You may remember that back in 2009, a guy who loved movies maybe a bit too much released a workprint of the first X-Men prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, onto this thing we affectionately call the Internet (because that’s its name). Naturally, as an in-progress creation, the print in question was full of unfinished effects, and once the thing spread throughout the less reputable parts of these here interwebs, executives at 20th Century Fox began to worry that such pirate activities would be detrimental to the film’s overall box office success. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway, that Internet piracy automatically leads to a loss of revenue, despite there being no evidence that Internet pirates would have spent money on the thing, anyway.
Of course, Fox should have been more worried that the movie was a piece of shit and nearly put an adamantium bullet square in the head of the franchise after Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand put two firmly in the chest. After all, Wolverine made nearly $400 million in worldwide receipts, so if anything, the work print just forced people to see the final product for themselves. Critics, as usual, be damned.
While the original source of the work print has never been discovered, the man who uploaded the incomplete movie online, Gilberto Sanchez (49!), has just been sentenced to one year in prison — a non-plastic prison, presumably. Sanchez pleaded guilty to the charges that he posted X-Men Origins: Wolverine to Megaupload.com in March 2009 (more than a month before its theatrical release), but maintains that he purchased the print from a street vendor near his home in the Bronx. So, according to his official testimony, there are at least two more players in this Internet piracy ring that have yet to be brought to justice.
A full year in federal prison seems like a lot for a single pirated film that may have not been negatively effected by the, yes, criminal act of unlawfully distributing copyrighted material. I guess Sanchez is serving his accomplices’ sentences, as well? Then again, Mr. Sanchez has a history of illegally uploading movies to the Internet that stretches back to at least five years ago. So, really, the sentence is more symbolic than a necessarily legitimate price to pay for the crime committed, even if the judge calls the pirate’s actions “extremely serious.” One year for one movie is a merely a blatant attempt to deter pirates, as the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case said:
“The federal prison sentence handed down in this case sends a strong message of deterrence to would-be Internet pirates. The Justice Department will pursue and prosecute persons who seek to steal the intellectual property of this nation.”
Considering this terrible movie made hundreds of millions of dollars in profit, and there’s still the possibility of an (probably) equally successful sequel in the works — not to mention a sequel for the commercially and critically successful X-Men: First Class — 20th Century Fox, and movie studios in general, could certainly do a lot worse than the likes of Gilberto Sanchez and that mysteriously disappeared street vendor from the Bronx. I’m just sayin’.
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar, and his ware can be purchased here (if you’re into that sort of thing). He appreciates copyright law protecting artists, but he’s pretty certain the pendulum has swung too far into the favor of large corporations.