Web Piracy – a problem bigger than most of us think

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Data thief stealing DVD from laptop

To state that internet piracy is rampant today is an understatement. From illegally downloading music to cracking video games, almost everyone has done this at least once in their life. Piracy is not only limited to downloading files from illegal sources as media streaming is also not meant to be free. People have their own set of justifications as to why they do this but the main reason is mostly squared on affordability of the object they are pirating. In rarer cases, the official good is not available in an area so people have no other choice but to grab a copy from illegal sources. Piracy is viewed as heaven by end users since they will be able to save some dollars by having a free copy of the thing they wanted. For the industry, it has been a perennial nightmare as it robs companies of billions of dollars annually and costs job layoffs due to the losses incurred from anemic sales. In the eyes of the government, it is a crime which punishment varies from a country.

What Constitutes Online Piracy?

Data thief stealing DVD from laptopDownloading a file which should be paid constitutes one. How about the other circumstances where the courts see your deed as an act of piracy?

  • Downloading an application on your smartphone which allows you to download the audio from Youtube and keep it as an archive of music in your phone.
  • Creating an mp3 file from the CD you bought, then uploading it to file-sharing sites for millions to enjoy that track for free.
  • Joining a file-sharing network which is not allowed to give or create copies of copyrighted music and downloading its contents, even if it means you have to pay a fee for gaining access to these files.
  • Transferring copyrighted music through an instant messaging service.
  • Burning copyrighted files from your computer, which allows you to give copies to your friends.
  • Receiving a file copy of a copyrighted material and forwarding it to your contacts.
  • Streaming a film that is not yet done in its theatrical run for free.

Statistical Facts about Online Piracy

all-the-piracy-2-1920x1200In the United States of America, it is said that pirated copies of a film become available online 12 days after its initial screening. About $ 25 billion dollars are lost annually and over 375,000 jobs have been retrenched due to this practice, in the past five years. Film revenues also dropped by 25% from 2009 to 2013. Russia is one of the worst cases, since over 1 million copies are uploaded online when a movie airs on its first week. The music industry is the most hardly hit in this case, as total legal digital and physical sales are in a steady decrease since 2011, and over 95% of music downloaded online is pirated. In Nashville alone, the number of full-time writers has decreased by 80% – the lowest they had since they started tracking data in 1991. This goes beyond the entertainment industry – about 75% of computers at home are said to have counterfeit software. What is the result? About two thirds of files shared in Torrents is illegal.

Piracy in the Eastern Europe and Latin America are said to be the place where it is the most prevalent with over 64% of files being downloaded as illegal. Asia Pacific comes next with 59% as of 2010. Japan alone suffers $ 20 billion dollars of loss annually due to online piracy and most of the file sharing sites that hosts their country’s media are located in China and South Korea. Many people think that the figure has gone much lower since then but a study in the United States of America showed that there was a 44% increase in the number of files illegally downloaded from 2008 to 2014. However, the number of people doing this were reduced from 50% to 10% from the said time period. It also does not help the fact that 70% of American families surveyed think that it is totally fine to share files to their family members or friends. In Western Europe, about 20% of the internet traffic was caused by file sharing.

Streaming a film while it is still on its theatrical run is viewed by many people as legal. For instance, the film 50 Shades of Grey was downloaded over 300,000 times during the first day. Imagine the multi-million dollar loss incurred from lost sales. The film earned enough to cross the break-even point but smaller companies will not be able to tolerate that amount of loss, resulting in their closure.

From the Perspective of Online Pirates

alternative_fight_club_ploxor_you_could_link_me_to_desktop_1600x1066_wallpaper-151639If there is a modern day version of Robin Hood today, these are the online pirates who decided to share a media file to the world for free. Torrents are one of the most popular sites to go for downloading files, having a roster of their most active uploaders. These sites are not only a rich source of files, but also a thriving online community. There are message boards, comment boxes and other stuff that enable interaction within this community. Achievements that can be unlocked are present too – such as Fake Killer which is awarded to users who were able to detect 100 fake torrents and Spamtastic Reporter which indicates that a certain user has already uploaded a thousand shows on the site.

