Are Pirated Movie Screeners Off Limits Since the EVO Bust?

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A decade ago, nearly all screener copies of all Oscar-nominated films leaked online. Today, these types of screener leaks are non-existent. Changes in the movie industry contributed to this change but the bust of piracy group EVO a year ago had a big impact too. The group's suspected leader was arrested in Portugal and others are still under investigation.

oscarsAt the end of the year, movie industry insiders traditionally receive their screener copies, which they use to vote on the Oscars and other awards.

Historically, many of these screeners leaked on pirate sites, where they would be shared among millions of unauthorized viewers.

This ‘screener season‘ was highly anticipated but nothing stays the same forever. Since last year, these holiday gifts are a thing of the past.

The End of the Screener Disc

While it’s always tricky to assume causal links, there are a few changes in the film industry that contributed to this turnaround, some more than others.

In the early 2000s, it was pretty common to see screeners of nearly all Oscar contenders leak online before the winners were announced. At the time, physical screeners were sent out on discs through a massive logistics operation, where weaknesses could be exploited by bad actors.

In recent years, many contenders have come from streaming services that don’t require advance copies. This automatically decreases the leak potential. When the Academy moved away from discs to online screeners in 2021, that part of the distribution chain could be better controlled as well.

When screeners increasingly moved online, the screener leaks didn’t stop. There was one group in particular that kept pushing out new leaks year after year. Pirate release group EVO, short for EVOLUTiON, didn’t see digital screeners as more secure.

“We had access to digital screeners and they are indeed easy to leak. The DRM on it is a joke. We had an account last year with three screeners on it and they were pretty much MP4 ready to encode,” the group told TorrentFreak a few years ago.

EVO Bust and Arrest

EVO wasn’t just boasting. The group released more screeners than any other source in 2020 and 2021. However, in 2022 that suddenly stopped, marking the first year in which not a single screener leaked in advance.

The lack of screeners coincided with a sudden stop in new content being pushed by EVO. The group typically posted a wide range of releases every week; when none appeared, it was clear that something was up.

From the get-go, there were rumors that the notorious group had been busted. These suspicions were eventually confirmed in March this year and a month later, Portuguese police shared additional details on the crackdown which the authorities dubbed “Operation EVO 1.2”.

evo 1.2

Police acted on intelligence provided by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) and also collaborated with INTERPOL. ACE had identified several persons of interest and the suspected leader of the group was arrested.

Screeners Off Limits?

Following the EVO bust, not a single screener of note has leaked online. This suggests that the enforcement action sent a deterrent message. Indeed, ACE boss Jan Van Voorn likes to believe that there’s a direct link.

“[EVO was] a major source for illegally released screeners in P2P schemes, and the shutdown cut off the pipeline for other piracy sites that picked up the screeners from EVO,” Van Voorn informs TorrentFreak.

“I’d like to think that the takedown of EVO served as a deterrent to anyone else considering running an illegal screener scheme, given the arrest and potential severity of the punishment,” he adds.

The bust happened at a time when screeners were already becoming less common due to the aforementioned changes in the film industry. That said, the bust of one of the most prominent release groups likely served as a direct warning too.


The EVO bust was possible due to teamwork. ACE identified the targets based on information from various sources. In addition, cooperation with Portuguese police, specifically the cybercrime unit (UNC3T), was critical.

“Through a combination of shared resources and intelligence, we were able to identify the operators and facilitate the arrest by the Portuguese authorities,” van Voorn says, looking back on their achievement.

While pirates were looking forward to ‘screener season’, movie industry insiders saw it as a threat that negatively impacts the creative economy, including a wide variety of jobs. Although the EVO bust didn’t stop piracy, ACE believes that it made a positive mark.

Whether the new year will be another without any leaked screeners has yet to be seen. However, with the EVO prosecution and investigation still ongoing, ACE warns those tempted to come out of the woodwork.

“The investigation is ongoing and other EVO members around the world are still under investigation,” van Voorn concludes.


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