Illegal downloads hit Hollywood hard

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Illegal downloads hit Hollywood hard

In one of the world’s most connected countries, with high-speed Internet access and broadband on virtually every corner, sharing content, including music, films and games online is a common practice in Korea. So is sharing the copyrighted contents illegally.

In the face of tougher regulations on piracy, more and more illegal sharers now turn toward the torrent system, a free peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing site, to elude government policing.

Experts say torrents make it much more difficult to detect the illegal behavior.

“Torrents work by gathering pieces of the file you want and downloading these pieces simultaneously from people who already have them,” said Lee Yong-eil, an officer of the Copyright Protection Center, a state affiliated body monitoring illegal file sharing activities.

“In the past, we could trace uploader’s IP addresses and punish them, but when tracking a torrent Web site, it’s really complicated to find out the initial uploader,” Lee said.

Lee explained that torrent sites also don’t provide personal information of its users, unlike other file-sharing Web sites.

Park Min-jung, the chief executive of Bloomage, the Korean film distributor of Hollywood epic “Cloud Atlas,” spoke out about the illegal file-sharing.

Throughout early January, Park counted down to the film’s release date set for Jan. 9, as local fans and media expressed heightened expectations, with part of the movie set in a futuristic Seoul starring Korean actress Bae Doo-na.

The title of the Wachowskis’ big-budget-production became the most searched term on popular search portal Naver. A long list of magazines and newspapers requested interviews for the cast, including Korean actress and directors due to visit Korea prior to its official release.

But, only three days ahead of the opening day, Park’s confidence turned to disappointment and even escalated into resentment after learning that pirated files of the film were already circulating online.

“The box office record from the United States was a bit disappointing, but something different was expected in Korea,” said Park.

To her disappointment, “Cloud Atlas” sold only 43,000 tickets on the first day, half of the expected sales.

“Many factors seem to have played a role in the result, but I think the leaked online file is the biggest factor to blame,” Park said, adding that the company is lodging a compensation claim against the torrent users who shared the file and Web sites that provided the platform for the piracy act.

Koreans are believed to work on subtitles of the illegal file which appeared to originate in Russia, where the epic drama hit theaters at the end of 2012.

The financial losses incurred by the illegal file-sharing are estimated to be around 794.1 billion won ($708.3 million), according to Copyright Protection Center.

“Cloud Atlas” is not alone in suffering losses.

“Les Miserables” last year also suffered from this trend. One month into screening in Korea, illegal copies of the successful musical film appeared on 21 P2P networks, including torrent Web sites.

The producers of Korean romance movie “Architecture 101,” as well as Hollywood action thriller “Alex Cross,” saw their work leaked online prior to or after the release.

The threat of piracy is cited as one reason why some Hollywood studios release their films in Korea first. Recent films to see early release in Korea have been “The Avengers,” “Battleship” and “Iron Man 3.”

Despite the increasing number of piracy activities, copyright experts point out the torrent system makes it harder to punish the users in question.If found guilty of infringing on copyrights through illegal file-sharing, one can be subject to up to a three-year jail sentence or 30 million won in fines.

The copyright protection team of the ministry last year filed complaints against 30 file-sharing sites, including 12 torrent-based ones, but the case didn’t find its way into a deliberation procedure.

“For one torrent site, there are more than 100,000 files. If one tries to prove whether those are legal or not, it will take a good 60 years,” said Yoon Seung-hyun, an official of the Culture Ministry.


By Park Eun-jee, Yoon Ho-jin [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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