Last year the MPAA released a fact-sheet stating that the file-hosting business is “all about the money,” giving examples of sites that lure in uploaders by offering them lucrative sums of cash.
While it’s not really a secret that, like any business, cyberlockers are out to make a profit, a new study suggests that most of the people who upload pirated content to these sites have more altruistic motives.
Based on publicly available data, researchers from Boston’s Northeastern University and the French Eurécom analyzed how much uploaders of pirated content earn. They published their findings in a paper titled “Paying for Piracy? An Analysis of One-Click Hosters’ Controversial Reward Schemes.”
The research is the first to provide an estimate of how much revenue uploaders make through affiliate programs, and how much time they have to invest in return. The overall conclusion is, perhaps surprisingly, that the vast majority of uploaders are not money driven.
“While the potential earnings of a few uploaders are non-negligible, for most uploaders these amounts are so low that they cannot rationally explain profit-oriented behaviour,” the researchers write.
One of the sites that’s examined in the report is dpstream.net, dubbed by the researchers as France’s largest piracy-based streaming site. The researchers identified 585 uploaders during their crawl of the site, who together added a total of 11,026 links.
As is the case with most sites, only a small percentage of the uploaders take up most of the pie.
“From a global point of view, the income is concentrated on a few uploaders. For instance, the top four uploaders earn more than 30 % of the total income. The top 50 users receive almost 80 % of the total income and provide around 70 % of the links,” the researchers write.
However, that doesn’t mean that these top uploaders are cashing in. According to the researchers they only make a few dollars per day.
“With a site-wide daily payout of $ 32.70, the potential earnings of individual uploaders are surprisingly low: 60 % of the users post content that is worth less than one cent per day, and even the top uploader can earn only $5.26 per day.”
The researchers also looked at redlist-ultimate.be, another popular site in France, and one that was particularly useful because it reported the time uploaders spent on the site. Overall, redlist uploaders have a higher earning potential, but the numbers are far from staggering.
“The median income for the top 50 highest earning uploaders is $ 11.74 for a median of 1.6 hours spent logged in and 10 files posted each day. While this daily income would be worthwhile for an uploader based in a developing country, the vast majority of uploaders come from western countries, notably France,” the researchers write.
The top uploader on redlist earns a respectable $113.17 a day, but spends 8 hours to add an average of 200 files each day to come to this number. This is just above the current minimum legal wage of $12.50 per hour in France.
The researchers further used their data to see what the effect on content availability is should the top uploaders leave the sites in question. This is to simulate the discontinuation of affiliate programs, a decision many cyberlocker services took after the Megaupload shutdown.
Excluding the top 50 uploaders on redlist would remove 58.5% of all links, but only 39.7% of the content objects and just 21.7% of the traffic according to the report. Most of the missing links are relatively unpopular and the researchers conclude that the ecosystem isn’t harmed too much when financial incentives are removed.
“Discontinuation of the affiliate programmes would deprive profit-oriented pirates of their illegal income, but it seems that these programmes are not the main driving force behind One Click Hoster-based piracy,” they write.
“More generally, our findings suggest that the overall impact of the One Click Hosters’ affiliate programmes on piracy activities may be overstated: Most users upload content despite earning next to nothing.”
The report provides a unique insight into the revenue generated through some linking sites, but of course the ecosystem can’t possibly be summarized by looking at two or three sites. That said, the overall conclusion that cyberlocker uploaders aren’t all bathing in money is probably correct.