It is a measure of the success of event cinema that it is fast becoming a victim of internet piracy, a trend that is only like to get worse, for one very simple reason. With the NT Live screenings proving particularly popular for pirates, it is a challenge that the industry will have to deal with soon, though there are only two ways of doing this, neither of which the rights holders and distributors seem keen to embrace. (While we are aware that by highlighting this trend more people might find a way to access illegal copies online, we feel that a debate is required about how to best tackle this issue.)
The problem of event cinema piracy began with in earnest with the popular 2011 transmission of the Danny Boyle directed Frankenstein, with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating in the lead role. The play was one of the early blockbusters of the National Theatre Live (NT Live), with even the encore screenings sold out.
Fans who were unable to get tickets or lived in territories where it was not screened soon found a way to watch the play as somebody had recorded it with a video camera in a cinema, the same way that most films get pirated. Judging by the comments on PirateBay, the quality is not great, but that is drowned out in the comments section by observations such as this one:
MarinaMurr at 2012-11-02 22:20 CET:
THANK you VERY much!!! As the previous author has said, I also created this account just to say THANK YOU!!! I even cannot express how grateful i am! So just thank you once again
NT was swift to take notice and issued a sternly worded posting in its NT Live blog, headlined, “OFFICIAL Statement re: Frankenstein DVD/Bootleg Recordings” where it wrote that:
“We do not in any way condone the piracy of recording, both because it is an illegal activity and because it is against the wishes of the artists whose work we represent. I would let you know that if you choose to record, distribute or download the screening of Frankenstein, you are breaking the law and risk legal action.”
Signed by David Sabel, Head of Digital Media Producer, NT Live, National Theatre.
However, a badly camcorded version of Frankenstein was no indication of what was to come. Today you can download in full high definition glory the NT Live transmissions of The Audience, Macbeth and Coriolanus, exactly as they were projected onto the screens of cinemas around the world. Searching for ‘NTLive’ on Piratebay yields a full 1080p version of Coriolanus that clocks in at over 21Gb, as well as a more manageable 720p version that is only 3.85Gb, with over 100 seeders. The Audience and Macbeth are also available in 1080p version, both just over 7Gb in size and both well seeded.