July 29, 2008 Warner Bros. devoted six months to an extensive anti-piracy strategy for the release of "The Dark Knight", and have deemed the 38 hour period between the film's premiere screening and the first appearance on file-sharing sites to be a success - keeping bootleg DVDs off the streets as the film racked up a record-breaking US$158.4 million on its all important opening weekend.

Given that 2003’s Hulk found its way online two weeks before the film’s theatrical release and The Dark Knight’s target audience of superhero fans is the same group that are (probably) responsible for the bulk of illegal file sharing that goes on, the 38 hour figure starts to sound a little more impressive.

So what high-tech method did Warner Bros. employ to delay the pirates? Seems like a little extra vigilance was all that was required - but when there are so many steps in the film production and distribution process, a little extra vigilance can be a complicated process.

Warner created a “chain of custody”, just like police do with evidence, to ensure that those who had access to the film at any moment could be tracked. They also staggered the delivery of film reels so that multiplexes wouldn’t receive the entire film in one shipment, while hundreds of spot checks of cinemas around the world were carried out to check for illegal camcording.

Probably the highest tech used in the process was the night-vision goggles given to exhibitors in Australia, where the film opened two days before its US launch, to scan the audience for the infrared signal of a camcorder. Such steps are now commonplace amongst the major studios as they attempt to maximize the revenue from the investment, but any anti piracy steps simply stave off the inevitable.

Pirated copies of “The Dark Knight" appeared on a pirate site by Friday night, two days after its Australian premiere, said Mark Ishikawa, chief executive of BayTSP Inc., a Los Gatos firm that does online tracking of copyrighted works. By Sunday, it could be downloaded on BitTorrent file-sharing sites or viewed on YouTube, he said.

Source: LA Times.