Thursday, February 5, 2015

Can Online Piracy Be Stopped? Corporations Say Yes, The Facts Say No

Photo by Jon Aslund, CC 2.5
The internet is a secret world where media is available to all, distributed by shady online “pirates” who are known by pseudonyms and protected by anonymity. Since the creation of the World Wide Web, people have been taking advantage by illegally downloading or sharing copyrighted material for free. Statistics show that 22% of all internet bandwidth is used for Online Piracy annually. Online Piracy causes damage to media industries, but cannot be stopped due to its popularity with ordinary people worldwide and pirate’s ability to create copycats at an alarming rate.

The most difficult aspect of eliminating Online Piracy is convincing the population it is a crime, as many have found themselves at home basking in a wealth of free media. One of the world’s most popular file-sharing sites, The Pirate Bay, was recently shut down by a police raid in Sweden. The site emerged in 2003, and at its peak had almost 22 million viewers according to The New York Times. The site uses Bittorrent, a method of downloading information not from a website’s central server, but directly from other user’s computers referred to as either peers or seeders. A group of computers downloading/uploading the same torrent is called a swarm. Computers connect to the swarm by loading a torrenting file into the Bittorrent client, activating a “tracker” file which organises the swarm and gives them a shared IP address. This allows it to transfer enormous files of music, movies and other media, effectively bypassing copyright law. Its users defend The Pirate Bay as a haven of free information for any to access. An enormous factor in the popularity of The Pirate Bay is international availability. Many like Mark from Norway find Online Piracy to be “a harsh reality of their lives” as many movies or television series are not legally available in all regions of the world Around 70 % of illegal downloaders see nothing wrong with piracy, and the owners of most Piracy Websites believe they are doing the world’s population a service (in some ways, they are, by distributing media and information to the masses for free). The comedy website “Cracked” humorously, but somewhat accurately, states that websites like The Pirate Bay are just “a collection of thieves stealing from a bigger and even more vicious gang of thieves” (media corporations) making The Pirate Bay a Robin Hood-esque lesser of two evils.

When it comes to trying to stop file-sharing sites such as The Pirate Bay, most copyright law enforcement (Cyber investigators or utilization of local police force) do not take into account the ease and speed in which the file format of piracy sites can be re-created and copied. A mere week after the raid and collapse of The Pirate Bay, a clone sponsored by Isohunt went online offering the same services. Isohunt clearly explains that if the original site comes back, they will gladly shut down their copy. This proves that the only thing holding back a stream of file-sharing and torrenting sites copycats is respect for the now-deceased father of Online piracy, The Pirate Bay. In 2012, The Pirate Bay changed its own structure, making the website more portable and easy to clone. This cool and calculated move means that even post-mortem, the infamous Pirate Bay will continue to operate the high seas of Digital Piracy. In the words of Gizmodo writer Mario Aguilar: “Even if it (Pirate Bay) dies in name, torrents and piracy will live under some other name”. Online Piracy sources are also rapidly upgrading due to new technology, allowing them to host servers running illegal programs anywhere on earth. This allows cybercriminals to consistently stay one step ahead of law enforcement.

Nearly 70% of Online “Pirates” find nothing wrong in the freedom of information. Although the idea of a free internet sounds promising, the scope of the problem it creates is much bigger. Each year, the United States economy loses 250 billion and 71,000 jobs are lost due to Online Piracy. Shamefully, most of these jobs are taken from people in supporting roles in the industry such as light and camera workers, and most of that lost revenue is taken directly from their paycheck. These losses have grown to be quite substantial, and pose an economic threat to the future of both big media industry, as well as the job of a simple camera or sound worker. Online Piracy is paving the road to a world where all information is free and shared with all. This almost utopian society would threaten to dismantle the digital media enterprise, as well as the job opportunities of technicians and other “little people” part of the bigger corporations.

