06.21.2007 08:00 AM
Michael Moore's 'Sicko' combats leaks on the Web

In a pre-release motion picture adventure unlike any other, filmmaker Michael Moore’s new health care documentary, “Sicko,” was widely released on the Internet last week after the original film was pirated.

By the weekend, Moore’s producer, The Weinstein Co., had hired a specialist in pirated content to flood the Internet with decoys of the film in an attempt to frustrate downloaders and lure pirates into theaters.

After the film was widely available for download on peer-to-peer content sites, Media Defender, a Los Angeles-based company, went into action, AdAge reported.

“If you can see or hear something, you can copy it,” Randy Saaf, president of Media Defender, told AdAge in an interview. “Copies go through BitTorrent, which causes this explosive viral spread. But we then send out billions of fake files that are designed to frustrate the end user — create a needle-in-the-haystack experience.”

Media Defender isn’t just using diversionary files to confuse what Saaf said are millions of download attempts; his company has started replacing the pirated content with something of value, though not the actual movie they were seeking to steal. The replacement content, which was not identified, is ad supported.

Another element in the saga is the filmmaker’s past comments on film piracy. Even though Moore has yet to comment on the “Sicko” leak, he has previously taken a lenient attitude toward online file sharing. In 2004, Moore said in an interview that he did not have a problem with people illegally downloading his film “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Though some saw the “Sicko” situation as a crisis, others weren’t so sure it would hurt the film at the box office. The Weinstein Co., though taking defensive actions, was actively reaching out those who saw the film over the Internet to also see it in a movie theater.

“...From our research, it is clear that people interested in the movement are excited to go to the theater so they can be part of the experience and fight to reform health care,” said Weinstein spokeswoman Sarah Rothman.

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