A major movie from a major studio, more than a month ahead of release, is leaked online, apparently in “DVD quality.” The studio: Fox. The movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

I happen to know that Fox has the most draconian anti-piracy policy of all the major studios, requiring vendors to have a security inspection, a special safe to keep assets in when not in use, etc. Which is useless of course if there’s one disgruntled, greedy or stupid person in the chain. They have ways to trace it back, so probably one or more people are going to lose their job over this, and the witch hunt is going to destroy productivity for the rest of the people under suspicion.

Since the movie releases soon, Fox is panicked this leak will hurt box office. It might, of course, also help box office. The reporting on this has to be raising the profile of the movie, and most theater-goers don’t know how to torrent anyway. What will really hurt them is the pirate DVD sales overseas. If it’s true that some effects shots in the leaked version weren’t finished, I wonder if the people who buy from pirates are savvy enough consumers to know or care. Fox should make lemonade out of these lemons and consider this data about the market.

I have a feeling that the Wolverine leak is the tip of the iceberg. My source tells me that he suspects the person who leaked it may have been motivated by a grudge against the house where they work – perhaps someone who has been laid off or had his hours reduced (although to be fair he did also say that it’s just as likely that this leak came from a dumb intern who simply made a copy for a friend. My friend has no actual knowledge of the particulars of this specific leak). The ease with which a DVD can be ripped and disseminated makes it child’s play, and the ubiquity of laptops make it simpler and simpler for someone to rip a movie without even taking the disc off premises. Studios can keep being worried about someone sneaking a Flip camcorder into a press screening, but the real problem is right in their own system. So far they’ve been amazingly lucky, but how long can that luck hold out?