NEW YORK • A hacker calling himself The Dark Overlord claims to have released the first 10 episodes of the new season of Orange Is The New Black after Netflix failed to meet his ransom demands.
The move, if true, represents an audacious and highly illegal new frontier in digital piracy, which already costs the entertainment industry billions of dollars in lost profits.
Netflix, which produces the acclaimed comedydrama, said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly that it is aware of the situation. It added that a "production vendor used by several major TV studios had its security compromised and the appropriate law enforcement authorities are involved".
All 13 episodes of the fifth season of Orange Is The New Black are scheduled to be released on June 9.
In a hostile note posted last Friday to text storage site Pastebin, the hacker said he had requested a "modest" amount of money in exchange for not releasing the new episodes early.
But since Netflix did not accede to those demands, he is purported to have released several episodes via an illegal streaming service.
The content appears to have been sourced during an attack on post-production studio Larson Studios last year, piracy news site TorrentFreak reported.
The hacker, in an online post, explained that only the first 10 episodes were obtained because the final three instalments were not available then.
Mr Keith Kupferschmid, chief executive of Copyright Alliance, an advocacy group for copyright-holders, said: "The groups that are taking these pre-released movies and TV shows and posting them online are also engaged in a lot of other illegal activities.
"The fact that they would take the next step and hold it for ransom and try to make some money off it is not terribly surprising - because that's what they're trying to do."
He noted that it was possible that other entertainment companies had also been targets of attempted blackmail, but were able to keep those incidents from becoming public.
The Orange Is The New Black hacker threatened other media companies, including Fox, NBC and National Geographic, in the online ransom note.
Officials from Netflix and the audio production studio said to be the target of the hacks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Economics professor Brett Danaher from Chapman University, who studies the effects of piracy on the entertainment industry, said this may be something studios will be forced to confront with increasing frequency.
"There is some evidence that pre-release piracy is the most damaging piracy to studios," he noted.
"And now that we know it's the most damaging piracy, it's tempting. It's tempting to criminals, or hackers."
He said the malicious intent of this hack - in contrast to other forms of piracy, such as the unauthorised sharing of studios' early footage of a film or TV series - reminded him of the 2014 attack on Sony, which resulted in the release of embarrassing e-mail messages and movies.
"The interesting thing about this scenario is that you've basically got a pirate attack," he added.
"This isn't somebody who's worried about if you can identify the source. This is an intentional crime."