For years now, online piracy has been on the rise. The very public spectacle of the demise of MegaVideo aside, there doesn’t seem to be much stopping it, as virtually any television show or movie that has been publicly released can be found somewhere on the web for free. True, you may have to wade through false links and spam and viruses to find a program, but it’s out there.
Part of the trouble is a lack of available, convenient legal options. CBS has the worst record of online offerings of the Big Four broadcast networks, which is likely it has two shows in the top ten most pirated of 2013. Most cable networks don’t offer any streaming service at all, so AMC’s Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, History’s Vikings, and Showtime’s Homeland and Dexter also rank quite high on the list.
These are quality shows that appeal to the younger demographic who most engage in piracy, but were there another easy option, many would not. Even for those networks that put their stuff on the web through one portal or another, access must be easier. Hulu and official show websites usually force one to watch commercials. While I know commercials pay for programming, those used to DVRs have given them up and aren’t about to go back. Netflix gets away with a subscription, rather than ads. How about using that model, or putting more current shows on the service?
Personally, I will admit to having pirated stuff, but only rarely. The exceptions I make are if a DVR recording is screwed up, the air time is unexpectedly pushed late by sports so the ending is cut off, or the broadcast is interrupted for weather alerts or the like. The latter two, I feel completely justified, blaming the network for messing with my show, and I’m usually only missing a few minutes. Because it’s a short bit, I’m certainly not paying for it again (I already pay plenty for cable), and don’t even think of it as wrong. For the first example, though, a missed recording, which is usually a full episode, I do seek legal means first, such as buying the episode on Amazon, and only pirate if I can’t find it.
Now everyone’s barometer on what’s acceptable is different, and I’m sure my reasoning is more conservative than most, though some will say piracy should not be practiced under any circumstances. It’s become a grey area, and while the law may disagree that it should be, it’s impractical at this point to cut it out completely, so instead, steps should be taken to not drive viewers to it. At least, not those who want to behave.
Piracy is only getting worse, and in the Internet age, it’s nearly impossible to stop it. Once the video file is removed from one site, it pops right back up somewhere else. I’m certainly not excusing this terrible behavior; as much as I want as many people as possible to watch fantastic entertainment like Game of Thrones, viewers should also be prevented from stealing it. But if it’s going to continue, the networks simply have to find a way to make it a less attractive option.
Some claim piracy is a victimless crime. This is not true. I don’t believe it hurts anyone for me to grab the end of The Good Wife on an illegal site because CBS still inexplicably doesn’t know how to figure out football scheduling decades after it started. But frequently grabbing shows online through less than savory means takes away from not just the big studios and networks, but the working actors, creative team, and even the same viewers who are illegally watching. Don’t understand that last category? I’ll explain.
According to at least one report, HBO’s Game of Thrones was the most pirated show of the year, with the 5.9 million illegal views nearly equaling the 6.1 million that tuned in properly. This is a crying shame.
Besides being an awesome series, it’s also one that deserves to be paid for. With that many people opting out of the subscription price, the budget cannot be nearly what it should be. The production team does a good job with what they have, but it could be better without piracy. There have been memorable sequences from the books slashed by the series because of the prohibitive cost of filming them. Can you imagine if those 5.9 million all signed up for HBO, at least for a couple of months out of the year? Game of Thrones could be a much more faithful adaptation on an even grander scale.
So those who pirate Game of Thrones are hurting themselves. Stop trying to skirt the system, guys! The pirates are taking advantage of all of us who do pay for HBO, and who are stuck subsidizing the series for the rest of the viewers, as well as lowering the amount of money that can be spent making it as good as it can be.
One way HBO could reduce piracy is to offer the episodes for sale on a service such as iTunes or Amazon, or offer online HBOGo subscriptions for sale. However, this is complicated by a number of factors, not least of which is that cable companies have a vested interest in not allowing viewers to get to the shows any way other than the traditional model. Complaining about those cable companies could fill several more columns, HBO needs to break away from its conventional model.
In the end, I hope those who’ve illegally downloaded Game of Thrones episodes feel bad enough to eventually stop doing it. So, let’s make them feel bad for doing it and shame them into wearing the white hat. If you have a friend who steals what you pay for, tell them how angry it makes you.
They are robbing you, and you have every right to smack them around (metaphorically speaking) for it. Our culture is too permissive of this particular sin, and it’s time we stop sitting by and allowing it. Perhaps cutting off fingers for piracy, as Stannis Baratheon did to Davos the Onion Knight, is a little extreme. But speak up. If you see something, say something. (To the individual, anyway; I’m not advocating calling the cops.)
The next time, I want to see Tyrion lead the army in battle, not get knocked out and wake up after the action is over!