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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Why do Korean moviegoers get to see 'Iron Man 2' way ahead of Japan?

Mickey_rourke The politics of piracy wreak havoc in every almost facet of the entertainment business, most notably with movie openings. So it makes sense that there has been a lot of speculation about why Paramount, if it was so concerned about "Iron Man 2" falling victim to rampant piracy, opened the movie in most of the world this weekend, even though it doesn't open in the U.S. until this coming Friday. When it comes to piracy, dissemination happens at warp speed: Copies of "Iron Man 2" are already available on Pirate Bay and other torrent sites.

It's no secret that Paramount wanted to get the movie out into the world before June's World Cup, which for potential moviegoers in Europe and South America is the equivalent of a never-ending Super Bowl. "If you have a big movie, you definitely want to get it out ahead of that," Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore explained to me Monday morning. But as the Hollywood Reporter's Eriq Gardner put it: "Is a mega sports event more than a month away a bigger threat than the prospect of piracy this week?" Gardner noted in his blog post this morning that 20th Century Fox scrambled the jets after "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" leaked out a month or so before its theatrical release. So why is "another studio basically shrugging off a leak" that could also lead to massive piracy?

Of course, the Fox case was complicated by the fact that "Wolverine" was leaked a month ahead of the film's release, giving moviegoers a lot of time to chew over the film's strengths and weaknesses. But as it turns out, the world is a very complicated place, especially when it comes to attitudes toward piracy and copyright theft. According to Moore, Paramount did want to get "Iron Man" out into the world market in time for it to have a solid theatrical run before World Cup mania distracted a huge part of its potential audience. But a closer look at the film's global release schedule shows that Paramount carefully crafted its theatrical bows to reflect individual country's attitudes toward piracy.

As Moore noted, one of the countries that has the least amount of piracy is Japan. "There is a very low social acceptability in Japan for stealing copyrighted work -- you just don't see movies showing up online right away there," he said. So with that in mind, Paramount is holding back the release of "Iron Man 2" in Japan for several weeks, having little fear about the country being swamped with bootleg copies of the film.

However, when it comes to Korea, it's a different story. "For better or worse, there are certain countries -- notably like Korea -- where it's culturally acceptable to download movies online pretty much right away," said Moore. "By the third week of a movie's release, you're starting to see a large part of the audience who will start consuming the film online. It's why Korea has almost no home video business anymore."

So Paramount knew it couldn't afford to wait. It released "Iron Man 2" in Korea this weekend -- and is hoping for the best. "There are still some countries that don't respect the rights of intellectual property," said Moore. "So we're working aggressively with them to address those issues. But it means that when we open a big new film, we have to really understand the country's cultural attitudes when it comes to formulating our release dates." 

Photo:  Mickey Rourke in the role of Whiplash during the filming of "Iron Man 2" last year. Credit: Associated Press photo / Paramount Pictures

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If Korea has rampant downloading, then why are we still a week after them?

Rob Moore is so very mistaken. If he would have done a little more research, he would have seen that there already is an English language download available for Iron Man 2, and thousands of people are using it. It isn't that hard for a smart IT person to replace the foreign language track of a captured video with one of his choosing. As a matter of fact, replacing the audio gives you a chance to directly insert a digital copy of the soundtrack, making a much better bootleg.

In other words, Paramount is rewarding people who download movies illegally by showing it to them early. The drive for profit justifies that decision but isn't it a tad laughable? I'm not against listening to your customers but talk about throwing in the towel.

Why the comparison between Korea and Japan? Iron Man 2 was released on over 50 countries and territories last weekend. Day-and-date releases are increasingly the norm when it comes to big Hollywood films (and TV shows). Shouldn't you be asking why Japan still waits so long to release so many movies?

Considering the first Iron Man film made over $24 million in Korea (its third-strongest territory after the US and UK), versus $9 million in Japan, it does not seem to strange to me that Paramount would put a priority on Korea.

When Hollywood majors start pushing convenient, affordable, legal downloads of their movies in Korea, then we will have a much better idea of Koreans' attitudes toward piracy. After all, as soon as the music industry moved online, Koreans were willing to buy music online in record numbers (online music has been bigger than offline since 2004-5 or so).

You would think that to thwart piracy, they would open their movies everywhere at the same time, thus not turning law abiding markets into piracy advocates because their neighbors are getting rewarded for their bad behavior.

another fact that seems to be overlooked here is that S Korea has some of the fastest internet connections in the world, far surpassing our measly US download speeds. Maybe that is why piracy is far more rampant, not that it is "more culturally acceptable." pfffft. human nature is what it is, around the world.


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