Avi Lerner, producer of “The Expendables 3” and chairman of Millennium Films, said he was “devastated” by the leak of the movie in July and that the subsequent rampant Internet piracy of the movie is responsible for $250 million in lost potential revenue.
The company has taken the unusual step of pursuing individuals who downloaded the pirated copies of the movie, sending out legal letters asking for a settlement to holders of IP addresses in lieu of more substantial damages should they take cases to trial.
Lerner said that, after the movie was leaked before it opened, more than 10 million people illegally downloaded the action title. “That was 10 million people who stole the movie,” he said. “We want to go after those 10 million people.”
Lerner said that the intent isn’t just to collect losses, but to show that it is “not right to steal.”
“I want to protect our property and the thousands of people who made our movie,” he said, noting the impact that piracy has on jobs in the entertainment industry.
“The Expendables 3” sputtered on its opening weekend, after a leak of a copy of the movie spread across the Internet three weeks before opening. Lionsgate, the movie’s distributor, successfully won a restraining order against six websites that had posted pirated copies of the movie.
But Lerner said that Millennium Films decided to go after individual downloaders, a more cumbersome process in which their legal team may have to subpoena ISPs for the identities of holders of various IP addresses.
Although major studios, through the MPAA, are not pursuing such a strategy in fighting piracy, independent producers have from time to time sought out individual downloaders, given the disproportionate impact that copyright infringement has on their business. Producers of “Dallas Buyers Club,” for instance, started pursuing illegal downloaders earlier this year and filed more than 100 lawsuits across the country.
Lerner, however, indicated that the impact has been greater for “Expendables 3” because of the widespread availability of the movie before its opening day.
“It is devastating that here in America the police and the courts and Congress don’t do anything to stop people from stealing intellectual property from producers or the exhibition company,” he said.
He added, “I know President Obama has got other problems around the world, but I still don’t understand why they don’t protect the electrician, the gaffer, the people who work so hard behind the scenes.” He suggested that the influence of Google with the administration was keeping the White House from taking more aggressive action.
And he also faulted the major studios for not pursuing individual downloaders, calling their chieftains “cowards” who are too worried about protecting their image.
He said that he personally would not take any of the money collected from the legal action, and that Millennium is trying to decide where such funds will go.
“We want to stop this,” he said. The primary reason for sending the letters, he said, is as a deterrent. “We want to show the world that by downloading the movie they might get punished.”
He estimated that since last week, when they started sending out letters, about 550,000 have been sent. He indicated that they have the IP addresses for millions more and “we will carry on until we get everyone.”
He said that the calculation of $250 million in lost revenue takes into account the number downloaders and those they shared it with, as well as streaming.
“The problem is if you steal a car, and you get caught, you go to jail,” he said. “If you steal intellectual property, people don’t do anything to you.
“Unless the American government will make this a very clear punishment in the laws, nothing will change. The people will still steal.”