Online piracy on the rise as streaming services jack up prices

Competition between streaming and free television lobbying groups has been heating up.

Competition between streaming and free television lobbying groups has been heating up. Photo: Getty

People are returning to pirating media and content online as streaming services increase prices and cost-of-living pressures decrease expendable income.

Piracy of copyrighted music, movies and television was steadily dropping for more than a decade, but that trend has seemingly reversed since 2020,  a report from the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and survey data from Australia found.

Patrik Wikstrom, Professor of Computational Communication at Queensland University of Technology, said the obvious answer, and one suggested by the EUIPO’s report, is that cost is a major factor in online piracy.

“How much you pay for your Spotify and Netflix accounts, it adds up,” he said.

“They’ve been increasing the rates across the board. I don’t know if there is a single streaming service that hasn’t increased the subscription fee.”

Australians are also following this trend, with 39 per cent of Australians consuming some form of media – either television, film, video games, music or live sport – through illegal means in 2022, according to the annual survey by the Attorney-General’s Office, a five per cent increase from just two years earlier.

Video games were the only category that saw a decrease in ‘unlawful consumption,’ with the piracy of movies, television, music and live sports all increasing.

Change in tactic

According to the EUIPO’s study, 48 per cent of pirated material was television or streaming content, with 58 per cent accessing the content through illegal streaming sites and 32 per cent downloading it from torrent-based sites.

Professor Andrew Christie, Chair of Intellectual Property at the University of Melbourne, said the owners of the intellectual rights to content have dropped the idea that it makes sense to sue individual consumers who access pirated material.

“They’ve taken the view that what they need to do is come up with ways to block access,” he said.

“Internet service providers (ISP) and others who facilitate access to infringing sites do the work for them by blocking access.”

He said if the ISPs can’t be persuaded to take action directly, they use court orders served directly to the provider to block the sites.

“They comply because it removes any liability as someone who is facilitating an infringement,” Christie said.

“ISPs were seen by IP owners as entities you could sue because they were caught up in infringing activity to being on the side of the IP owners.”

Australian ISPs have blocked notorious sites like The Pirate Bay, but individuals are able to easily evade the attempts by using proxy web addresses – or alternative sites hosting the same content – or virtual private networks.

Streaming fraud

Streaming services have previously competed for the highest number of subscriptions, however, many are now downsizing because they struggle to make a profit.

According to Indiewire, only two streaming services, Netflix and Hulu, made a profit for their parent companies in 2022.

Netflix and Hulu were the only two streaming services to make a profit in 2022. Photo: TND

To combat losses, platforms are introducing advertising to their platforms in an effort to tap into the revenue streams that built traditional television.

Wikstrom said it is important to note that piracy is still at a much lower rate than it was a decade ago, and streaming fraud remains a larger issue.

“The approach to doing business is so different in music compared to film, where I wouldn’t say that it’s transparent at all,” he said.

“It’s a pretty horrid and opaque business as well, but it is nothing compared to what is going on in the film or television industry.”

Streaming fraud is when the number of streams, followers or playlist placement is artificially manipulated to make a series, movie or song appear more popular than it is.

A lack of transparency in streaming numbers has been a major sticking point for actors and writers during recent strikes in the United States because they miss out on royalties traditionally received through television syndication.

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