The Pirates of Comic-Con… and what should be done


As the dust settles from an amazing San Diego Comic-Con, a new storm seems to be brewing with the emergence of leaked footage. Over the past 5 years, Comic-Con has been the place for studios to reveal exclusive footage or trailers for a ravenous Hall H crowd- often times a full year before the release of some films. And it’s well deserved since many of those fans have been patiently camping under the San Diego stars for the night previous. Even without the presence of Marvel, Sony, and Paramount, there was plenty to get excited about with Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Deadpool, and more. However, as pop culture continues to boom so does the technology to capture it all. Each year with more sophisticated capturing devices and with the proliferation of social media, they make it harder and harder to control leaked footage. Even though it’s explicitly communicated before, during and after panels, leaked footage seems to hit YouTube and anonymous sites within moments of airing. Some of the studios have chosen to respond to the pirated footage by releasing the official footage early as we saw with Suicide Squad yesterday. The Hollywood Reporter just posted a great piece on this very topic highlighting how it not only damages the relationship with San Diego Comic-Con but compromises the artistic decisions of the Director and the myriad of people involved. None of this is a surprise. The battle has been raging ever since the Avengers first assembled on stage in Hall H in 2010. The bigger question is what should we do now?

DeadpoolUltimately, an artist should be able to choose when and where their art will be experienced. The blurred visuals and muffled sound of leaked footage is about the worst way to experience the work that literally costs millions of dollars and countless hours to produce. Plus, those fans that braved camping in line for 24+ hours absolutely deserve an exclusive look. And yet, despite the the warnings from CCI and studios, pirating continues. On one hand I understand. For better or for worst, we are living in a rapidly developing world that is being driven by social media. Clearly, technology is evolving at a pace in which values and principles can’t possbily catch up- forcing studios to either acquiesce to these cyber terrorists or just not bring footage to places like Comic-Con. Even though I am a technophile, in the end, I side with the artists. We should not only control our impulses while sitting in Hall H, we shouldn’t reward these pirateers with our time or clicks. I do think it works best when studios like Warner Bros releases their trailers just after it goes live in Hall H. Personally, I do not watch leaked footage on YouTube and if I was in the room witnessing pirating in process- I would report it.

CJ0oX70WwAANEdD-300x200This whole issue bleeds into many ethically grey areas since now anything that is public (or even private) seems to be up for being tweeted and Periscoped. For instance, the CW’s Supergirl pilot was mysteriously ‘leaked’ and there may have been some obligatory disapproval but hardly noticeable- leading to theorists to deduct that it was on purpose. The reality is that piracy won’t go away and in fact, will just get worst. A brave new world is here and won’t wait on any industry to catch up. Is the only solution for studios to just stop bringing footage they don’t want leaked? Is there anyway Comic-Con can truly control the Hall H environment? Should directors embrace the inevitable ‘wild west’ culture that technology will force upon us? Should CCI make everyone in line sign a NDA (nondisclosure agreement) before going in? Check phones at the door? Do you think leaked footage is ok to watch and to be discussed? What are your thoughts and what do you think is the future of Comic-Con?


24 thoughts on “The Pirates of Comic-Con… and what should be done

  1. I agree I am a Visual effects artist and I don’t think leaked footage should go online. JJ Abrams did it right in his panel, he didn’t show any trailer or footage or anything but he did respect the fans by giving them a private concert. My only idea is to maybe have cameras checked before going into Hall H. But then you run the risk of people trying to steal those cameras and devices when they are retrieved later on.

  2. I agree with you! I don’t understand these people that tape and then upload these trailers or sneak peaks online after being told repeatedly not to film it. These artist worked hard to make these and they should be the ones to release it. Also people camped out to be one of the first People to see this stuff. Studios could easily stop brining this stuff to Comic Con and just have a panel with no trailers or sneak peeks. I almost think that would be the only way to teach these people not to do it. I know it would not go over well. But the only people to blame would be the people filming it with out permission. I feel like maybe they need to have security at each row with a flashlight during the clips and make sure no one is filming. I don’t know how they plan to fix this but they need to figure something out.

    • I did see a lot of security for the Star Wars panel with the infrared cameras. And a guy did get caught sitting in front of me at the panel. Security did pull him out of his seat and did confiscate his camera. So security was in force at comic con. But comic con/studios can only afford so much.

