The dismissal of Fox News’ Roger Friedman for downloading and reviewing a copy of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is not too surprising. However, it does reek of double standards. Back in January, the Sunday Times of London, which, like Fox, is owned by Rubert Murdoch, published an article headlined "Pirate-sharing Films Throttle Hollywood" that offered a primer on downloading movies.
Now I certainly don’t expect Mr. Murdoch to be fully up to date with what all his editors and journalists are publishing, but prior to his purchase of the Wall Street Journal, the Sunday Times and its daily stablemate, the Times, brought prestige to his newspaper portfolio. The Sunday Times has maintained its market domination throughout the Murdoch ownership and has, despite occasional lapses, maintained a degree of integrity. The daily seems to be trying to regain some gravitas; in the British tradition these papers are run and edited separately.
That January piece in the Sunday Times began : "Fancy watching the latest Hollywood film in the comfort of your own home tonight, free of charge?"
Despite reiterating that downloading is naughty, the article details how easy it to download movies and tempts readers with a selection of what’s available. "The films they post on the web are not the grainy versions filmed in cinemas with shaky camcorders and marred by the occasional member of the audience walking in front of the camera, but can be DVD-quality versions, sometimes even in high definition, the new crystal-clear format."
Now, this is the best part: the story even recommends the equipment that’s needed — with illustrations — for stealing from Hollywood: "Some drives even have torrent software built in. Once instructed, the £150 Freecom Network Drive Pro will download films to its 1TB drive on its own." And don’t overlook a disc burner: "Downloaders of larger files will have invested in something like the £140 LG GGW-H20L, which will burn a high-definition (HD) Blu-ray disc in 20 minutes."
In addition, the report goes on, "It’s no longer necessary even to burn a disc to watch a downloaded film on a big TV. Last year software updates to the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 allowed them to handle DivX files beamed to them over a home network. Then there’s Western Digital’s £80 HD Media Player (left); connected to a TV’s HDMI input it will play just about any digital video format fed to it, including full HD files, from a computer or an external USB-based hard drive."
Thankfully, the Sunday Times does not neglect the legality of downloading, but reassures its readers: "The law exists to protect producers, writers and artists and ensure they get a fair reward for their work. That said, there is no record of a film downloader being prosecuted in the U.K."
And, in answer to the question "Will I be taken to court?" the story says, "The music industry initially went after filesharing consumers but was accused of heavy-handedness and last week announced it had dropped the practice in the U.S. Hollywood is likely to fare no better. In Britain, Fact magazine says the film industry is trying to "educate, not prosecute", but it is "looking at a number of targets" among sites hosting pirate copies.
So, if any Britons get caught with "Wolverine" they can thank Mr. Murdoch for his advice — technical and legal — and sleep soundly knowing the host site will carry the can.