Sunday night’s season finale of Game of Thrones was illegally downloaded at record levels, according to TorrentFreak, the pro-piracy publication that chronicles Bit Torrent file sharing.
Within a few hours after it was released hundreds of thousands grabbed a copy of the show via The Pirate Bay and other torrent sites, breaking the old record Game of Thrones set just a few weeks ago during the premiere of the third season.
At its height the Istole tracker reported that 171,572 people where active on a single torrent, 128,686 sharing a complete copy while 42,886 were still downloading.
Data gathered by TorrentFreak shows that, within 24 hours, the season finale has been downloaded a million times. This could increase to more than five million during the weeks to come and means that unless a miracle happens, Game of Thrones will be crowned the most pirated TV-show of the year once again.
These startling figures reveal how widespread the online theft of creative works has become.
What’s less apparent is the impact of content theft on production and workers who make a living in entertainment.
In April, Game of Thrones co-creator David Benihoff explained to CNN how piracy takes money out of his show’s budget – money that could be spent on special effects or additional scenes.
“We were the most illegally downloaded show in the world. And one episode was illegally downloaded 4.8 million times,” says Benioff.
“If we could just get 99 cents from each of those 4.8 million people, how many more, you know, all the scenes that we wanted to have in season 3 that we couldn’t have … that extra scene with the dragons. Or we could have had one more – that big battle scene that we wanted, that we couldn’t get, we probably could have afforded,” says Benioff.
And it’s not just the viewers at home who lose out. Tightened budgets due to piracy ultimately lead to less money for production crew and vendors who provide special effects and other services.
Blogs like TorrentFreak and other piracy defenders often cite limited availability as justification for illegal downloading. But piracy isn’t limited to shows on subscription-based premium channels like HBO.
Just last week, TorrentFreak reported that in the first 48 hours following the Netflix release of the long-awaited new season of Arrested Development was pirated more than 175,000 times.
Here you had the online-only distribution of an entire season of a TV show available at the $8-a-month Netflix subscription price, which at 15 episodes comes out to a little more than 50 cents an episode. One could even view the entire season – legally – for free, by signing up for a one-month free trial and quitting before it’s up. Netflix service is available in nearly all of the countries where the illegal downloading of Arrested Development was highest.
In reality, content theft is a large criminal enterprise, and illegal pirate sites continue to operate and profit off of stolen creative works, even when a particular film or television show is widely available and reasonably priced. This undercuts incentives for production and discourages future investment – that means less content for consumers and fewer jobs and reduced wages to support our economy.
Illegal pirate sites operate with the help of ad networks that serve online ads to these illegal sites. Major brands pay – generally unknowingly – to advertise on illegal sites, and credit card companies process payments for many illegal sites. Netflix, Hulu and other new and emerging legal online distribution platforms have to compete with illegal sites offering stolen creative works for free. That hurts everyone – consumers and creators.
There is no single, silver bullet when it comes to reducing piracy. But a key action we need is for everyone – from advertisers to payment processors – to do the right thing, and put pirates out of business by eliminating the funding that allows them to flourish.
This will lead to more content for consumers, more jobs in the economy…and more dragons.