An Internet hackers’ group has obtained the Blu-ray (BD) version of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and illegally uploaded it to various torrent sites. This act of online piracy occurred two weeks before Walt Disney Pictures’ official release dates of April 1 (for the digital download) and the 3-disc BD set (April 5).
According to a March 25 article by Tech Times’ Sumit Passary, “A pirate group going by the name of REPLiCA has managed to get hold of the official ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Blu-Ray about a couple of weeks ahead of its official release. The group has also uploaded the HD version of the film on torrent sites.”
One doesn’t have to be a Jedi Master to understand that the phenomenal success of director J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” makes it a prime target for cyber-pirates and the shadowy network of torrent sites that distribute illegally acquired content to millions of Internet users. According to Torrent Freak, “The Force Awakens” had been downloaded 250,000 times since the REPLiCA hacker group put it up on torrent sites on March 22, and it is estimated that the number of downloads is now in the millions.
Per Torrent Freak, the REPLiCA pirates somehow acquired a legitimate copy of the Buena Vista Home Entertainment BD two weeks before its official release date and posted “a photo of the physical disc with their group tag as proof” to comply with torrent site rules.
The REPLiCA group’s acquisition and distribution of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is not the first attempt by pirates to get the jump on Disney and give away the $2 billion-earning blockbuster to millions of Internet users. Since the film’s premiere on December 18, 2015, “several camcorder versions of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ were uploaded on torrent sites soon after the film hit cinemas,” according to Tech Times.
As Passary points out, these early torrents have been poorly received by viewers due to the poor quality of the audio and video playback from handheld camcorders. The REPLiCA-supplied torrents, on the other hand, are derived from the final Disney/Lucasfilm Blu-ray and have better picture and sound quality. As a result, the demand for this version of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is expected to be high among the millions of movie fans who want the movie without paying $39.99 for the official Blu-ray disc.
If past trends in the illegal trade of Internet piracy and torrent sites are an indication, the seventh Episode of the “Star Wars” saga may become the most pirated movie yet. According to BBC.com, Christopher Nolan’s science fiction film “Interstellar” was 2015’s most pirated film. Citing a report by the piracy watchdog group Excipio, the respected British news site points out that “Interstellar” was “illegally downloaded 47 million times between 1 January and 25 December.”
Piracy of movies such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is not a victimless crime.
According to a 2005 report by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), “The major U.S motion picture studios lost $6.1 billion in 2005 to piracy worldwide. 80 percent of those losses resulted from piracy overseas, 20 percent from piracy in the U.S.”
In addition to ethical and legal issues, there are other downsides to acquiring illegal torrent copies of “The Force Awakens.”
Per Tech Times’ Passary, “The Blu-ray download file could be huge and may have malware, which can affect a computer system.”
In addition, the REPLiCA version available now in torrent sites may not include the BD sets’ Death Star-sized treasure trove of extras, including behind-the-scenes documentaries and audio commentaries by director J.J. Abrams, cast, and crew members.