In the category of life imitating art, consider this a hall of mirrors: TV’s most popular drama about the CIA’s fight over secrecy has experienced its very own security breach. Homeland’s third season is scheduled to make its debut on Showtime on Sept. 29. But as of this past weekend, you can find the first episode—minus the credits and a few special effects—on BitTorrent.
Leaked pop albums tend to hog our online-piracy attention, but TV shows and films are popular targets, too. Back in 2007 the first episodes of several shows, including Weeds, Pushing Daisies, Californication, and Dexter, circulated online a month or two before their premiere dates. In 2009, when a version of the movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine showed up online a month before it hit theaters, Fox enlisted the FBI and eventually tracked it back to a New York man named Gilberto Sanchez. He admitted to uploading the movie to MegaUpload and was ultimately sentenced to one year in prison. Fox also went after uploaders in 2005 when a version of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith showed up online.
Twentieth Century Fox (FOXA), the producer of Homeland, is said to be investigating the latest leak, which could mean bad news for the premium-cable version of Ed Snowden. But it raises the question: Should Showtime even care in the first place?
Leaks are much less threatening to television shows than they are to, say, Jay-Z albums or other entertainment products that consumers technically buy—or download—just once. Sure, viewers pay extra for Showtime, but being able to watch an unfinished episode of Homeland isn’t likely to make anyone cancel her cable subscription. If anything, the early leak will likely generate more interest in later episodes. Last month, Time Warner (TWX) Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bewkes actually boasted about the widespread piracy of HBO’s Game of Thrones, calling its title as the most pirated show on the Internet “better than an Emmy.”
So far, about 100,000 people may have downloaded Homeland’s episodes, and Variety claims that the leak came from one of the screeners given out at a Television Critics Association event in July. Assuming that Showtime isn’t going to be handing out screeners for the rest of the season, that sounds like 100,000 guaranteed viewers.