A Wolverine in Fox's clothing

Forget pirating movies -- just talking about using BitTorrent is enough to get you canned. But when it comes to online leaks, the movie studios end up winning more than they lose.

The Internet is a bad, baaaad thing. It turns otherwise normal people into criminals. And if you don't use it correctly it can get you fired. Erstwhile Fox News movie reviewer Roger Friedman found out this out the hard way when he reviewed a pirated copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine -- and found himself X'd out of a writing gig.

But before I get into the juicy details, a series of disclaimers.

  • I would rather gargle with live bait than read anything on FoxNews.com. That's just how I roll.
  • I am not sitting in front of my PC wearing Hugh Jackman face fuzz and Wolverine claws, eagerly consuming every morsel of news about yet another in a seemingly endless series of X-Men movies (though I do admit to occasionally dressing up like Emma Frost, just for fun).
  • Until a few moments ago I had never heard of Roger Friedman. (Is he related to Roger Ebert? Or maybe Roger Ramjet?)
  • I rarely use my BitTorrent powers, and then only for the good of mankind.
  • And yet, this topic has a certain lingering aftertaste I can't seem to shake.

Fox isn't talking about why Friedman got the boot. But it seems pretty clear he got axed not only for reviewing a movie that was otherwise unavailable to the law-abiding non-BitTorrent-using public, but also for having the temerity to suggest that downloading and watching pirated movies won't make your face go hairy, cause stainless steel claws to sprout from your knuckles, or turn you into an Obamanista (this is Fox News, after all).

The money quote:  "It took really less than seconds to start playing it all right onto my computer."

For shame, Roger Friedman, for shame. You just revealed what only 20 (or maybe 200) million non-mutants already know. Now all the kids will be doing it.

Was it poor judgement on Friedman's part? Obviously. But I have an idea why he did it. I think he was trying to keep up. He was getting his a** kicked by amateur online reviewers and wanted to at least try to keep some skin in the game. Because the Web rewards speed and reach above everything else -- accuracy, quality, even legality. And -- I can speak from firsthand knowledge here -- it's changing the journalism trade in particular, not generally for the better.

He's also an easy target, and Hollywood loves to pick on easy targets. The real culprits here are the employees and/or contractors of 20th Century Fox who leaked the pirated movie in the first place. It's odd we don't hear a lot about what the studios are doing to solve that problem.

Hollywood spends millions trying to create online buzz for a movie to boost the first weekend box office. There's no cheaper or more effective way than to leak stuff online and let the fans do the heavy lifting (unless, of course, the movie totally blows). The end result: 20th Century Fox rakes in oodles of free publicity in front of the audience most likely to respond: Net mutants, who'll watch it online and then come back and see it on the big screen, over and over (unless, of course, the movie totally blows).

So it's a win-win for everybody, as long as you're not named Roger Friedman.

Be honest: Have you ever downloaded a movie or show off the Net? Are you too a scurvey pirate? Post your confession below or e-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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