Pirated Oscar-nominated movies increasingly available in HD: here’s why


I have a friend who attempts an Oscars movie marathon every year, from the moment nominees are announced. In the days leading up to the Academy Awards (taking place on 22 February this year), he will either wax lyrically about the cinematography of a certain nominated movie, or attack it outright. Like this morning when he took to Facebook to warn his nearly 1 500 friends, “don’t waste your time with this movie”. The movie in question? American Sniper. He’s great at provoking friends who seem to always disagree with him. But most of the time friends just really want to know: where can I see this?

My friend is part of a growing online group of “Oscar completists”, people who attempt to see every single Oscar-nominated movie before the award ceremony starts, or at least all the films in a specific category. It used to be hard for people outside of the United States to be able to participate in movie marathons like these, simply because most of the nominated films haven’t been released to local cinemas. But thanks to the increase in streaming services (and mostly piracy) you too can be a completist.

Read more: Is online piracy really killing the entertainment industry? 

One of the ways nominated movies find their way online is with screeners. Ahead of the awards season, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sends out screeners or advanced copies of nominated films to critics and awards voters. There’s a good chance you’ve seen a screener before, recognised by its on-screen watermarks (as seen in this screenshot above). But following an aggressive campaign of prosecuting leakers, screeners are leaked far less than it used to. In fact, screeners really doesn’t matter anymore because movie files of higher quality are increasingly available online.

With the advent of 4K and an appetite for all kinds of super high quality video, the race in leaking movies turned from doing everything possible to find any copy of a new movie to obtaining the best quality. That is part of the reason why we don’t see cammed movies that much anymore, the slightly bizarre practise (made fun of by Seinfeld‘s Kramer) whereby movies are recorded in cinemas with a lousy camcorder. These days pirate groups compete for the quality of files they leak.

Andy Baio, who keeps a giant Google spreadsheet on the eco-system of Oscar leaks, says it all boils down to bragging rights:

The insatiable appetite for HD video led pirate groups to find new pipelines for sharing films before they even reach voters’ mailboxes, and in much better quality. These new sources for HD leaks, lurking anywhere from mastering studios to the mailroom, may be much harder for the MPAA to find than leaks from their own members.

As part of an attempt to discourage you from downloading movies illegally, news organisations make a point of including links to streaming services hosting Oscar nods, seen here at The New York Times and WNYC. But it doesn’t help much since most of these links are to U.S. streaming sites.

Read more: The numbers and tweets behind the Oscars

As my Oscar completist friend points out: although he used to be judged for the way he accessed Oscar-nominated movies, his friends just don’t seem to care that much these days:

I think people don’t look down upon piracy as much as they used to back in the day. Everyone has an illegal copy of a series and movies somewhere on their hard drive. Also cinema schedules are not as big as they used to be 10 years ago. Nowadays movies open in cinemas in South Africa and disappear without you even knowing they were on circuit.

Read more about Andy Baio’s extensive and fascinating analysis on the topic here.



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