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Sicko Watch: Moore's 'Sicko' a hit...with pirate community

A positive sign for Moore is that the film is popular among file sharers. But will they hurt the movie's ticket sales?

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read

If the pirate community is any judge of movies, Michael Moore's Sicko is sure to be a hit.

On the day that the documentary about the health care industry is scheduled to debut, unauthorized copies continue to flitter across the Web. Illegal downloading of the film began gathering steam last week when copies appeared at The PirateBay, YouTube and Google Video.

What started with just a few hundred people a week ago, has mushroomed into the tens of thousands. A review of torrent search engines Mininova, TorrentReactor.net, The PirateBay, Isohunt and Torrentz on Friday showed that thousands of people were downloading the movie throughout the day (thanks to Richard for the tip).

There were unconfirmed reports that the film also reappeared briefly on Google Video over the past few days before being pulled.

If you recall, I am trying to discern what kind of impact file sharing has on ticket sales for a movie that has yet to open widely. While the Weinstein Co. issued public threats about prosecuting those responsible for leaking the movie, the controversy has sparked lots of valuable media attention for the film.

A CNET News.com reader named Seth argued that Hollywood shouldn't forget that file sharers are a trend-setting demographic. He said that often when the sharers download a good flick, they act as an underground marketing arm by spreading the word to friends.

"That is a huge profit and free advertisement," Seth wrote. "Eventually everyone will download movies...hopefully by then the big movie companies will have become smart enough to find a way to profit off the new way movies are watched."

The file-sharing community may feel more entitled to share Sicko than other movies. In an interview three years ago, Moore voiced his support for file sharing, saying that he didn't agree with copyright laws and that he just wanted people to see his movies. He didn't care how they saw them. (Played back in court, that interview would make a nice defense, no?)

More recently, however, Moore has sounded less supportive of copyright violators.

He told the media this week that he thinks whoever was responsible for distributing the DVD copies that apparently were the source of much of the file sharing, is trying to undercut his film. The Weinstein Co. has not responded to requests to interview Moore or the Weinsteins.

Next week we'll continue to track ticket sales and talk to marketing experts to see whether file sharers can take a bow for helping promote Sicko. But beware those of you who might have downloaded the film.

Should it tank, you might make a convenient scapegoat.