  3. It does seem inevitable – especially if the outlets that are looking for a way to drive more web traffic go with the intention of grabbing and posting this limited, pirated content for the benefit of their site. I also do not watch leaked footage (I really wanted to watch the Supergirl pilot and still haven’t because I was so exhausted from the Hall H line Friday night I couldn’t make it past the rope routine in Hall H that night). While it takes away from the “specialness” it does seem like the best solution is for studios to plan to release majority of what they show (at least an abbreviated version of it) shortly after it’s in Hall H. Perhaps if the general public got to see 50-75% of a trailer version from Hall H, there would be less appetite to pirate and share since most of it would be available anyway (while still leaving something special for the Hall H attendees)?

  4. I’ve been to movie screenings where they make you check your phone at the door. It’s not fun, but that’s what it’s come to. Maybe in the future, if this problem persists, they stop showing footage in Hall H and instead, do smaller, more exclusive screenings. It would limit fan access and that would suck, but I can’t see another way to control leaks. Sucks when a couple people ruin it for everyone.

    • Agreed. It sucks when a few ruin it all for the rest of us that were good nerds and followed the rules.

      I think the best way is for comic con to confiscate phones and cameras that have video recording devices. If the camera con only take pictures then I think it should be okay to be let into the hall.

      That is the only thing I can think of.

      On big movie sets, like Captain America 2 and Iron Man 2 they made everyone turn in their phone, put the phone in a big Manila envelope and were given a claim ticket number for the phone. When the owner of the phone needed to claim the device later in the day, they had to return the claim number and only then were they given the device back.

      That might be the best thing I can come up with.

      • The problem with confiscating phones is that the studios *want* us to tweet from Hall H as free advertisement. I doubt they would take away the ability of 6500+ people to share the word about their new products. Tho I have been told to leave my phone at home for an early screening before, but it was only one movie and I could tweet my opinion after.

  5. I think if studios and such are worried about those filming exclusive footage at the con, they should police it like Marvel/Disney. Those guys were really anal at NYCC at the panels I went to (Tomorrowland and Marvel’s Daredevil) telling us to put our cameras away constantly (think even at people taking pictures of the panelists). The clips shown at the panels were never leaked like Suicide Squad and Deadpool.

  6. So, I fully agree. I met a group that waited 36 hours in order to be the first to see the DEADPOOL footage and saw them Sunday after the leak only to notice how much their excitement had disappeared. I get that everyone can’t make it out but those of us that put work in to make it out (yes…even press does work) shouldn’t be given the finger because of that.

    I currently do believe Comic-Con International needs to issue a statement themselves, not just the studios, which might actually help deter the attendees from doing it. Yes, they give the talk but making it real might actually open peoples eyes.

    My other thought is perhaps the studios could set a release date for the footage at a later date. For example…the new FANTASTIC FOUR trailer dropped on Monday. That would make both the people who wanted to see it happy, the people who got to see it first happy and possibly deter the bootlegging because it’s going to be out in a few days officially. Sure, there still might be someone who does it but I’m sure many will wait to see the finished product vs some cheap camera shot one.

  7. I don’t think there’s no sure way to stop this… Studios should accept the reality of the ease digital information flow & adapt. I know those are very general words without offering anything specific; and SDCC could change because of it. In the worst case scenario, they throw a tantrum, and start pulling out of SDCC and just go do online promos or their own events instead… Or put armed guards at the entrance to strip-search incoming people for recording devices. Both are extreme and would generate backlash, which is not gonna benefit anyone in the end.

    Doesn’t have to be that way though : SDCC participation still has value besides “new footage” part. Live appearances, surprises, unexpected John Williams concerts 🙂 etc.: there’s more ways to reward loyal fans rather than showing exclusive footage. I think the best way for studios to go is to encourage sharing, e.g. give a Video link right after it’s been shown, and reward people who do by doing sweepstakes or other similar stuff.

    In the end, it’s all market economy, and if the ends don’t justify the means, the studio approach has to transform. Studios are big though, and big ships turn slowly. Still I hope they are smart to realize: there’s a reason you cannot profit from selling Buggy Whips (or Music CDs) anymore. World is changing, and they do have to change with it, or eventually newer content sources would surge and make the old sources irrelevant.

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is rapidly fadin’.
    And the first one now
    Will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    – Bob Dylan, 1964

  8. I would be interested to see how Comic Con handles this. I went to the Scream Queen’s panel on Saturday night and although it wasn’t in Hall H there was one gentleman behind me who pulled out his phone as soon as the lights went down. Security was at the ready to tell him to put it away. As the pilot continued to play I watched as more security walked up and down the aisles, telling people to put away their phones. Some of the security guards even had binoculars out scanning the crowd.

    I know that hall h is large and there may not be enough security to go around to do this type of thing. I agree with everyone’s suggestion above and to add my own I say that maybe they are going to have to move these screenings into a more controlled room that is much smaller.

