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. [zipfinder] Image by JD Hancock/Flickr We know Internet piracy is not a victimless crime, yet most people who commit online theft never see the effects of their actions, nor are they directly affected themselves. There are, however, subtle ways pirating can cost you money in the long run. Pirating by the Numbers Each year, the amount of online piracy rises substantially with over 95 percent of all music downloads being performed illegally. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, international piracy drained $1 trillion dollars from the global economy while eliminating over 2.5 million jobs. An estimated 327 million Internet users engage in infringement of online content at least once a month. Illegal movie downloads are so significant that Netflix monitors them to determine which movies to add to its programming options. Clearly, illegally obtaining entertainment and software online has become a significant part of Internet culture. How does this affect you? If you’re searching for a way that you’re directly affected by others pirating, there’s not going to be a glaring answer. And the days of worrying about being hauled off to jail for illegally downloading the new Maroon 5 song are past, so that’s not the direct threat either. There are few instances in which someone has pirated content and experienced a tangible cost because of it. Aside from losing a lawsuit, which can cost upwards of $675,000, there are not many ways in which you will lose a substantial amount by illegally pursuing online content. But you can certainly see the far-reaching impacts on consumers. When you download something illegally, it removes income from the creator and distributors’ pockets, regardless of how miniscule an amount. This leads to employees losing their jobs due to lack of sales in their business, reducing these people’s spending power and financial contributions to the economy. A lack of spending causes prices to rise to make up the difference, which means you have to spend more money for basic supplies. Beyond this, illegally downloading content over an unsecured server opens you up to the risk of getting malware and other harmful programs on your computer. This isn’t only detrimental to your computer and the files on it, but you’ll likely end up spending money to have the harmful software removed. What about the future? Most content creators have little recourse when it comes to pursuing people who pirate their content. As the Internet expands and new software programs emerge, there is not much to be done to control Internet piracy. If bit torrents and similar download services were shut down, some crafty user would develop another way to download things illegally. Just take a look at the history of music downloading services, dating back to Napster. Most businesses already recognize this, and have adapted accordingly. Sites like Netflix have used lowering prices and convenience to combat piracy. Streaming music sites like Pandora and Spotify made music more accessible and piracy unnecessary for many people, while iTunes provides individual songs or full albums at affordable rates. In some ways, piracy helped people save money by forcing industries to lower prices. Does the fact that businesses are adjusting to accommodate online piracy make it right? Probably not. But whether or not it is morally acceptable has clearly had no impact on preventing people from doing it.
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