BCi Digital: Piracy – A Losing Battle?

Piracy is widespread but it’s not time to give up just yet

Film and TV piracy has long been following a similar trend to the music industry, primarily enabled by high bandwidth internet connections that support the download of large files in reasonable time-scales. It is widely reported in industry press and many reports detail piracy activity in terms of volumes of ‘torrents’ or loss of ‘ticket sales’.

A recent APS Laboratory report suggests that the traditional loss of ticket sales is less applicable than previously thought based on the idea that people who consume pirated content often watch something that they wouldn’t go out and watch at the cinema. However piracy is illegal and protecting the investment is paramount. Piracy is a widespread practise that often appears to be a victimless crime but it impacts revenues throughout the content chain.

Armed with my laptop and the ubiquitous Google search engine I spent 3 hours searching for movies. A set of simple criteria was established to direct the research and to yield comparable results. I also selected criteria based on the likely mind-set of someone who would be performing these searches for their own (illegal) use. No one will be surprised to learn that this approach yielded masses of results on Google. There are a number of sites who now openly promote pirated content and offer it commercially under a subscription model. Also despite their efforts to add some level of content protection (ironically) there are a number of ways to work around it to download the content. In the interests of not providing a ‘guide to piracy’ I will avoid much of the detail of what sites I researched and what tools/techniques were used.

It was surprising how much pirated content was openly offered on a commercial basis. Content owners/distributors should consider the following in an effort to further protect their content.

  • Have a copyright policy – It will provide evidence of your commitment to addressing the piracy issue.
  • Submit copyright notices – The action of submitting a copyright notice directly to the offending site may not have a massive impact on the day-to-day availability of pirated content but it provides 2 key benefits:
    • Plausible and defendable evidence to stakeholders that you have an active anti-piracy policy
    • It will, for at least a short time, completely eliminate the content from that source
  • Log with ISP’s – Lodging a complaint or serving a notice on ISP’s should result in action where they can block access to sites. This is likely to have variable and short term results.
  • Watermarking – Adding watermarking to all content prior to distribution will provide the evidence of the source of the piracy. Having the ability to generate an audit trail for each piece of content will be a powerful tool.
  • Develop commercial alternatives – There may be ways to combat piracy through alternative commercial strategies.
    • Low cost/high volume – The OTT TV market has matured into a subscription model with additional VOD purchases available. This seems to be a standard model but other models may be developed that support higher sales volumes at lower cost. There is good evidence that if a service becomes less expensive people will migrate to a paid service in favour of a ‘hit and hope’ service.
    • Freemium – Another, more extreme, version to be considered is to make content available for free after a certain period of time has passed. Clearly this is the reality at the moment in any case as the research confirms. This circumvents the piracy directly and provides a service that customers will pay fees to enjoy.

I note that not all of these options may work for all content owners (especially the large studios) but a bold approach is required to create disincentives to the ‘pirates’ and the ‘piracy consumers’.

Mark Hooper – BCi Digital

BCi Digital provides a range of professional services and solutions that support content protection.

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