The above statistics and numbers have been claimed for decades by media and entertainment companies, but in 2010 the Government Accountability Office released a statement saying that those figures are in fact unsubstantiated. Online Piracy is proving to be a problem that cannot be contained. Only one out of 10,000 personal computers does not have at least one illegally downloaded application installed, and the average ipod carries approximately $800 worth of pirated music. Even on an iphone or android, illegally downloading media is staggeringly simple to do and its rewards currently vastly outweigh its risks (little to none). This personally affects me as a teenager because it makes entertaining easy to obtain at no cost, making paid media seem obsolete. In fact, around 75% of Americans believe that sharing copyrighted material with family members and friends is acceptable while 46 % of American adults have downloaded copyrighted material. Online Piracy is so integrated in societies around the world it is nearly impossible to combat. Although extreme efforts from various media companies to prevent Online Piracy have had very little success, they still use exorbitant amounts of money for “enforcement” of laws and anti-piracy campaigns. Although these copyright industries are extremely (and suspiciously) reluctant to release their annual budgets, they are as follow: International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, $120 million; Recording Industry Association of America, $45-55 million; Motion Picture Association of America, $60-75 million. These enormous budgets are being wasted in the impossible war against Online Piracy. If the copyright and entertainment industries are to make any ground, they should begin using the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on piracy enforcement to make retail purchases more appealing either by lowering prices or introducing a system where music becomes free to stream after one year, and they should also cater to the international audience by not restricting regional availability.

The war on Online Piracy is going nowhere, and although it causes damages to jobs and the economy, it has grown to a point where it cannot be stopped. If there is restriction of information on the Internet, there will always be those who take advantage. The copyright industries battle against Online Piracy bears many similarities to the Greek myth in which Hercules battles the Hydra. Although overfunded and infinitely powerful, if the copyright industry manages to take down one torrenting site, two more spring up in its place. This metaphor shows how fast pirating sites can replicate correlated with the slow, legal dredge for a government to take down just one web site. In the words of New York Times Analyst Nick Bilton: “In the arcade version of Whac-A-Mole, the game eventually ends — often when the player loses. In the piracy arms-race version, there doesn’t seem to be a conclusion. Sooner or later, the people who still believe they can hit the moles with their slow mallets might realize that their time would be better spent playing an entirely different game.” To conclude, Anti-Online Piracy campaigns and enforcement are examples of an expensive and ultimately ineffective weapon against an ever-elusive enemy that evolves with technology.


Reflection updated 25th Feb, 2015

Anti-Online Piracy campaigns and coalitions continue to use hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Almost all of this money is simply evaporating into thin air given the current success of curbing, if not culling online media piracy. It is our responsibility as digital (and tax-paying) citizens to make sure that this money is going to good use, and unfortunately it is not. People both in other countries and down the block rely on pirating their media, a life-altering treasure trove that more people are discovering by the hour. As several of my comments asked me to consider the damage done to media industries by piracy, here is a personal experience of mine regarding the issue :  On my recent trip to Argentina, I observed how in the small city of San Marcos, the video stores essentially burn a pirated film onto a blank DVD and sell it for an extremely reasonable price. (2.99). This system greatly improves the accessibility of movies and other media at an affordable cost. One might think that this causes irreparable damage to Argentina’s movie industry, however with the help of government subsidies the film industry of Argentina is booming. Both 2009’s El Secreto de Sus Ojos and 2014’s Wild Tales come from independent Argentine filmmakers and were nominated for the Oscar to the best foreign film, with the first movie winning the award. This example of a successful system disproves the prophetic collapse of the media industry if piracy is as widespread as it is in Argentina. Although the comments failed to change my mind or clarify the issue, one especially thought-provoking blogger asked me to give an example of a more appealing system of purchasing media, to which I replied: All media over one year old would be available in disc form at a retailer. This media would always be available to rent for free, similar to a library. However, if one would like to rent a new product, OR, stream media, that would cost them money upfront. I believe that although this system may not be perfect, it would be a step forward in making legitimate purchases a more feasible thought. Having completed my blog, I found the process to be worthwhile albeit sometimes slightly tedious. This blog has given me a greater understanding on the impact of Digital Piracy as a whole. Using both personal experience, and facts learned while researching, I have come to the conclusion: Online Piracy is not to be seen as an epidemic, but a higher plane in which to consume information free of corporate influence.


