More sites and applications are making it easier than ever to stream content straight to computers or mobile devices. Far from being a thing of the past, these advances have simply changed the way pirated content is shared.
Piracy has been around since the mid 1970’s when VCRs allowed for content to be copied and redistributed quickly and cheaply. Since then the internet has evolved into peer-to-peer sharing, downloading of movies and music and most recently, ‘real time’ streaming of media. Streaming has become extremely popular due to internet radio and audio and visual on-demand stations. But the demand for quality media streaming directly to mobile devices has also given rise to a number of sites which provide the software to stream and share movies without paying subscription fees. While 44% of all streaming content in the UK now comes from Netflix, 25% of internet users are still illegally streaming or downloading and this is now responsible for the majority of TV and film piracy.
Sites such as Popcorn Time, which offers a catalogue of even the most up-to-date releases for free and has been dubbed 'Netflix for Pirates' work by streaming torrents without the need for a Torrent downloader, storing the file or playing it back through a media player. Anti-piracy groups have a degree of success in shutting some of the largest torrent sites in the world however as piracy behaviour is now changing towards streaming this appears to be yesterday’s war. However innocent this may seem, Popcorn Time clearly violates copyright laws, and as the International Business Times goes on to state, the programme even acknowledges this with a warning that “Downloading copyright may be illegal in your country. Use at your own risk”.
Speaking to Forbes, Mary LaFrance, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) explains how Popcorn Time has so far avoided legal action or permanent removal: "The app is difficult for U.S. copyright laws to shut down because it does not actually host pirated content". It provides free access to online streams and its developers show no intent for commercial gain.” Just as Google can list illegal links, providing access to pirated content is not strictly illegal so long as the site does not expressly condone such behaviours.
And this is exactly how illegal streaming sites and apps operate yet avoid copyright infringement - they act as ‘search engines’ for links while not actually hosting the illegal content. As Jim Gibson, Director of the International Property Institute at the University of Richmond Law School explained to Business Insider, these bigger sites basically “give you the most access to infringing content” by compiling the unlicensed content and leading you to the secondary sites where it actually exists and which do violate copyright law. Attempts to change these laws have been made, much-supported by media companies but highly contraversial amongst audiences who call censorship. It highlights a problem of protecting IP in the digital age, where digital advancement has oft given rise to opportunities before ethics come into question.
Piracy sites are easy to find but the nature of illegal streaming makes it extremely difficult to identify the hosts. In Britain for example there have been several high-profile cases over the years where those involved in the illegal copying and online distribution of films and TV shows were prosecuted and sentenced. However no one has ever been fined or prosecutedd for illegally streaming content according to the UK Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).
And while it is difficult to estimate the losses suffered by the the creative industries due to illegal streaming, the pirate sites and services are still making huge profits by paying nothing for the content while collecting revenue through subscriptions, pay-per-view fees and advertising. As FACT explains, sites which host unauthorised content or share links to unauthorised content are illegal but can fool consumers by providing subscriptions services or hosting advertisements for legitimate products and services alongside illegal content.
In some cases internet providers have been working together with creative industries to increase consumer awareness of legitimate streaming services but there is increasing pressure for internet service providers to do more. Law enforcement has also failed to keep up with the changing threat of streaming. In 2013 the High Court ordered the UK’s major broadband providers to block more piracy sites, including stopping users accessing Kickass Torrents, H33T and Fenopy however data from a similar ruling against The Pirate Bay suggested that this type of action was ineffective in the long-term against illegal online sharing. Streaming boxes pre-loaded with access to infringing content are also being targeted, but these new ways of accessing infringing content go to show that piracy is ever-resilient.
Content protection services can be of some help and are constantly developing their technologies to allow them to scan the internet for traces of copyright infringement. It's necessary to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters by using a combination of automated tech and industry expertise to direct technology to new ways of pirating, from apps like Kodi and Popcorn Time to Telegram messaging groups where books are at high piracy risk. These services play an important role in the battle against streaming and are responsible for the removal of thousands of illegal sites. If you're worried about your IP online, take a look at our anti-piracy solution, or read more about new trends in our eBook: