Online Piracy and Its Adverse Effects

Online piracy has been a problem for quite a while now and while that may not be a big deal for movie and show watchers, music listeners, and book readers, it is to content owners. The threat has become so huge, in fact, that Wired predicted that “2021 will launch the platinum age of piracy.” And streaming providers are expected to suffer greatly.

Over the past few years, in fact, we’ve seen online piracy prosper, as evidenced by these statistics:

  • Pirated videos get viewed more than 200 billion times a year (Statista).
  • Around 80% of digital piracy targets streaming providers, costing them at least US$29.2 billion in lost revenue each year (Global Innovation Policy Center).
  • Around 24% of the global bandwidth gets used for downloading pirated content (Streaming Media).

More than costing content owners massive revenue losses, digital piracy also causes media workers to lose their jobs. And legal streaming service subscribers may not be aware but their accounts may have already been hacked and are currently up for sale on the Dark Web. Is it possible to combat online pirates? This post may provide some insights.

What Is Online Piracy?

Online piracy refers to the act of downloading and distributing copyrighted content from digital sources without their owner’s permission. Intellectual property, such as music, software, TV show episodes, movies, and books, are the most commonly pirated media on the Internet.

Hacking someone else’s streaming service account or stealing their software license keys and offering them to others on various platforms (e.g., forums, the Dark Web, etc.) even at much lower prices is considered media piracy as well.

What Are the Consequences of Online Piracy?

Content creators, distributors, service subscribers, and license owners can all suffer from the actions of digital pirates.

Composers, authors, scriptwriters, actors, directors, and producers are just some of the content owners that lose out when their intellectual property essentially gets stolen. Everyone who helped with the end products from production to release are affected, too. Instead of getting their rightful shares of the profits from the books, movies, and other copyrighted materials sold, the pirates benefit in their stead.

Streaming service subscribers and software license owners who pay for and have legal permission to access or use copyrighted content can also end up on the losing end. They are unknowingly paying for the “subscription” of people who obtained their streaming service credentials or software license keys from online pirates. Things get worse if the online piracy victims reuse usernames and passwords for various online accounts. If their Netflix account gets hacked, for instance, and they happen to use the same credentials for their bank account, they could lose their savings, too.

Users who download movies and TV show episodes from torrent sites may not know it but they, too, could also be considered media pirates, at least indirectly. Instead of paying the streaming service to view content, they do so free of charge or for a tiny fee (torrent service membership) that doesn’t even go to the legal content owners.

Can Online Piracy Be Alleviated?

While online piracy looks like it’s here to stay, there may be a way for content owners to lessen their losses somewhat. The first thing they should know is that digital pirates (like most cybercriminals) are very adept at hiding their tracks.

Even if virtual private networks (VPNs) were not created to help media pirates evade identification, we can find examples like this one where criminals abuse the privacy that the technology provides for their illicit gain.

One way, therefore, to avoid the unwanted consequences of online piracy might be to disallow VPN usage or at least monitor VPN, proxy service, or Tor users on streaming or other business sites. Doing so could reduce the chances of losing revenue or be at risk of illegal content distribution.

The latter can occur when users who don’t reside in serviceable areas get access to their content by using IP addresses (from their VPN providers) geolocated in countries where they operate. It’s not uncommon for people to use proxy services so they can appear to come from a country where the content they want to watch, for example, is available even if they reside in another region that the provider doesn’t serve.

VPN, proxy service, and Tor detectors are potential ways, among many others, that can help content owners keep what may potentially be suspicious users out of their networks. Constant monitoring of such traffic as part of a comprehensive digital rights management (DRM) strategy can be an excellent way to avoid becoming an online piracy victim.

All kinds of illicit activity, including digital piracy,  is avoidable with the aid of the right tools and services. And if your goal as a content creator or provider is to prevent unwanted losses, then monitoring users is the first step you can take.