Pirating the 2009 Oscars

The Oscar nominees were announced this morning, which means it’s time to get out your scorecards to see who’s winning in the eternal struggle between the MPAA vs. the Internet. (Hint: It’s not the MPAA.)

I’ve been tracking the distribution of Oscar-nominated films every year, culminating with the release of six years of piracy data last year. I’ve updated those spreadsheets with this year’s 26 nominees, for a total of 211 films from the last seven years.

You can view or download all the data below, including a second sheet with some interesting aggregate stats. As always, I’ll keep it updated until the Oscar broadcast.

View full-size on Google Spreadsheets.

Download: Excel (with formulas) or CSV


So, how did they do? Out of 26 nominated films, an incredible 23 films are already available in DVD quality on nomination day, ripped either from the screeners or the retail DVDs. (All 26 were available by February 7.) This is the highest percentage since I started tracking.

Only three films are unavailable — Rachel Getting Married wasn’t leaked online in any form, while Changeling is only available as a low-quality telecine transfer and Australia as a terrible quality camcorder recording. (Update: A DVD screener of Australia was leaked on January 23, a retail DVD rip of Changeling on January 31, and finally, the retail DVD of Rachel Getting Married on February 7.)

Other findings:

  • Academy members received screeners for at least 20 of the 26 films.
  • 25 out of 26 films leaked in some form online, if you include camcorder recordings.
  • The average time from the time screeners are received by Academy members to its leak online is 6 days.

Surprisingly, it seems like this year’s Oscar movies took longer to leak online than in previous years. If I had to guess, it’s because far fewer camcorder copies were released for this year’s nominees. This could be because of the theaters cracking down on camcorder recordings, but I suspect it’s because fewer nominees were desirable targets this year for cams. (Aside from the obvious blockbusters, like Dark Knight, Kung Fu Panda, and Tropic Thunder.) The chart below shows the median number of days from a movie’s US release date to its first leak online.

Last year, one of the interesting findings was how the release of Region 5 DVDs were reducing the prestige of official screener leaks. This year, only four of the nominated films were released as R5s, compared to eight from last year. The numbers are still too small to tell if this is a trend, but it seems like the popularity of the R5 may have peaked in 2007. (Are the studios releasing fewer R5s in general?)

What other trends in the data am I missing? Feel free to chime in with your conclusions or visualizations in the comments.


As usual, I included the feature films in every category except documentary and foreign films. I used Yahoo! Movies for US release dates, always using the first available date, even if it was a limited release. Cam, telesync, R5, and screener leak dates were almost universally taken from VCD Quality. I used the first leak date, with the exception of unviewable or incomplete nuked releases. Finally, the official screener dates came from Academy member Ken Rudolph, who lists the date he receives every screener on his personal homepage. Thanks again, Ken!

For previous years, see 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 (part 1 and part 2).

Update: The screener for Australia was released today, so I added that date to the spreadsheet, along with some missing retail DVD dates from last year’s Oscars.

February 3, 2009: Some related links of interest… I was interviewed for Future Tense on American Public Media, talking about this entry. Bruce Lidl looked at leaks in the Foreign and Documentary categories, as well as how quickly HD-quality leaks are happening. Finally, Flowing Data is sponsoring a contest to generate information visualizations from this data.


    Hey Andy, thanks for this. I was wondering when you’d have this year’s stats. Thanks for doing this, it is a very curious insight into the systems we’re collectively creating now that media is so fluid.

    changeling is out as a *claimed* dvdscr, although it may be truly a TC. completely watchable though (well, if one considers the quality of the print only). I could’ve sworn I’ve seen australia out, but a quick search does seem to indicate that so far it’s cam only. have to do more research later.

    I’m curious if you’ve ever gotten a response from the Academy or MPAA about this effort? I imagine they’re interested in this data, but have no idea how they would use it or react.

    fisheffer: I’ve seen the purported DVD screener around, but it doesn’t show up on any of the NFO databases. I suspect it’s a mislabeled re-release of the telecine.

    AC: I don’t remember ever being contacted by anyone from the studios or MPAA about it, but I’d love to hear from them. Get in touch!

    Simon: Thanks! I’m going to wait until a version without the sync issues shows up in one of the release databases, and update the spreadsheet then.

    Anon: I really only use VCD Quality once a year, and for my purposes, they have all the major releases. Do you have any examples?

