Is sharing marketing material piracy?

The response by Warner Bros. to the Suicide Squad trailer appearing online is puzzling, to say the least. It was scolding, coldly corporate and completely out of touch. The marketing department for movie must feel like they were pistol-whipped by the studio’s lawyers. The statement references their anti-piracy team and how the trailer was ‘stolen’ and ‘illegally circulated’. But, here’s the thing.

The trailer wasn’t stolen. It was shared.

The trailer was shown to around 2,000 members of the public and, while I wasn’t in Hall H for the event, I’m certain that everyone there didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement that outlined the terms under which they were viewing it. Yes, the movie and the contents of the trailer are intellectual property, but trailers themselves are marketing material designed to generate interest in and conversation around a movie.

If the full movie had been copied and shared, that would be a clear case of copyright infringement, but sharing a trailer for a movie you’re excited about is expected behavior and fair use.

This particular trailer was being shown to people who’d waited for hours (some of them overnight) to get into that room and be a part of that experience. This audience wasn’t a random sampling of the public, they were the most committed, enthusiastic product evangelists a marketer could ever hope to assemble. Marketers talk about ‘street teams’ but this was an army of the faithful. You’d have to try really hard to show them something they wouldn’t be excited by.

These are the people you want to be ecstatic about your movie and to share the hell out of it on every social platform they’re connected to. Warner Bros. statement referred to the trailer being ‘leaked’, but it wasn’t. They showed the trailer to members of the public. The moment they did that it was out there. What people did immediately after that moment, with the photos and video from their phone, was share their excitement.

No one leaked that trailer online; Warner Bros. showed it to them and they shared it. Their response was a curious throwback to when traditional media feared the internet and treated attempts to consume content online as a threat to established business models.


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