Movie theaters aren't the only place viewers are choosing to enjoy "Fifty Shades of Grey."
Pirated copies of the erotic drama from Universal Pictures were downloaded 453,109 times through Feb. 16, according to the monitoring firm Excipio GmbH. That's more than twice as much, by comparison, as 2014's "Guardians of the Galaxy" on its first weekend.
Poor-quality copies taken by camcorders at screenings appeared on file-sharing sites on Feb. 14 -- the day after the R-rated movie, about a sadomasochistic love affair, was released in U.S. theaters. By Monday, the film was the fifth-most pirated in the U.S. Usually piracy doesn't take hold without a high- quality version, according to the editor of the file-sharing news site TorrentFreak, who goes by the pseudonym Ernesto Van Der Sar. Embarrassment over going to theaters may be one reason it's so popular, he said.
"Some will do so because they prefer to watch it in private, others because it's not showing in a local theater, Mr. Van Der Sar said. ''There's also a group of people who simply don't want to pay for it."
Readers of the bestselling novel that "Fifty Shades" is based on were known for covering their books in public or using e-readers so as not to give away that they were enjoying erotica.
The film generated an estimated $266 million in ticket sales worldwide in its opening weekend, and set U.S. records for Valentine's Day, President's Day and February opening weekends.
Universal, based in Los Angeles, didn't respond to requests for comment. The Motion Picture Association of America estimated that in 2005 piracy cost the major U.S. motion-picture studios $6.1 billion, a number that hasn't been updated since.
The film started at No. 21 on Excipio's list on Valentine's Day and climbed to No. 5 on Feb. 15. It held that spot Monday with at least 31,524 downloads, according to Excipio. No. 1 is "Horrible Bosses 2" at 45,883.
"Fifty Shades" stars Jamie Dornan as Seattle billionaire Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele, a college student, and follows their sometimes violent sexual relationship. It is based on the first part of a steamy trilogy by E.L. James.
The racy content led Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Kenya to ban the picture from theaters.
Versions are available online in the U.S., U.K., India, Philippines, Pakistan and Australia, according to Excipio. It was the No. 2 most pirated in the Philippines on Feb. 15 and No. 3 in Singapore, the company said.
"Not all movies are released as a camcorder version, and the fact that there are already several copies shows that this is a popular release," Van Der Sar said.
Universal Pictures, part of Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp., and its Focus Features unit are likely to profit handsomely from the film, which cost just $40 million to make, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. It was released worldwide almost concurrently, which tends to reduce piracy by not forcing fans in some territories to wait.
The low quality of the images online are likely to be a deterrent to many viewers for now.
"The big surge usually comes when a higher-quality copy is released," Mr. Van Der Sar said.
~ Bloomberg News ~