How much damage can piracy do? Take the national average ticket price of $8 and multiply it by the 200,000 people who have already illegally downloaded "The Expendables," and Lionsgate just lost a theoretical $1.6 million. Of course, not everyone who pirated the film would pay to see it in theaters (which is also the excuse people give when illegally downloading), but still, this breach illustrates just how damaging piracy can be and just how fast (especially when you consider that the average indie film grosses nowhere near $1.6 million).
Here's what we know: three weeks ahead of its U.S. premiere, about 190,000 high-quality copies of "The Expendables 3" have been downloaded via piracy sites in just over 24 hours, Variety reports. According to Excipio, which analyzes piracy data, as of 6 p.m. ET Thursday the action movie had been downloaded 189,052 times worldwide, with 42,216 of those downloads in the U.S. Torrentfreak, which reports on film piracy, said the film has been downloaded more than 200,000 times using BitTorrent alone. And, of course, it will only spread more - and fast.
How will this affect box office for the film, which Lionsgate plans to release August 15? Lionsgate hasn't commented, but Nu Image, the production company behind all three "Expendables" titles, sued previous downloaders of its titles, according to BitTorrent.
In a recent Op-Ed for Indiewire, Ruth Vitale, executive director of CreativeFuture, and Tim League, founder and CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, opined on how piracy hurts indie film in particular.
"The fact is: pirate sites don't discriminate based on a movie's budget. As long as they can generate revenue from advertising and credit card payments—while giving away your stolen content for free—pirate site operators have little reason to care if a film starts with an investment of $10,000 or $200 million," wrote Vitale and League. "Whether you're employed by a major studio or a do-it-yourself creator, if you're involved in the making of TV or film, it's safe to assume that piracy takes a big cut out of your business."
Director Ti West has also weighed in, writing an open letter about the effects it has on indie films -- in particular, films that premiere on VOD before a theatrical release.
"Films are more than just momentary entertainment; they are also works of art. Most of the time, filmmakers have devoted significant portions of their lives to tell these stories. If we have to think of it like a "suggested donation" sometimes, then so be it, but they need our support. Encourage risky filmmaking. Don't let the ecosystem die," wrote West.
Not everyone agrees that piracy is inherently bad for the industry, but everyone acknowledges that it is here to stay and filmmakers, distributors, theater owners and festivals will need to educate consumers and continue to adapt to the changing times.
"Piracy exists very much, and from our perspective, hasn't really been a problem," said Oscilloscope's Dan Berger recently. "t's almost something that you want to happen, that you strive for, because that's when you know you've made it – but at the same time, it is a thing that will grow and we have to figure out a way to combat that. Not everyone is going to pirate a movie and people are inherently willing to pay money for a product that they genuinely want and believe is good."
Indiewire will continue to report on the issue of piracy in the coming weeks focusing on how it affects various aspects of the independent film industry.