Piracy Spins a Global Web

Before a single frame of "Spider-Man 2" was shot, Sony Pictures Entertainment launched a global effort to protect its summer blockbuster from piracy.

During production, daily film footage was locked overnight in vaults. When Sony conducted preview screenings on its Culver City lot, guests were subjected to airport-style identification checks, metal detector scans and surveillance by security guards with infrared goggles.

"Everyone got wanded at every screening," said Jeff Blake, the studio's vice chairman. "Film reviewers, talent agents, artist managers, even Sony executives — including me."

Each of the 10,000 theatrical prints was embedded with a unique digital tracking code. Sony also took the extraordinary precaution of delivering seven reels of film to each multiplex in two well-guarded shipments before its June 30, 2004, premiere at a minute past midnight.

One of those cinemas was the Loews Kips Bay Theatre in Manhattan. And somewhere in that first early-morning audience sat a bootlegger with a camcorder, the first link in a network of rampant global piracy.

Four hours after its premiere, a copy of "Spider-Man 2" was on the Internet. By morning, counterfeit DVDs showed up for sale in malls and makeshift stalls in the Philippines.