    Always an interesting post. I’m an accredited critic, and I get most of the awards screeners sent my way. I can verify that DVD screeners were sent out for both Changeling and Rachel Getting Married, because they’re sitting on my desk right now. Wonder why those two in particular didn’t leak.

    Where are you that Changeling is not widely known? It is a Clint Eastwood film that opened in wide release with a decent-sized marketing campaign, very far from obscure. And Rachel has received some very healthy marketing as well.

    @Anders: Maybe Rachel’s cinematography? Seemed like a ridiculous reason at first but comes across as increasingly legit as I think about it.

    Well, Changeling has been rlsed a long time ago.

    :: XVID :: Changeling.TELESYNC.XViD-PUKKA :: [8w 3d 23h 9m 58s] :: [100F/1493MB] :: 2008/11/25

    There’s also a nuked TC:

    XVID :: Changeling.TELECiNE.XviD-VST :: [1w 6d 9h 4m 3s] :: [98F/1468MB] :: 2009/01/11 :: NUKED :: Reason: transcoded.custom.ac3

    :: No match :: RLS: Rachel Getting Married

    I’m sure it will get rlsed in a number of days.

    Why did you combine TC and R5? In my opinion they should be separated. It would also be nice to know if the screeners are dvdscr or vhsscr. Interesting stats, though.

    Source video & audio :Changeling.DVDSCR vobs

    Project file name:c.dvdscr.xvid-Dragon25.avi

    Changeling 2008 DVDSCR XviD-KingBen (Kingdom-Release)

    Changeling has been out for the last month as a screener.

    Would this sort of idea cut down on piracy?

    Studios could send unique codes for each film to each accredited critic. Enter the code into the iTunes Store (or similar service), and it’s good for a one-time download of the film (much like the digital copy redemption code for Speed Racer, only temporary, like a rental). Critic watches the DRMed film within a certain timeframe.

    Now, I know not everyone has an AppleTV/iPhone or other capable device, but I’m sure Amazon, Apple, or SOMEONE can think of something.

    Just an idea. I have no idea if it would work or not. And I’m sure people would eventually crack the DRM, but as far as I know, they haven’t yet (correct me if I’m wrong).

    @Jonathan: the DRMing helps if you want to stay all digital, but it’s the so-called “analog hole” that could be used to create an acceptable version. No one (that I know of) is DRMing component, S-Video, or composite video signals.

    The studios have been experimenting with audio watermarks that don’t affect the sound quality, but still carry over even when a video’s transferred from digital to analog and back, including with camcorder recordings.

    No Jonathan, that would not work. There are no DRM technologies that actually protect the data against a determined attacker. All of them can be broken, most of them trivially so. iTunes in particular is no big feat to break. The skills to do this definitely exists in the pirate communities.

    I do not know where you get your information about nobody having cracked DRM yet. All the major systems have been pervasively and thoroughly broken both in theory and in practice. You can easily remove the DRM component from Amazon Unbox stuff, you can trivially strip iTunes DRM-files of their DRM, and ever Flash-based system has been broken as well. Granted, this is not something Joe Sixpack will do (or be able to do due to frequent updates or “fixes”), but the know-how exists, and any determined person can find out how to do it by googling a bit.

    Even if you were able to devise a system which provides complete digital protection (and let’s face it, Oscar jurors are not going to want to watch their movies on a computer or pay for all new entertainment systems just to do so, so this is just not going to happen), even then you could record the images and sound (usually at the analog hole, but if studios really wanted to be serious, pirates might just have to hook into the display circuitry and speaker cables) at very high quality — if the juror can watch and hear it, you can record it.

    Imperceptible watermarks are just about the only way to figure out where the leaks are occuring; anything that’s perceptible can be filtered. If a piracy group is unsure as to whether “their” screener is still watermarked somehow, they’ll “just” have to work twice as hard — procure a second source, compare the data streams, and figure out how the watermarking works and how to scramble it. I wouldn’t be surprised if a simple averaging of the audio channels would be sufficient.

    (We’re not “just” talking about weekend-pirates here who get their fix from torrents and such; there is real financial incentive to get high-quality screeners early — Hong Kong and other far-east markets offer lots of pressed DVD screeners and such; They probably have the resources to combat anything the MPAA might come up with. Just ask console and game manufacturers how inventive those guys are …)

    what channels or sources are you looking at when seeking the content? in other words, do you differentiate between bit-torrent and the usenet groups? is it possible the increasing subscription-only usenet activities are making bit-torrents a lower priority?

