Walt Disney’s CEO Bob Iger revealed during a town hall meeting with ABC employees in New York City on Monday that hackers have contacted the company, threatening to release online the studio’s upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales unless the studio pays a huge ransom in bitcoin.
Iger said that Disney has refused to pay the ransom and that the FBI is investigating. The Disney CEO did not name the upcoming film that the hackers threatened to release online but Deadline reportedly learned that the film was the fifth instalment of Jerry Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, starring Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush as Hector Barbossa, and Orlando Bloom as Will Turner.
The film is scheduled for release on May 26.
The hackers threatened to release increasingly large chunks of the movie on torrent sites if their demands were not met. According to Iger, the hackers said they would first release the opening five minutes of the film, and then 20-minute chunks in installments until their demands were met, according to Hollywood Reporter.
Disney has refused to comment further on the matter but confirmed that they would not pay the ransom.
Observers have been unable to resist making remarks about the supposed irony of real-life pirates holding a copy of Pirates of the Caribbean for ransom.
Pirates of the Caribbean 5: hackers threaten to release film unless Disney pays ransom https://t.co/XvlXbOOl5t— The Guardian (@guardian) May 16, 2017
Reports: New “Pirates of the Caribbean” film being held for ransom after Disney hit by hackers pic.twitter.com/Q2LXRVPfQA— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 16, 2017
Although there is no proof that hackers have actually obtained the movie, the claim is not the first in recent times. Observers have noted the increasing incidence of hacks in which copies of upcoming Hollywood movies are held for ransom. Although movie piracy is about as old as the industry, ransom hacks are a new development, according to industry analysts.
The latest incident comes only a few weeks after Netflix’s ordeal with hackers who released on torrent sites multiple episodes of Season 5 of Orange Is The New Black after the company refused to pay ransom money.
Lionsgate’s The Expendables 3 (2014), which flopped at the box office, was leaked before its official release date. The leak was cited as one of several reasons why the movie was a box office failure. Hackers also launched a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014, demanding that the studio suspend the distribution of The Interview, a comedy about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Disney would be worried about its upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean 5 movie being held for ransom by hackers because the mega-franchise had proved a huge money-spinner, having earned more than $3.7 billion at the box office worldwide since 2003.
Industry analysts are already debating how leaking the movie’s fifth installment would affect its anticipated success. Some analysts argued that releasing the movie on torrent sites now was unlikely to make a significant dent in box office earnings because it is only just about 10 days to the May 26 official release date.
The release of the movie on torrent sites just a little over a week before the official release date is unlikely to dissuade theater goers, Forbes’ Paul Tassi argued.
“The kinds of people who are willing to pay money to see Johnny Depp stumble his way through a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie in theaters are probably not the type to download a stolen copy of it right before it comes out.”
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 hackers threaten to post film online if ransom is not paid https://t.co/a2XApl3a81— The Independent (@Independent) May 16, 2017
But he noted that the leaks would likely have a greater impact on TV series, such as The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.
Although observers approve of the decision by the studios to refuse to pay ransom or negotiate with “digital terrorists,” it may not end cases of ransom hacks targeted at Hollywood studios because many of the hackers will probably continue just for the fun of it even if the companies refuse to pay.
The most important challenge to studios in the emerging situation, therefore, is to prevent the escalation of the trend by ensuring more effective digital security systems.
The latest incident comes after the global WannaCry ransomware attack that affected hundreds of organizations in nearly 100 countries around the world.
[Featured Image by Jesse Grant/Getty Images]