Earlier last week, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that hackers reached out to the company with a threat to release one of Disney’s upcoming tentpole blockbusters if the company did not pay a ransom. While Iger didn’t reveal the name of the film himself, he did say the company had no plans to pay the sum during Disney’s cooperation with federal investigators to identify the cause of the breach. As new details arise, however, Disney may have found itself in a tricky predicament regarding how to deal with current and future cases of piracy.


Following Iger’s announcement, rumors circulated that the film in question could only be one of a select few, including Cars 3 (due in June) and a work print of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (due to be one of the biggest releases of the year and potentially the decade). However those reports were found to be a hoax once the hacking collective known as TheDarkOverlord took responsibility for the attack, revealing the movie at their possession was the newest Pirates film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The film was due to be released just days following the announcement of the hacking, but the hackers demanded the ransom be paid or else the film would be released in 20 minute increments until the demands are met.


Piracy isn’t a new issue for production companies, however most cases of piracy don’t involve blackmail or ransom and the content is usually uploaded without warning. The specific demands led Disney to believe they were dealing with an actual threat, and past threats made by TheDarkOverlord against Netflix only supported their fear.


Sometime in late 2016, the hacking group breached a postproduction facility and stole a trove of unaired television episodes including CBS's NCIS: Los Angeles, Fox's New Girl, IFC's Portlandia, Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, and more shows from networks like ABC, NBC, FX, National Geographic, E!, and Lifetime.


It wasn’t until January, more than 3 months after the suspected hack, that the FBI begun to contact the afflicted companies to alert them their material might’ve been stolen. But since no content had been uploaded nor had any contact been made with the attackers in the time since the attack, the networks assumed there would be no incident.


In March, however, TheDarkOverlord reached out to Netflix via Twitter demanding a ransom of 50 bitcoin (roughly $60,000 US) be paid by April 30th or else their company’s episodes would be released. Netflix assumed it was a bluff and refused to respond to the threat, but two days before the deadline, episodes from the newest season of Orange is the New Black began surfacing online, six weeks before the scheduled release date.


This is where it gets tricky, though. The frequency of hacking attacks has overwhelmed the FBI’s Los Angeles field office to the point where not all cases can be investigated. Because of this, industry sources are saying they are being advised to pay the ransoms despite the agency’s stance against paying ransoms: "The FBI does not encourage payment of ransom as it keeps the criminals in business," says Laura Eimiller, FBI’s LA office spokesperson. "Of course, the individual victim must weigh their options.”


The problem with this is that once a company pays the ransom - no matter how minuscule it may be in regards to the victimized company - it will set a precedent for other hackers in the future and can increase future demands. Similarly, adhering to blackmail demands legitimizes the hackers’ wrongdoings: "We're a professional business entity, and we behave as such," TheDarkOverlord told The Hollywood Reporter early last week. "We're in this racket to create mutually beneficial long-term business relationships. A majority of our clients find our services very beneficial.”


Disney has denied further comment about TheDarkOverlord and refused to pay the ransom.


In the past few days, numerous torrent files of the film have been uploaded to piracy sites including a 57 gigabyte file from a user called “TheDarkOverlord”. However upon downloading the file, it was found to be a hoax as it only included dozens of copies of the animated film, Trolls, leading Disney to believe the blackmailing was simply an act of trolling and thus proving their strategy to ignore threats the right one.


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales stars Johnny Depp and comes out in the United States on Friday, May 26th.