Controlling Millions of Potential Internet Pirates Won’t Be Easy

Opinion

This week a man in the US uploaded the remaining three episodes of Power to the Internet in advance of their commercial release. It was clear he didn't care about being identified. Or, presented with tools to pirate with ease, it's possible he didn't even consider it. With that in mind, are we all now just a click away from being a piracy supplier?

For several decades the basic shape of the piracy market hasn’t changed much. At the top of the chain there has always been a relatively small number of suppliers. At the bottom, the sprawling masses keen to consume whatever content these suppliers make available, while sharing it with everyone else.

This model held in the days of tapes and CDs and transferred nicely to the P2P file-sharing era. For nearly two decades people have been waiting for those with the latest content to dump it onto file-sharing networks. After grabbing it for themselves, people share that content with others.

For many years, the majority of the latest music, movies, and TV shows appeared online having been obtained by, and then leaked from, ‘The Scene’. However, with the rise of BitTorrent and an increase in computer skills demonstrated by the public, so-called ‘P2P release groups’ began flexing their muscles, in some cases slicing the top of the piracy pyramid.

With lower barriers to entry, P2P releasers can be almost anyone who happens to stumble across some new content. That being said, people still need the skill to package up that content and make it visible online, on torrent sites for example, without getting caught.

For most people that’s prohibitively complex, so it’s no surprise that Average Joe, perhaps comforted by the air of legitimacy, has taken to uploading music and movies to sites like YouTube instead. These days that’s nothing out of the ordinary and perhaps a little boring by piracy standards, but people still have the capacity to surprise.

This week a man from the United States, without a care in the world, obtained a login for a STARZ press portal, accessed the final three episodes of ‘Power’, and then streamed them on Facebook using nothing but a phone and an Internet connection.

From the beginning, the whole thing was ridiculous, comical even. The man in question, whose name and personal details TF obtained in a matter of minutes, revealed how he got the logins and even recorded his own face during one of the uploaded videos.

He really, really couldn’t have cared any less but he definitely should have. After news broke of the leaks, STARZ went public confirming the breach and promising to do something about it.

“The final three episodes of Power’s fourth season were leaked online due to a breach of the press screening room,” Starz said in a statement. “Starz has begun forensic investigations and will take legal action against the responsible parties.”

At this point, we should consider the magnitude of what this guy did. While we all laugh at his useless camera skills, the fact remains that he unlawfully distributed copyright works online, in advance of their commercial release. In the United States, that is a criminal offense, one that can result in a prison sentence of several years.

It would be really sad if the guy in question was made an example of since his videos suggest he hadn’t considered the consequences. After all, this wasn’t some hi-tech piracy group, just a regular guy with a login and a phone, and intent always counts for something. Nevertheless, the situation this week nicely highlights how new technology affects piracy.

In the past, the process of putting an unreleased movie or TV show online could only be tackled by people with expertise in several areas. These days a similar effect is possible with almost no skill and no effort. Joe Public, pre-release TV/movie/sports pirate, using nothing but a phone, a Facebook account, and an urge?

That’s the reality today and we won’t have to wait too long for a large scale demonstration of what can happen when millions of people with access to these ubiquitous tools have an urge to share.

In a little over two weeks’ time, boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr fights UFC lightweight champion, Conor McGregor. It’s set to be the richest combat sports event in history, not to mention one of the most expensive for PPV buyers. That means it’s going to be pirated to hell and back, in every way possible. It’s going to be massive.

Of course, there will be high-quality paid IPTV productions available, more grainy ‘Kodi’ streams, hundreds of web portals, and even some streaming torrents, for those that way inclined. But there will also be Average Joes in their hundreds, who will point their phones at Showtime’s PPV with the intent of live streaming the biggest show on earth to their friends, family, and the Internet. For free.

Quite how this will be combatted remains to be seen but it’s fair to say that this is a problem that’s only going to get bigger. In ten years time – in five years time – many millions of people will have the ability to become pirate releasers on a whim, despite knowing nothing about the occupation.

Like ‘Power’ guy, the majority won’t be very good at it. Equally, some will turn it into an art form. But whatever happens, tackling millions of potential pirates definitely won’t be easy for copyright holders. Twenty years in, it seems the battle for control has only just begun.

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