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Following The Trail Of Illegal 'Star Wars' Downloads

Since illegal copies of the film made their debut on the Internet, it's estimated that "tens of thousands" of digital copies have been downloaded from popular file-sharing networks, mostly by young, tech-savvy males.
Illegal downloads of the latest "Star Wars" feature are just beginning, as mostly young, tech-savvy males in the thousands head to popular file-sharing networks to get their own digital copy of the record-setting, box-office smash.

Since Wednesday, the first day illegal copies of "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" made their debut on the Internet, "tens of thousands" of digital copies have been downloaded from popular file-sharing networks, such as BitTorrent, Kazaa and LimeWire, said Eric Garland, spokesman for BigChampagne, a market research firm focused on the file-sharing industry.

At any given minute, several thousand "Star Wars" fans are getting the film illegally from the Web, Garland said.

"Downloading of this film is just getting started and will be going on for weeks," he said.

The typical downloader is a young, tech-savvy male, who is also looking for other sci-fi or fantasy films, particularly "Spiderman," the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and "Catwoman," starring sex kitten Halle Berry.

"We are talking about young males," Garland said.

The "Star Wars" film made its debut Wednesday on the Internet, a few hours before its Thursday release in theaters. The "work print" of the film, which is used by studio professionals, first appeared on private, invitation-only networks, before finding its way onto popular file-sharing sites, Garland said.

The bootleg copy is unusual in its quality. Work prints often are incomplete.

"It's a very good quality copy of the film that looks like the complete version of the movie," Garland said.

The Motion Picture Association of America Inc., which represents Hollywood studios, denounced on Thursday the illegal release of the film, saying that "theft dims the magic of the movies for everyone."

"Fan have been lined up for days to see 'Revenge of the Sith,'" Dan Glickman, MPAA president and chief executive, said in a statement. "To preserve the quality of movies for fans like these and so many others, we must stop these Internet thieves from illegally trading valuable copyrighted materials online."

MPAA officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday. The group, however, has been very aggressive in filing lawsuits against suspected movie pirates.

The majority of illegal downloads of "Star Wars" has occurred on the BitTorrent site, Garland said, and despite the number of downloads so far, Hollywood did a good job at preventing the movie's release sooner.

"Wha's unusual here is that Hollywood was successful in keeping this film out of the hands of movie down-loaders until one day prior to its release in theaters," Garland said.

That apparently was no small feat, given the demand of the film, which took in $50 million at the U.S. box-office on Thursday, the most ever in a single day, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Despite the hand wringing from the motion-picture industry, Garland questioned whether the online copies of the film would hurt its success at the box office, or later DVD sales.

"I would suggest that the overwhelming majority of people who download 'Star Wars' illegally are serious fans and will pay for it in all of its forms," Garland said. "What's really driving this is not to get something for free, but an insatiable appetite. They just can't get enough of 'Star Wars.'