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Opinion: Piracy will never die

With more “legal” options available, the recent Game of Thrones piracy numbers should’ve been very different from what they are. Why is that?

As I write this, we’re getting reports that the fourth episode of the latest season of Game Of Thrones (GoT) was leaked via a breach in Star India’s database. And this isn’t even part of the big HBO hack which made headlines a few days ago. Going by how much interest GoT attracts from audiences and hackers alike, it’s no surprise that the first episode of the latest season of Game Of Thrones was pirated (streamed illegally or downloaded on the torrent network) more than 90 million times! Even this isn’t new. GoT, because of its popularity, is a pirate magnet (pun intended) of sorts – with each passing year the show seems to be breaking its own piracy records. And with Season 7, it has become the most pirated TV show for the fifth year in a row. How crazy is the world about GoT? Even PornHub registered a 4.5 per cent drop in its prime time stats! That’s crazy because Sunday nights are a forever alone heaven.

This year was different though – or at least it should have been different. The piracy levels should’ve been much lower considering that this year HBO opened up many more avenues to watch and stream GoT legally. For a long time in the western world, “I don’t want to subscribe to HBO only to watch GoT” was a valid excuse. But not anymore. They’ve even partnered with many more regional services to make episodes available at almost the same time as the US airing. Even our own homegrown Hotstar makes it available for viewing super early in the morning, much before the earliest torrents get proper seeds – yes, I’ve checked this. For research purposes of course.

I even remember seeing Hotstar hoardings around Mumbai city which said “Torrent Morghulis” – a sort of declaration of war by Hotstar against torrents and piracy.

Hotstar GOT

None of it seems to have worked.

If we draw parallels with other media or digital-consumption based industries such as gaming and music, it seemed for a while at least that piracy was on the decline. If you look at gaming, two factors greatly impacted the rabid levels of piracy that we were accustomed to when growing up:

  1. The very nature of gaming changed. With the rise of multiplayer, being connected to an official server could be made mandatory, and this meant that games had to be original, and hence it was almost mandatory for players to “buy in”.
  2. The rise of and convenience of digital game distribution platforms like Steam simply made piracy not worth the effort – apart from making it harder to pirate games, steam also brought prices down to very affordable levels.

As far as the music ecosystem is concerned, I remember a time when I was a penniless college student, and mighty proud of my 120 GB (gasp!) music collection. All pirated, of course, and copied from friends. Today you’d be hard pressed to find a millennial who doesn’t have either a gaana, saavn or some other music subscription service on their phone. The cost is just factored into their pocket money like chai and samosas were factored into ours.

Any logical person would think of these as indicators of times to come. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve carried a “Piracy is dead” kind of headline somewhere in the mag or on digit.in. However, the truth is, pirates never die, they just adapt to newer tides. As the Ironborn say in GoT “What is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger.”

Why isn’t the video industry (movies and TV included) not going the way of music and gaming? Is there anything inherently different about video? Or do people just like the thrill of sticking it to the man, and getting away with it?

For one thing Video on Demand is clearly the way forward. No one wants to be told to “tune in” to some fixed time slot for a dose of video entertainment. Besides, there are a few very unique problems inherent to heavily regulated geographies like India, such as censorship, which may be forcing people towards piracy. Very often, I come across a strange form of self-censorship on services like Amazon Prime Video, which just doesn’t make sense for a sign-in based web service. However, Hotstar, which requires a credit-card for signing up (thereby automatically ensuring that the age requirement is met), doesn’t censor content. So even the censorship excuse doesn’t apply.

Perhaps video will be the last piracy bastion to fall or perhaps problems with piracy will exist as long as original IPs exist. Maybe there’s simply a chor in every man and it stirs when you put an internet connection in his hand.

What are your thoughts on content piracy and the way it may or may not change in the future? Write in and let me know.

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Siddharth Parwatay

Siddharth Parwatay