably a good idea as 10 million people went online in May to download it.

As more people get broadband, more movies are being downloaded.

"In terms of how these files are being traded, it's true that a lot of attention has been paid to the peer-to-peer networks," said Andrew Frank, of the technology consultancy Divine.

"But an awful lot of films are traded in more established, conventional internet forums like Internet Relay Chat or newsgroups.

"The difficulty in stopping these things is that there's an awful lot of use of the traditional channels that is not illegal use which makes it harder to target those types of operations."

Some internet providers have simply blocked users from downloading large files of any sort, while Microsoft is busy trying to woo Hollywood with its Windows Media 9 content rights management system.

Movie-trading is getting to be as big a problem as with music. Music files, though, can be seen though as a kind of 'try before you buy'. People do still buy the CDs after they have heard a song.

But how many people would go to the cinema, once they have seen a pirated copy?

See also:

18 May 01 | Science/Nature
17 Jul 02 | The Money Programme
30 May 02 | Entertainment
11 Feb 02 | Entertainment
18 May 02 | Science/Nature
10 May 02 | Entertainment
03 Feb 00 | Science/Nature
13 Oct 02 | Technology
03 Oct 02 | Entertainment
Internet links:


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