In an interview conducted by Patrick Keplek of Kotaku, he was able to report the world through the eyes of these persons. Of course, they hid their real identities but they were generous enough to give information about their foray in the task of uploading files on Torrents. The first person is a 23-year old guy who works in an IT based company for connecting CEOs and refers himself as mercs213. He has uploaded over a thousand torrent files, and some of these include the famous action game Call of Duty: Black OPS 3 and Stardew Valley. It normally takes him five hours a week for creating and uploading torrents. His inspiration came from the fact that he loved to play games when he was young, but he couldn’t afford the experience. He promised to himself that he will share games for free when he grows up. Ironically, his favorite games are bought legibly as he still thinks that piracy is a grey area (as opposed to the black and white view of the government and the industry) that can affect the financial status of the creators.

What made him different from other uploaders is his constant communication with his followers. He regularly looks at their messages and responds to them as regards on what game to upload. Merc claims that all players should be able to at least experience a game, even if they are not able to afford it. He also thinks that this is the chance of small time developers to showcase their talent in order to gather more prospective buyers. However, Merc ultimately thinks that a gamer should purchase a game from developers if he really enjoyed it in the end.

On the other hand, FitGirl is also a Torrent uploader with over 322 torrents and counting but has a different reason for illegally uploading games in the internet. Her inspiration is quite fascinating too, as her frustration over large files made her see the wonders of compressing these in her youth. She wanted to compress a game in the smallest size possible, but which can still unpack by itself fast enough. She started as an uploader of repackaged files on Russian-specific websites, until she successfully moved to Torrents for a wider audience. In the past, she was able to compress a 32 Gb game to 4.1 Gb but with a clear repercussion – unpacking a game can take hours.

FitGirl thinks that gaming piracy is a part of industry and companies should prepare themselves for it, whenever they release a video game. While she thinks that it has an impact to the developers financially, she claims that it is not that of a big deal although the same thought crosses her mind at times. For example, a popular game called Punch Club has over 1,000,000 players yet only 300,000 bought its official copy.

Both of the people described above do not make money from uploading torrent files. Merc buys the games he wants to share and FitGirl downloads games already available online, yet buys the games she likes. Their sentiments echo the basic reasons of why people do this. They will buy something what they want, when they want it.

The Fight against Piracy as of Today

Image_supplied_by_IP_Awareness_FoundationThe rise of Netflix hopes that legal streaming will soon outpace these file sharing sites eventually, due to its cheap monthly subscription. The one-click convenience of Netflix saves people from dealing with piracy and large files. Of course, they still have to buy a Bluray disc of a series if they need to archive it, but Netflix was able to curb as much as 50% of illegal downloads in Canada and Norway. Streaming site like SoundCloud and Spotify also offer free and premium based streaming, which was able to recoup some of lost sales due to piracy.

Games are also getting harder to crack these days. An anti-piracy software called Denuvo was released in 2016 and is currently evading hackers’ abilities. While the torrent version of the games it protect still exist, cracking is virtually impossible for now, so these remain unplayable. It is just a matter of months before the software will be cracked though.

Anti-piracy laws are still in full effect but proved to be really hard to implement, given that a culprit is presumed innocent until proven guilty. What’s even sadder is the stakeholders have already resigned to the irreversible effects of piracy in their respective industries. They realized that revenues will still go down if a system will not be developed to discourage hundreds of millions to share their work on internet for free. They also knew that Torrent and other file sharing sites are not easy to take down, since they are not affected by blocking domains. The other reason for their surrender is that people tend to place less value over a priced commodity if a free version of it is available on the internet, even if they do not have the slightest interest to get a pirated copy of a file.

On the other hand, government warnings showing in cinemas were effective as the implementation reduced illegal downloading in the United States. A person might be in jail for five years and a paying a fine of $ 250,000 in case he is proven guilty of copyright infringement laws. Japan was also able to implement stringent laws as regards to manga, anime shows and other Japanese forms of media. In 2014, the Japanese government was able to track 300 of these illegal sites, mostly hosted in China, and to shut them down for good. This country has a graver punishment for piracy, as it views it as a criminal offense. Uploaders who are caught will face up to 10 years in prison, and a user who illegally downloads a file will face up to 2 years of imprisonment with a fine of 2 million yen.

In the end, no one knows when this fight against piracy will end – it is more important to know whether this cycle will be diminished, given how easy it is to upload files. What the creators can do for now is to create media files that are harder to crack and to never stop improving security features. It is only a matter of time until pirated copies of their works will be available online, so they also need to work on fast deployment systems.

What do you think? What’s your take on web piracy?

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