Ashton Kutcher is only pirating the first thirteen minutes of his new film (or so he says), Killers, with Katherine Heigl (from his seat inside the movie theater), but still, I have so many questions and so few answers. (By the way, we don't condone pirating of any sort, but if you are interested, follow AK's Twitter for info. His livestream is running right now)

So, this is part of Lionsgate's hip word-of-mouth social media marketing push that makes use of Kutcher's nonstop Twitter flow and his dubious claim to fame as one of the first famous people who jumped on the 140-character bandwagon. (Remember his challenge to CNN as to who could get to 1,000,000 followers first? That really snapped Larry King's suspenders.) Maybe he'll be using a Nikon Coolpix to do it for a little extra brand synergy. From that angle, it's actually an interesting idea, and one which will neatly attempt to prove that they do, in fact, have faith that seeing extra footage of Killers will actually make people want to see the whole thing.

Of course, that could totally backfire, because the people who are going to see Killers are going to see Killers, and the people who aren't will either be totally ignoring it, as they would be anyway, or have fresh fodder to ridicule it. Or they'll say to themselves, "This movie is just okay enough that I'll wait for it on DVD, or, you know, pick up a copy of it on the street for $3." And, naturally, critics can't write anything about it because it's still technically pirated footage, so everyone wins.
Sarcasm aside, even if it's a movie you star in, why is Lionsgate condoning this? Moreover, why is the MPAA turning a blind eye to it? Releasing the first thirteen minutes with a kicky twist is a gimmick, but it also brings up serious questions, ones that Todd Gilchrist eloquently tackled in a column in May called "Plagiarism, Piracy and Personal Responsibility." It might seem like a stretch to compare Kutcher's promotional prank to downloading movies illegally or stealing other peoples' work, but it shows that a fairly large studio isn't averse to being punk'd if it means they get extra press about it.

As Patrick Goldstein at the Los Angeles Times points out, "If Lionsgate, even if it isn't a MPAA signatory, is going to turn piracy into a marketing scam, it makes a mockery of the MPAA's efforts to treat piracy as a serious offense. If Kutcher can boast about pirating his own movie with impunity, then why should college kids be treated like criminals when they actually do the deed themselves? Either piracy is cool or it isn't."

What it comes down to is this: It's hypocritical, and it's silly, and it opens a whole can of worms, legally speaking. The next time someone gets sued for illegally downloading a film like The Hurt Locker, perhaps they'll be able to get a tech-savvy lawyer who can use this as an example of studios using "piracy" to their advantage when needed, with little to no reaction from the MPAA.