With the leak of the first four episodes of the highly anticipated Game of Thrones season 5 followed by the Dawn of Justice trailer leak days later, the internet is ablaze with equal parts excitement and frustration. Some are happily exploiting the opportunity to view the episodes and the trailer early, while others are choosing to respect the studios wishes and not indulge until an official release is made. Regardless of which side you stand on, we cannot ignore the fact that these “leaks” (I use quotes here as these were not just randomly sent out into the internet void: they were illegally obtained and/or uploaded against the studios wishes) are becoming a common occurrence, especially as technology and overall global connection becomes more advanced and instantaneous. These “leaks” leave the studios scrambling to figure out how this could have happened, but more importantly, how to prevent them in the future.
This is not the first time this has happened: the Age of Ultron trailer was leaked a week before its planned release, House of Cards was briefly put on Netflix two weeks early. Even years ago, the script for 2009's Terminator Salvation was leaked, forcing the studio to completely rewrite a new ending. The newest Star Wars installment had photos leaked of the sets, and Star Trek Into Darkness saw un-permitted photos of Zachary Quinto’s and Benedict Cumberbatch’s characters engaging in an epic battle. Technology helps aid and abet early leaks with little time for studios to react. People can now take out their phones, film or take pictures of whatever they want, and then upload them an hour later for everyone around the world to see. How do you crack down on something that anyone, anywhere, anytime can do with a swipe of their fingers?
Most studios, like HBO for instance after the recent leak, seem to default to the tried-and-true, old-school method of removing the content then publicly coming down hard on the source and shaming everyone for indulging—going so far as attempting to track down those who downloaded the leaked episodes. This reaction isn’t the case every time though: rolling with the punches seems to be Marvel’s go-to attitude. After a less-than-perfect quality of the first trailer Age of Ultron leaked, they made a crack about Hydra trying to foil them and then just released the full high-quality trailer for everyone early while quietly looking into the leak behind closed doors. They also released an “ant- sized” version of the Ant-Man teaser in advance before the official release, which got blown up but was terrible quality. Marvel seems to be trying to outsmart anyone who would want to exploit them. Is this the solution? To tease ahead of the game? After the Dawn of Justice trailer leaked, WB Studios and director Zach Snyder decided to release the trailer officially and unveiled the teaser posters days later. Perhaps they are realizing that more good can come from running with the unintended promotion rather than trying to fight with something as vast and speedy as the internet.
That being said, studios can and have been using technology to their advantage, possibly in an attempt to stave off leaks or the temptation to do so. Actors on set have been posting photos onto their personal social media accounts more and more, giving fans a “sneak peek” behind-the-scenes at cast camaraderie (as the newest live-action Beauty and the Beast boasted), costumes (as both Ryan Reynolds and Jared Leto did recently), or other antics on set.
So where is the line here? If studios are willing to release some exclusive footage or photos via a social media page, then why are a few photos or an early recording of a trailer such a big deal? The key difference here is when the studios do it, it’s promotion; when a random guy with a phone does it, it’s piracy. Moreover, it’s unfair not just to the studios, but to the people who are working on these movies as well. Maybe trailers aren’t such a big deal in the grand scheme of things, as they are going to get released eventually anyway, but that’s a dangerous way to look at something like this because it detracts, literally, from the big picture. The fact is, all of this was orchestrated to deliver an amazing experience to an awaiting audience. These movies are productions that people put their time and effort into, and when things like trailers, movie scripts, and full-length episodes get leaked it completely disrespects their work, and spoiling the fruits of their labor really is a crime in that regard.
On the flipside, it can be argued that some good can come from leaks. Take Deadpool for instance: unreleased test footage was uploaded and then viewed by millions of people, many of whom later demanded they push forward with the movie. Now it’s set for a 2016 release date after being tied up for years. The creator of Deadpool, Rob Liefield, credits the leaked footage as the entire reason the movie is even happening. House of Cards writer, Beau Willimon, stated that he wasn’t upset by the premature upload of Season 3, but rather excited to see the enthusiasm of the fans and the build-up of anticipation that followed for the official release. The script leak of Terminator Salvation forced a rewrite that, in my opinion, was better than the original ending they had before. Is it possible that these few examples make leaks and sharing more of a call to duty to see and respond rather than committing the crime of silence? Could this just be the next step on the path of connecting the audience more directly to content-on-demand? More importantly, can these leaks ever be stopped, or should they just be embraced as “one of those things that happens?”
The truth is, in the world where technology is getting smarter and more on-demand, and we become a culture of more instant gratification, leaks are going to continue. The argument has been made that these leaks only have a negative effect on the studios, and really the only thing they typically lose is the control of publicity, but I think we have to give them more credit here. For example, when the script for Terminator Salvation was leaked, WB Studios chose to write a whole new ending instead of keeping the same to spite those who leaked and read it and reward those who didn’t. They took the high road and rewrote it for everyone to enjoy, even the very people who had disrespected them and read the ending, and put in additional time and effort—and let’s not forget money—creating a new one. They kept the spirit of the movie-going experience alive and chose to respect all aspects of the audience; something I feel went way above and beyond as they would have been completely justified in keeping the ending as written. It was a bold choice, but they seemed to think it was the right one.
Which brings it back around to the internet, us (the audience), and our accountability. In exchange for studios wanting to respect us as an audience, we have to in turn be a respectful audience. There is a level of trustworthiness and integrity to uphold on our part that if something is not ready for us to view, we do not view it. It is basic self-control, and even self-censorship on some level—actively resisting the instant gratification urge and the on-demand culture—but more importantly, respecting the creative process.
The choice to rewrite the Terminator Salvation script never would have happened if people hadn’t read it in the first place. Think of how different it would have been if the leaked episodes of Game of Thrones had been put up but then no one clicked on them. Think of how different a culture it would be if we just learned to respect the old adage of “wait your turn.” Studios wouldn’t be suspicious of people waiting to exploit their work and make them lose money, and maybe if we could just be patient and let things take the time they need to develop, then the studios could be more willing to take risks and create more of a variety of movies instead of reboots or those they know will sell. We create the footprint of the internet, so it’s up to us to decide what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in regard to how we consume our entertainment. We always have the choice to click or not, so let’s choose not to ruin it for everyone.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.