April 5, 2009 — -- A Fox News columnist has reportedly been fired over a review of a pirated version of the new X-Men movie, "Wolverine," but the columnist himself suggests no official action has been taken.
Although it has since been deleted from the news outlet's Web site, Roger Friedman's online column, "Fox 411," last week featured a review of a leaked copy of 20th Century Fox's anticipated blockbuster "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." The movie isn't due to hit to theaters until next month and a leaked copy surfaced online last Wednesday.
News Corporation, the parent company of 20th Century Fox and Fox News, swiftly condemned Friedman's actions as promoting piracy.
"Roger Friedman's views in no way reflect the views of News Corporation. We, along with 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, have been a consistent leader in the fight against piracy and have zero tolerance for any action that encourages and promotes piracy," the company said in a statement issued Sunday.
"When we advised Fox News of the facts they took immediate action, removed the post, and promptly terminated Mr. Friedman," it continued.
A Fox News spokesperson told ABCNews.com, "This is an internal matter that we're not prepared to discuss at this time."
When contacted by ABCNews.com, Friedman also said it was an internal matter and News Corp. and Fox News had not responded publicly.
"There was no action taken against me," he said.
Friedman apparently gave the unfinished movie, which is scheduled to open May 1, high marks, according to New York magazine.
"I doubt anyone else has seen this film. But everyone can relax. I am, in fact, amazed about how great 'Wolverine' turned out. It exceeds expectations at every turn ..." he said, according to the magazine's Web site.
But now that the film has been leaked online, analysts estimate that thousands of people may have already seen the movie and it could affect the movie's bottom line. Once a film hits peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, stamping out all clips and incarnations of it can be difficult.
"We immediately contacted the appropriate authorities and had it removed," 20th Century Fox Film, the film's distributor, said earlier in a statement.
FBI Working With Fox to Uncover Source of the Leak
Fox said it plans to determine the source of the leak through forensic means.
"The FBI and the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] also are actively investigating this crime. We are encouraged by the support of fan sites condemning this illegal posting," Fox said.
According to Fox, the leaked copy was missing many special effects and included temporary sound and music -- but Friedman wasn't the only one to watch the film and review it online.
The blog "In GOB We Trust" panned the movie, saying it didn't live up to its comic book origins.
"I just am so disappointed with this movie," blog co-founder Chris Lemke wrote. "They seemed to have all the tools to make this work and instead decided to dumb it down and essentially make a cartoon. … After this one, I don't have much hope for the rest of the franchise. If you are set on watching this, good luck."
The leak of "Wolverine" is the latest instance of what's become a problem for the movie industry. In 2005, eight people were charged with copyright-infringement offenses related to the leaking of "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith."
In 2003, Universal's "Hulk" emerged on the Internet two weeks before its theatrical release. The film still raked in $62 million in its opening weekend, but a week later its haul dwindled to $19 million. "Hulk" ended up being a financial failure, not grossing enough to cover its $137 million production budget -- though that may have been due more to a poor critical and audience reception rather than the Internet leak.
Considering "Hulk's" fate, if the "Wolverine" leak doesn't generate an onslaught of bad reviews like the one by Lemke, it stands to reason that the film will do just fine at the box office.
"In some ways, this is sort of like 'X-Men 4,' and when you get to the fourth installment of any series, you can have audience erosion," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. "So this movie really needs to excite the fan base."
And if more fans than not are enticed by what they saw online, it's likely they'll line up to see "Wolverine" on the big screen.
People Still May Want to See X-Men Flick on Big Screen
"Fox wants to show off this film in its best possible light, and this takes away some of their ability to market the film effectively, but seeing it in its unfinished version may just whet the appetite for people to see it again on the big screen," said Paul Dergarabedian, a box office analyst for Hollywood.com. "People are still going to want to go and see this movie the way it was meant to be seen."