    Piracy used incorrectly by you an dothers …

    Piracy was originally meant making a unauthorized profit on some ones work, (like writings or inventions). I claim that the term piracy was co-opted in recent years by business interests to include those making unauthorized copies of music/movies for their private purposes – where there was no profit or reselling involved. Mainly to make it seem more criminal (a pirate!!) to make tapes or videos (albeit in digital form) like their parents did.

    Here’s the ‘piracy’ def from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) – the utmost authority on the English language. For ‘piracy’, the 2nd def (below) shows that the current def. of piracy for unauthorized use as people use it today BUT if you note the entomology of this use, you’ll see that is was people taking material and reselling it (a book, a telescope) for all uses of the word till a record company (Gramophone ) in 1977 seemed to switch the meaning to just listening to an authorized recording (note: called ‘so called piracy’). So the OED shows when it was abused to a different definition. Would you agree with this assumption – that modern copyright institutions like record companies co-opted what was called ‘file sharers’ or ‘music trading’ into the music ‘piracy’. It would be interested ( but I do not have the resources) to see the history of the OED 2nd definition and how and when it changed to better verify this theory.


    From the OED – piracy, 2nd definition:

    2. The unauthorized reproduction or use of an invention or work of another, as a book, recording, computer software, intellectual property, etc., esp. as constituting an infringement of patent or copyright; plagiarism; an instance of this.

    [1654 J. MENNES Recreation for Ingenious Head-peeces clxxvi, All the wealth, Of wit and learning, not by stealth, Or Piracy, but purchase got.] 1700 E. WARD Journey to Hell II. vii. 14 Piracy, Piracy, they cry’d aloud, What made you print my Copy, Sir, says one, You’re a meer Knave, ’tis very basely done. 1770 P. LUCKOMBE Conc. Hist. Printing 76 They..would suffer by this act of piracy, since it was likely to prove a very bad edition. 1855 D. BREWSTER Mem. Life I. Newton (new ed.) I. iv. 71 With the view of securing his invention of the telescope from foreign piracy. 1886 Cent. Mag. Feb. 629/1 That there are many publishers who despise such piracy..does not remove the presumption that publishers and papermakers have been influential opponents of an equitable arrangement. 1977 Gramophone Apr. 1527/3 Governments have begun to realize that unauthorized reproduction of records (so-called piracy) adversely affects also the rights of..composers, authors and performers. 1996 China Post (Taipei) 1 May 16/3 Authorities here said they have cracked down on piracy in recent years, but foreign computer firms claim they are still soft on piracy.

    @Steve DiPiola: unfortunately the use of the term “piracy” in its current meaning predates the P2P music sharing movement. People were using the term to describe trading computer software in the 1970s and 1980s. This was largely via analog dial-up BBSes which had names like “The Pirate’s Cove” and other names which played off of the software piracy/sea piracy homonym — today’s young people may be surprised that The Pirate Bay didn’t originate this idea!

    Prior to the 1970s, piracy was taken to mean “for profit” because without low-cost, high-speed methods of digital piracy, there was little point in pirating without a profit motive — ie. you’d have to spend the money to distribute the books, films, or what have you. In fact, the law took a while to catch up with the advent of piracy via the Internet — it wasn’t until the NET Act signed during the Clinton administration that distributing pirated content without monetary renumeration was made against the law.

    So, you’re correct that in the 1,000-foot view of history, most piracy has been for profit. The fact that there’s a large volume in piracy without a profit motive nowadays doesn’t make the word “piracy” incorrect. The definition stands.

    so not to complain but where do you search out copies ?? like i understand you can get into alot of share areas

    but what about closed torrent/share sites like demonoid or on the dc++ networks

    like im sorry but a lot of those movies i had earlier then your stated date of release onto the internet ..

    not to complain it gives a general overview but not accurate

    i had the dark knight screener -98 days 🙂 go me

    Like I said in my article, I used multiple scene release dbs (like VCD Quality, Nforce, and Scnsrc’s Predb), to get the dates.

    While it’s possible that some private BitTorrent networks got access to screeners earlier than the rest of the world, I simply don’t believe you had a copy of The Dark Knight screener more than three months before the release of the film. Can you back this up by posting the NFO file?

    In my country still, movie piracy is very at large. Extreme censorship and late theater release dates give advantage to these pirates. No one in his right mine would purchase an original DVD. Although the authorities try, yes they DO try, The demand is just too great! The regular price of these pirated DVDs are around US$2.50, a movie ticket would cost $3.00, an original DVD around $10 – but with extreme censoring and really late release.

