Hollywood exec frets over paid piracy services

If a cheap, all-you-can download movie subscription service sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is, says one movie industry executive.

They’re called Cyberlockers, and Paramount Chief Operating Fred Huntsberry told a conference of European theater operators that these sites are the next big threat to the movie industry, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Cyberlockers seem legitimate on the surface, Huntsberry said, with a high level of polish and advertisements from unsuspecting mainstream brands, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken. The sites will charge a monthly fee — say, $5 — for unlimited access to a vault of pirated movies. To keep pace with new releases, the sites may offer bootlegs recorded in movie theaters, and then switch to the DVD or Blu-ray versions once they’re released.

Based out of Russia, Ukraine, Colombia, Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere, Cyberlockers may be mob-run, Huntsberry said, and could be ripping off credit card information or, more likely, loading up subscribers’ computers with spyware. Huntsberry warned that the sites look so good, consumers may not know they’re illegitimate.

“Sometimes these sites look better than the legitimate sites,” Huntsberry said. “That’s the irony.”

Actually, the irony is that movie pirates — the supposed scum of the earth who feel entitled to steal — are actually willing to pay. They just needed a convenient, DRM-free movie download service at a low price. Does the movie industry offer anything even remotely competitive to these Cyberlockers? Of course not. The closest I can think of is Netflix’s streaming service, a limited catalog that tends to exclude new releases.

I doubt the movie industry would ever want to compete with a Cyberlocker. Too much of the existing business model would have to change, from theatrical first runs to staggered home video releases to the idea that a single movie’s DVD sales can result in massive profits. Besides, it’s so much easier to just sue everyone.