  1. Hello, MBenjaminDR. I was really attracted by your blog. Your blog said that Online Piracy, people downloading and sharing files freely, is destroying the digital copyright. Even we students are sometimes using sources without checking the copyrights. I saw an article online called "Is Canada Going to Successfully Crack Down on Illegal Downloading?" This article shows that countries were paying attention to stop Online Piracy in legal ways; however, we cannot preview the effect of those acts. I personally also used the illegal music or movies. After read this blog, I thought I should pay some attention in stopping using those.

    1. Hello Destfare, thanks for commenting on my article, I found it the article on Canada's Piracy Enforcement to be very captivating, although it was very vague on the program's current success. I recommend checking out various infographics on Digital Piracy, as they are a colorful and interesting way of familiarizing yourself with the statistics of economic damage as well as number of people torrenting. I agree with you, the moral aspect of people losing their jobs is currently the only reason to think twice about sailing the high seas of digital piracy.

  2. Hi MBenjaminDR! What a fascinating article about the competing concepts of what a "free internet" means! I notice that you challenge corporate owners of copyrighted works to spend more time on creating a friendlier system for access (either purchase or rental of media). Have you discovered any approaches that make sense--offering access to digital products at reasonable, low prices? It seems like the technology approach and the punitive are doomed to failure, as is the idea of educating people on the ethics of illegal downloads. So can fairness ever be achieved through the market? Thanks for such an informative and provocative post!--Ms. Riches

    1. Hello Ms. Riches, I found your comment to be very thought-provoking. I believe that the perfect system of media access would be: All media over one year old would be available in disc form at a retailer. This media would always open to rent for free, similar to a library. However, If one would like to rent a new product, OR, stream media, that would cost them money upfront. Another huge step forward would be to stop restricting media to regions, and give people in other countries the opportunity to enjoy it. I find this to be a good compromise, as it pleases both the consumer and the corporate owners/copyright owners.

  3. Hi MBenjaminDR.(I didn't know your middle name was Benjamin) I enjoyed your take internet privacy and the metaphors about the whac-a-mole game and the battle between Hercules and the Hydra, I thought they were very descriptive metaphors. I was wondering what the effects might be after say, the battle between the "Hydra and Hercules" took place and what the effects of a completely free internet would be? I personally agree with you on your thoughts about how you would like the piracy to go, and I agree with you that its nice to have for personal use. I thought you might like to take a look at this link: Here

    1. Hello Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX. (I didn't know that was your favorite car) Your ideas are very interesting and though-provoking. That website you linked highlights the economic problems often associated with Online Piracy. These statistics are important to take in mind, as the popularity of Online Piracy rises. As of now, nearly all of the internet is controlled and monitored by corporate bodies competing to sell you goods. A completely free internet world would be nearly impossible, as every website is owned by, or goes through titans such as Google or Facebook. However, a compromise between media corporations and the people, making the media system more affordable is not out of sight.

  4. Hello MBenjaminDR, your article was very captivating, I found it interesting how much pirated music we can download without even knowing it, or without even caring. It is very fascinating how as a society we can't stop this. For example, Nick Bilton compared copy right with a Whac-A-Mole game, how even if you try to hit all the moles others just keep popping up again. I think that our society should be given more information about copy right and piracy, since we are so consumed in social media, and we need to educate one another about this, and understand why it is illegal, and wrong. Have you ever owned pirated, or copy righted music or other things?

    1. Hello Anna Stewart, Thank you for the comments! I agree with you by saying that people need to educate themselves more on the economic and social cost of Online Piracy. I agree with you, many in the United States are oblivious to the fruits of Online Piracy, and this is a good thing as Media corporations and workers in the industry receive that revenue. Digital Piracy is an essential and convenient part to many people's daily life.


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