    I on the other hand, am trying to educate friends & family NOT to purchase from these pirates, instead teaching them to download and share these movies for FREE! The Pirate DVD release is usually a week behind my downloads, and I’ve seen some – Its the same copy!

    The idea is, if we could get it for free, why buy from Pirates?! God knows what other illegal activities they carry out with the huge profits they make! I figure their cost is under $0.50!

    Even if I’m considered a PIRATE (not for profit), but at least it would sap the REAL Pirate’s profit and hopefully reduce the the vice crime rate here. Some say its a lost cause, but I’m still giving out free DVDs by the dozens! with a note written on them – “Please share this for free. If you like it, buy the original”.

    Thanks for the info on “Rachel Getting Married”, I’ve been looking high & low for it. At least now I know its not out there… yet!

    Great post as always. Just a note, I’ve got a post up on my blog looking at documentaries and foreign films getting leaked as well if anybody is interested.

    XVID :: Rachel.Getting.Married.LIMITED.DVDRip.XViD-PUKKA :: [2h 1m 21s] :: [50F/708MB] :: 2009/02/07

    As a musicproducer and label owner i don´t understand the technical discussion here.Movies, music – it´s all the same. Point is: How can people like me , live in a world that takes everything for free and is even proud of it. Digital Rights-management is the main Topic for everybody who is involved into the media industry.

    People – i love my job and i want to continue what i am doing. But as long there is no conscious about the fact , that people actually use other´s people work for free – nothing will change and quality in media will be very poor in the near future.

    The Internet and file sharing in general are changing the business paradigm of the music and movie industries. There’s been a shift, and for the first time, the megalithic multi-national companies that control our media are at an increasing disadvantage.

    Of course, for a long time, media companies just complained and refused to offer their products online, which helped to establish the whole file-sharing craze. But it’s now 16 years since the creation of the World Wide Web and movie theaters are still in business, and CDs and DVDs are still being sold, all reaping billions of dollars for these multinational corporations.

    In fact, the movie industry has shown no signs of a fall-off. Quite often, the same people who download movies are the very ones who spend a lot of their money to also see them in theaters.

    I would offer that the down-turn in CD sales since 2000, for example, owes more to the mergers within the music industry than to piracy. We’re now down to four companies controlling 90% of the music business, and in their mergers, they cut hundreds, if not a thousand or more recording artists from their rolls, taking out people who collectively sold tens of millions of CDs. In their place, the recording companies have tried to “make” artists like Brittany Spears, Ashlee Simpson, and the American Idol winners, instead of trying to find real talent.

    Other than in the country music area, which still looks for raw talent, these companies have created some of the blandest, some of the worst pop music since the late ’50s, early ’60s. The multinationals saw that hip-hop sold the most CDs, mostly to teens and early 20s, so they literally ignored their rock divisions, shut down their jazz labels, and concentrated only on this market. Of course, you’re going to sell less CDs if you do that!! The multinationals were trying to increase profits, not increase revenue.

    As for offering media for free, keep in mind that music artists have always been screwed by the recording industry. Roger McGuinn, for example, testified before Congress that he has never received a single royalty check from his record company for the albums he recorded with The Byrds over 40 years ago! This is despite the fact that the albums have sold millions of copies, have never been out of print, and are considered classics. Needless to say, I have not heard of a single artist that has gotten a check from all of the performance fees being imposed on Internet radio stations. The money goes to the recording companies.

    The bands and artists have always made their money by touring, and now they’re concentrating even more on that. They can distribute their songs via the Web and bypass the record companies. Bands themselves can hire music producers and engineers, rent recording studios, and so on, so instead of working for the recording companies, the technical folks can make their money working for the groups in general.

    As for the record labels, they can make money selling tracks online at a reasonable price. People with iPods, for example, have on average about $700-$1000 worth of songs on their players. It has been shown that people will buy tracks online and record labels can get rid of their expensive warehousing and trucking operations.

    It seems like this page is missing Transformers, Revenge of the fallen its in DVD quality now

    I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this in the last few days, and I think it’s one of those things that a lot of people ought to be expounding on. One can’t plan to get anywhere if we just keep our heads hidden in the dark.

    Hiya Andy–

    Thanks so much for compiling this data! May I ask how you managed to collect all of it? Was it just brute-force research, or did you have some central source that helped immensely, or…?

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