    Will people like this? Of course not because a smaller room means less seats but CCI will have to do what is neccessary to help control this growing problem.

  9. Bottom line, if you are caught recording and/or posting exclusive footage, you should be banned from all future CCI events. For people who do these things, there seems to be no appealing to their sense of ethics. If an adult cannot abide by simple rules, then the adult does not deserve to attend such an exclusive event. I would have no problem reporting them if I saw it going on. Personally, I was in line for 27+ hours for Star Wars and managed to refrain from recording footage. I also did not record, even for myself, the footage Marvel brought to Hall H on Saturday of last year’s con. It’s not that difficult to practice self-control, people. (Same can be said for the people in line with me at Funko who flat out told me they were buying everything, not because they wanted them all, but to sell at a higher price. And they used their ADA badges to be in the front of the line. But that’s a post for another day.)

  10. I agree that piracy and other forms of “leaked” footage is bad. The studio does trust that an exclusive will stay exactly that. However, I also know that these sneak peeks are intended to gauge an audience and generate buzz. After what is comic con for? It’s a massive ad campaign for many TV shows and movies. In the case of Deadpool fan interest in the leaked video was so great the studio pushed forward with the project and even Reynolds was thankful for the leak. Without the leak would the demand for Deadpool be as high? I don’t know.

    This is the biggest problem. There are positives and negatives. The studio absolutely has the right to control their work but once it is goes before the public piracy is a risk. Some people will always pirate crap. The quality is junk but the thrill is there. I’ve seen the pirated Deadpool and the video is junk. Hard to tell what it was at all. Since then I’ve seen the legal promo with the same footage – much better. As for why I checked it out? Curiousity. And it worked in the studio’s favor. Deadpool wasn’t on my radar – now I can’t wait.

    As for what can Comic Con do? Restricting phones isn’t possible since still photos are allowed and people often use their phone as a camera too. There’s too many people to police as well – encouraging participants to report is really all they can do. The best idea I heard was having a separate room for preview reels only. Instead of combining the panel and the preview turn them into separate events. This allows for a smaller group and cameras can be controlled. It takes away from the immediate response that comic con is famous for but that’s the price.

    Wow this is a long response to text!

  11. And let’s not forget that Comic Con International itself doesn’t enforce the “no video” rules. Sure, they always start out each studio panel with a big, showy announcement about how nobody should film, but I was in both the Star Wars and 20th Century Fox panels this year and BOTH TIMES there were clowns nearby who whipped out their recording devices as soon as the sneak footage rolled. There were dozens of us pointing them out to the security guards and each time, the guards half heartedly shone little flashlights on the offenders and asked them to stop. That’s it. If Comic Con was serious about this, they should’ve removed the people filming out of Hall H and confiscated their badges on the spot. Sorry, but I think both the raule breakers AND Comic Con are to blame for these “leaks.”

    • I was in the Star Wars panel and someone was caught and they took his phone away from him. They also pulled him out of his seat. So security was there to enforce.

  12. As an artist, I absolutely empathize with wanting to deliver a work of art, whether written, visual, or multimedia, as intended. I also respect that if an artist, in good faith, wants me to not disseminate recordings of a work of art, I will respect that request.

    But what I as an individual decide is the moral & just action is irrelevant. What we are talking about are the collective actions of 6,500 people. And the fact that just 1 person breaking Comic-Con’s policy of not recording & disseminating exclusive video could undermine the actions of the other 6,499 is the sign of a policy that’s near impossible to enforce.

    And all the suggestions posed so far are so costly as to be unfeasible. Checking in smart phones at the door? Try checking in 6,500; that would take longer than the time it took to get wristbands in the first place. And would you like to be the first volunteer to mis-tag and lose another person’s smartphone? You would also have to do pat downs to ensure that no one is hiding a smartphone on their person. And do you really want security roaming the aisles every 5 minutes checking if people are recording? Do you really want a Hall H police state? Even the most enforceable policy: find the identities of leakers & ban them from Comic-Con, can be subverted by leakers who can create anonymous accounts. So the reality of public recording is here to stay, so Comic-Con & the studios have to adjust accordingly. They have to expect that everything in the panel can & will be leaked before they have a chance to shut the leaks down.

    That said, while I respect an artist’s desire to keep certain footage exclusive, I feel like the fear of such footage getting leaked is overblown. As regular SDCC-goers, I think we underestimate the number of superfans around the world, and if SDCC attendees love a piece of footage, chances are millions on the outside will love it too. If the footage isn’t ready for public consumption, then it most likely isn’t ready for Comic-Con attendees, either. Comic-Con panels are definitely special, but they’re not private, so studios should stop treating the panels as if they were.

