By Ian Noble, director, DiCopSys
The growth in illegal downloads of TV programmes, if left unchecked, will lead to a world without the ability to fund creativity and a TV output of constant repeats – like watching an endless Dave channel. Alongside the TV production companies, actors and performers will be hit as the money to fund new productions dries up and global syndications become unviable.
A study found last year that there were 54 million illegal downloads of TV programmes in three months alone. Inevitably, this activity is not across the board of broadcast content. The fantastically popular fantasy series Game of Thrones is the most illegally-downloaded TV programme internationally this year, accounting for a quarter of all pirated downloads. Its season finale became the most pirated show in history, estimated at 7.5 million downloads.
Game of Thrones is not alone. Other top pirate targets are Dr Who and Top Gear which means that the pirates are creaming off the most popular, and thereby the most lucrative, of TV offerings. This has the potential to seriously undermine syndication deals, television advertising and DVD sales.
Working as I do in the anti-piracy business protecting digital assets for TV, film, music and publishing companies, I regularly come across incidents of pirated TV programmes available the same day they were first broadcast. Anyone with a digital receiver on their laptop can record a television programme and upload it to a server within hours.
This is a worldwide problem which is also prevalent across Europe. Netflix, which launched in September in France, is already facing savage competition in a country where 13.2 million people visit a site offering pirated video content at least once a month. This is a 16 per cent increase in five years. As the ‘download generation’ – which believes that all internet content should be free – become parents, exponential growth of TV piracy can be predicted.
So, in this doomsday scenario, what can be done? Is this an industry problem or a government and law enforcement problem? I believe it’s a bit of both. The industry needs to work together to adopt processes that make piracy more difficult to profit from, and governments worldwide need to crack down on the ready availability of domain names, which enable pirates to close one site and open another within minutes.
From the industry viewpoint, worldwide simultaneous broadcast of popular shows (and film releases) immediately makes piracy pointless. Added to that, legal resources need to be much more widely available. Research tells us that if someone tries and fails three times to find pirated content, they will go to a legal site and buy it. The BBC has led the way with iPlayer which, unfortunately, works against the corporation because of its unique licence-funded position. Elsewhere, however, making broadcast content readily available in a legal format will benefit TV companies.
Governments need to negotiate a global approach such as domain name licensing and rights of seizure. Domain management is a way of dealing with the problem because domains are jurisdiction-based whereas communications are global. Currently, removal of infringing sites is patchy; it’s relatively easy to achieve in the UK, less so in the Netherlands, Cyprus and the Middle East, which is why so many pirate servers are based there.
All sides in the piracy war must work together using a policy of Search, Cease and Desist. Our Open DCS system is free to use and will record, send DMCA take down notices and monitor take down of any copyright infringements. For a small charge of between two pence and 15 pence for a 200-website search, users can purchase ‘search credits’ to enable them to find infringements more easily. The system enables the recording of data to pass to enforcement agencies.
It’s my belief that Europe should lead the way and, as the pirates find Europe too difficult a battle ground and move elsewhere, the rest of the world will follow suit.