A leaked memo from Sony Entertainment and Warner Brothers contains some interesting information on their perception of how Internet speeds affect piracy. The two studios engaged in a study that specifically targeted Google Fiber users in the Kansas City area, as opposed to other high-speed networks and their users. We should note that we don’t have any insight into the study’s methodology. As such, we’ll discuss the study findings in terms of what the studios believe, rather than what is absolute fact.

ARRRRRR!

According to the study, the 37 percent of Kansas City residents have pirated online content. And of that number, 24 percent cited a fast Internet connection as their top reason for doing so—more than any other motivating factor. And on the face of it, that result seems more like causation than mere correlation. But there’s a problem with that assumption: the study used St. Louis residents as a control group, and that area doesn’t have Google Fiber. Yet 29 percent of that group admitted to connection speed as their motivating factor, suggesting that Google Fiber itself doesn’t cause or enable piracy. The studios, however, didn’t come to the same conclusion.

Have You Ever Considered Piracy? You’d Make a Wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts.

Among those who don’t already pirate online content, some 26 percent of them are “likely” to pirate once they get Google Fiber. Supposedly, 31 percent of the population at large engages in online piracy, and upgrading to Google Fiber would add 18 percent to that number, meaning nearly half of everyone would pirate content if we got Google Fiber. That number seems awfully high, but remember, our context here is simply what the studios believe, so we’ll go with it.

And if these new pirates act like current pirates, the studios estimate that they’ll lose an additional $1 billion in revenue, bringing the total cost of online movie piracy to over $2.75 billion. That’s a lot, but perhaps we should congratulate their restraint—the RIAA once sued file sharing site LimeWire for $75 trillion, which is more money than exists in the entire world. Admittedly, they do have reason to worry: 2014 saw the lowest movie theater attendance on this continent in two decades.

Hang the Code, and Hang the Rules. They’re More Like Guidelines Anyway.

But just as increased Internet speeds do make it easier to pirate online video, they also make it easier to watch that same content legally. The study indicates 39 percent of those surveyed say they’d be more likely to watch paid subscription streaming services with Google Fiber, and 34 percent would purchase or rent more streaming video. However, the study ties no dollar amount to this potential increase in studio revenue. That suggests that studios are more focused on the potential risks of fiber Internet than the rewards.

A Pirate’s Life for Me

As a content creator myself, I sympathize with efforts to curb online piracy, but Internet speeds will continue to increase whether the studios like it or not. Even if the studios don’t like the idea of high-speed Internet, they can’t stop it, so they’d better figure out how to make their content easily accessible yet still profitable if they want to mitigate the effects of piracy.

HBO did just that. Perhaps because “Game of Thrones” wasn’t available via Netflix or other streaming sites, that show was the most pirated TV program of 2014. It’ll be interesting to see whether HBO’s standalone online streaming service, launching in 2015, will reduce that level of piracy.

We don’t encourage piracy, of course, but we do encourage Internet speeds fast enough to support watching online video content. So, if you’re looking for a better experience with legal online streaming, take a look at the plans available in your area.

Or view all providers

Image by JD Hancock/Flickr