    Likewise, I think the anger of SDCC-ers who wanted to be the only people to watch exclusive footage, while understandable, is also overblown. First, panels have the option of providing swag, which can always be exclusive to attendees. But more importantly, being at SDCC, and especially Hall H, is not about seeing exclusive footage alone: it’s about an experience. Had the Star Wars panel ended without the concert, would attendees have been angry that the behind-the-scenes footage would be released online moments later? Or that people could watch the entire panel, including Harrison Ford making his first public appearance since his plane crash, on youtube just hours later? For the most part, no! Because as great as watching that footage online is, you cannot replicate the experience of being there live, in person, within a collective of thousands of people who have all sacrificed so much to be there.

    Yes, it’s sad that some people would express their fandom by disrespecting the artists whose art they enjoy. And it is unfortunate that the era of exclusive footage at SDCC most likely will come to an end. But then again, the technology that makes the recording policy so archaic is the same technology that makes SDCC the center of the pop culture universe in the first place. And I’m confident that the studios will adjust their strategies accordingly to both protect the art while making the panels the premiere must-see events at Comic-Con.

  13. First off, superbe article Tony! It’s always great to have someone talented and smart represent us fellow Geek Culture Enthusiast. I definitely agree with most of the opinions on this topic thread, and believe the creator or artist has the right to choose how or when his or her product should be released. The problem is most people do not care!

    I also agree technology is at the center of all this but more importantly the problem is society’s need to share everything with said tecnology. Causing a philosophical dilemma; Just because you can do something, should you? I honestly don’t think most people give that second part of the question much thought, especially while in the moment.

    I had a first hand experience with this subject seeing how I spent over 24 hours waiting and sleeping on a four by four slab of concrete in the Hall H line this year at Comic-Con. Yes I did get to see the new Batmobile around midnight and even had a Batman v Superman shirt tossed to me bye Zack Snyder himself. Which in itself made my time spent worth it! Once inside Hall H Saturday morning I spent a total of 14 hours inside, sitting through every panel and not once did I ever have the need or want to record any of the private material. I was surprised how often CCI would state please do not record certain material, meaning they are aware of the problem and are working to try and persuade people not to. Even Chris Hardwick got into the conversation by starting every panel saying not to record the special material folks. Also as others have stated I noticed many times security stopping people from recording and confiscating the devices to presumably delete the material.

    The real reason I am commenting on this subject at all is because of one moment that took place in Hall H on Saturday that moved me. It was in fact regarding the Suicide Squad movie in question, but not really the clip itself but the creator himself David Ayer. Before showing the, in my opinion awesome exclusive trailer, David Ayer came out and talked about how much he loves this movie and making it was a dream. You could feel his passion for the product ooze from every word he choose to use and how much this meant to him. It honestly gave me chills to hear someone express unbridled joy about a creation. After he said his piece he ended it by saying this clip is made especially for you people here at Comic-Con and to put your phones away. I of course did not even have my phone out so I was good, but as the lights came down I noticed a little red light about two people down from me to the right. Looking back I normally would of not said anything and just enjoyed the trailer, but the creators words and passion just reverberated around in my head and I had to act. I reached across my friend to the right and lightly nudged the man’s camera towards the floor. He, as I expected looked shocked. I locked eyes with him and nodded my head back and forth to represent the universal sign for No. As to my surprise he just sat back and watched the trailer after that. When the panel was over and we had an intermission I approached the younger kid, probably in his 20’s and apologized for touching his devise. He was not mad at all, just curious why I cared. I as I’ve stated above expressed to him how the creators feelings and passion for the product moved me and to respect his wishes would never go against his request to record it. The younger kid got very quiet, I could see in his eyes the wheels turning. He looked back at me and said he had never thought about it that way. He said he had never thought how his actions could or would affect the creators of the product. He then apologized to me and thanked me for giving him a new perspective and went back to his seat. I looked over a couple of more times while other panels were showing their excusive trailers through out the day and no little red light was present again, just the smiling face of the younger kid enjoying every minete of it. This to me conveys the real problem with piracy and recording unauthorized material. Its not the studios, it’s not the convention center, not even technology is at fault. It is all about RESPECT! At the end of the day respect the art, respect the artist and lastly respect the wishes of your fellow humans.

    Thank you for reading,
    Have a great day.
    Rob (@RevereComics)

  14. Security was in full force during the Thursday Hall H panels. I briefly checked a text message from my wife who was arriving via train and security swept upon me within seconds. I agree wholeheartedly that pirating any material is bad. But using security guards alone will not prevent it. CCI should look into integrating IR technology which could prevent or at least deter filming of the screens.

