Five simple rules for keeping your movie off the Internet

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Five simple rules for keeping your movie off the Internet

Tue Mar 23, 2010 @ 01:06PM PST

Today we've got another attorney guest post, this time from Nancy Derwin-Weiss. Nancy is a partner in the Beverly Hills office of Wildman Harrold Allen & Dixon, where she advises studio clients on marketing and content protection issues. She was formerly in-house counsel at Paramount.

By Nancy Derwin-Weiss

Wolverine It’s the biggest leak fiasco since Watergate. The studio’s summer tentpole is bouncing around the Internet, and the filmmakers want an explanation. How could this happen? And more important, how can the studio prevent its precious content from being illegally disseminated in the future?

Despite the pervasive use of technology and social media today, companies throughout the industry can implement a few simple offensive measures to minimize the likelihood of leaks. 

1. Enact a Content Protection Policy

Many leaks happen because people are unaware of the exposure points in movie development, production, marketing and sales systems. Thus, everyone involved in the process needs to be educated and actively involved in protecting the product. Companies on the lot and off should enact robust policies that address everything from employee confidentiality obligations, use of peer-to-peer software (often the source of breaches) and access to sensitive or other confidential data (which should be on a need-to-know basis. Violations of these policies should be grounds for termination. Companies should also provide periodic training programs to explain and reinforce these policies. 

2. Silence Is Golden

Everyone engaged on a production should read and sign confidentiality agreements. Employees should understand the rules (which should be written in plain English) and be regularly reminded of them. Sure, a big star or a cranky crew member might balk at having to deal with such annoyances, but these policies are actually in their best interest. Does the star really want craft services tweeting about her dietary restrictions or latest tantrum? Training films that include real-life examples and consequences can be used to reinforce these agreements.

3. Know Your Enemy

Companies should think long and hard about who may have access to their systems, facilities and materials. Should the temp working for the studio head really have full access to her files? Should a production exec store confidential script pages on his laptop (lest he leave it in a car and have it stolen by a valet)?

Outside vendors with access to product must also be scrutinized. It is not enough merely to include confidentiality provisions in vendor agreements. Companies need to do their due diligence and conduct security checks before and after engaging a vendor. Postproduction and special effects houses have been the source of more than one breach.

Most studios already employ high-tech preventative measures, such as deploying spider and spoofing technology in an effort to detect illegal content and trap would-be pirates. Studios also watermark scripts and prints, and no-cell-phone-or-camera policies at test screenings and even premieres are commonplace. But companies should also consider assigning consultants to oversee security from pre to post production through marketing of the picture.

4. Act Fast

When the inevitable leak occurs, a studio should go into immediate triage mode. IT and computer forensic experts should immediately begin playing detective to try to track down the source. Could a recently fired production house employee be the source?  Was there an actual theft of a print? If illegal activity is suspected, then law enforcement should be called in as well, including the Computer and Intellectual Property Crimes Section unit of the United States Attorney Office (which has helped investigate the last year's leak of Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine").

5. Know Your Rights

Studios shouldn’t hesitate to utilize legal remedies against infringing web sites, such as issuing DMCA take-down notices or filing copyright litigation. But while the leak of a full motion picture warrants a full blown take-down effort, it may be too late and not worth the potential backlash to go after sites posting leaked stills, especially when a fan site is taken offline by the ISP. Some studios have had success making certain “exclusive” content available to fan sites in an effort to discourage them from distributing pirated content.

Studios cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand and cry mea culpa when a leak occurs. Technology continues to evolve at light speed and so do consumers’ appetites for pirated and leaked content.  Studios should continue to be vigilant in their efforts to protect their product, and in turn, protect their bottom line.

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