  15. Something that helped was during an nycc 2014 panel, the stars were telling the audience to not film them. They said that filming them would cause them to to be censored and they will not be comfortable in saying what they want to say. They reminded fans that being in the panels was an experience and should be enjoyed as such without recording anything. They enjoy letting the fans get to know them but without any of that photo/video recording.

    I thought this was great and this made most attendees put away their phone. It also helped that the panelists saw some people on their phones and pointed them out. Haha hall h tho is huge. The person who would be recording would be near the back probably. Its difficult since theres cameras without a display so you don’t even know that it is recording.
    I hope sdcc figures something out. It was my first time at hall h this year and found it to be an amazing experience.

  16. Yes i completely agree with you! I mean i know if i hadn’t gone 2 SDCC i would love 2 see them. But, what can be done? Maybe more Security focused on the sides of the Hall cuz thats where they seem to coming from. I’ve seen some from the right side like where the handicap section is but most I’ve seen come from Press side. You put up some great ideas about how 2 fight the Pirates.
    1.) Check phones and any recording devices ex: the goggle glasses that can record at the door.
    2.) Only allow cameras that take pics not record
    3.) Maybe show it distorted and the only way to see it is wear special glasses.
    4.) Maybe when they check recording devices they do a ticket system like a coat check room might take longer 2 get in2 Hall H but then folks might think twice about bringing them.
    These are just a few ideas. But, ultimately its up 2 the fans because if we see someone recording then they need to be reported. In the end if Studios stop bringing the trailers/Clips 2 Hall H then really can anyone really complain?

  17. Tony,
    Thank you for a great article but I think I have to disagree with you on a few points which I will get to in a moment. Let me start by saying this was my fifth Comic-Con and I have yet to set foot in Hall H. Not because a lack of desire to see the panels or footage, but the simple matter that getting into Hall H for the big panels takes up so much of your time that you miss out on everything else. Second, I completely agree with you that no one should be releasing pirated videos and everyone should respect the artist’s right to release the material in their own way, and at a time of their choosing.

    My disagreement comes from your comments on the entitlement of those people who got into Hall H and on how to correct this problem. I think studios should release the coveted videos shown in Hall H immediately after the panel. The footage is obviously ready for viewing, so why not release it. You have an active blogging fan base who just witnessed the video who are going to be ranting about it (good or bad) so why not provide them a place to link to it. I believe all the Star Wars footage was released this way. For that matter, release the entire panel footage as well. Let’s share this experience that we love with the world so they can be as excited as we are about it. It would also reduce the mental anguish over which panels to attend that I face every year. Just because someone was willing to camp out for nearly 24 hours and then sit through a day’s worth of panels they may or may not be interested in does not give them any special right to anything. This is how Hollywood continues to take advantage of us (nerds) and our desire to be able to say, ”I saw it first.”

    So, you want to cut down on piracy – release the footage. If it’s a full length episode, release it on itunes and google play for free. Boom, no more worries. And an extra bonus is that maybe Hall H will free up to those who want the experience or the hope of attending a special concert just for them (sniff – I do feel left out on that one).

    Last point, remember a few years ago when we all laughed at the Twilight fans who were camping out. We have become what we once mocked.

    Thank you (and thanks again for all your great posts during the Con)

  18. As a first-timer that was fortunate enough to attend Hall H twice, one for Mockingjay Pt. 2 and another time for Superhero Saturday, it’s definitely disappointing that something initially meant for our enjoyment alone got leaked. A bunch of people give the excuse of people not being able to afford the time or money to go to Comic-Con, but that’s exactly why they should wait.

    That said, I still side with the comments above me saying that exclusive trailers should be released right away. Not only will it level down on the lines, the stuff is finished anyway–so why not? There are other options studios have. They can afford to set aside 6,000 tickets to see a movie since they’re all bonafide blockbusters. Maybe an exclusive clip–yes, this can be pirated too, but there’s nothing wrong with being given something different from what’s being displayed publicly.

    As a rabid Arrow fan myself, I was taking a bunch of pictures from Superhero Saturday, and security mistakenly thought I was taking video, and with the way I was being talking down to, it was quite offensive and downright embarrassing because it was happening in front of people. I even had proof from my own phone to show I wasn’t taking video and was forced to delete them in front of other members of security. In the time they took wrongfully accusing me, they could’ve been doing their actual jobs. That said, I’m all for IR technology.

    Either way, I’m assuming the people in Hall H are the most hardcore of the hardcore, and we’d be gleeful upon being given ANYTHING. I’m all for physical memorabilia, but what Lucasfilms did for the Star Wars attendees was awesome. Something like that at every Hall H panel please.

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