We may be in the height of the dry season in Cape Town but you probably wouldn’t have guessed by looking at the dam…
If you’re in the business of pirating your favourite TV shows, you’ve probably found it increasingly difficult to do so. Around the world, governments, ISPs and tech giants have been cracking down on sites allowing for the downloading and streaming of illicit material.
Popular streaming and torrent sites have either died and fallen prey to lesser-than copycats (like Putlocker) or have simply lost all functionality (isoHunt). Former trusty servers like GorillaVid have fallen to the wayside, and every day new (and seemingly slower) ones are cropping up.
Other manners of copyright infringement have also been falling: the web’s most popular stream ripping site YouTube-MP3 (that allowed users to rip audio from any YouTube video) has agreed to shut down after a lawsuit from record labels.
In South Africa, the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT) has been working with ISPs to target BitTorrent use in the country.
The crackdown makes sense: piracy is illegal. It takes money from industries that need profits to keep creating and gives it back in ad revenue to those who did nothing but copy someone else’s work. But very few people are pirating content out of malice.
The millions of people expected to illegally obtain HBO’s latest season of Game of Thrones are not doing it to spite the show’s creators — most just want to keep up with a show they enjoy.
The crackdown makes sense: piracy is illegal
So what drives people to piracy? Why won’t they support the creators whose work they enjoy? And is the burden on consumers to stick to their morals (despite knowing they would download a car if it were possible) or should entertainment industries be held accountable for alienating their target audience?
The biggest and most obvious reason for piracy is convenience. Consumers will always take the route that does them the least harm, be it in time or money — and piracy offers an easy out for both.
For internet users with uncapped lines, streaming and downloading costs them nothing — a price tag with which the entertainment industry will never be able to compete. It also offers near immediate releases of films and shows worldwide, meaning that no one in South Africa need wait two months for something already released in the US.
This allows viewers to board social media hype trains as they happen, while also eliminating the fear of spoiler-filled browsing. It could also mean keeping up with favourite actors or directors even if their content never makes it to the country.
The inconvenience of illegally streaming comes in with slow load times, dodgy virus-filled ads and the fact that your views remain off-the-grid (shows watched mostly via illicit means will therefore have less chance of renewal).
In this regard, platforms like Netflix are more convenient: even on 4Mbps lines, buffer time is often nonexistent, it’s ad-free, and your views could encourage Netflix to keep a show alive. It also (mostly) releases shows globally at once, meaning any South African with the time and willpower can finish the show as quickly as anyone else.
Of course, there are catches. The platform costs money. While it isn’t too pricey for people who already have uncapped lines, it’s still more than free. It also doesn’t have as extensive a library as illegal sites.
Streaming rights are split between platforms like Hulu, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, and Disney’s recently announced platform due to launch in 2019. None of these are available legally in South Africa. Instead, locals only options are Showmax and Netflix, splitting libraries almost down the middle.
If a user pays for Showmax for Game of Thrones, they won’t get Netflix’s Stranger Things. If they want Netflix’s The Crown, they won’t get Showmax’s War & Peace.
Some films — like old classics — aren’t on any platform thanks to copyright that was never written with streaming in mind. All of these are available illegally as a collective on multiple sites.
The entertainment industry now has to prove why it’s worth paying for
It’s also important to remember that as more and more generations grow up with the likes of Limewire, MegaUpload, The Pirate Bay, and more recently Google Drive, not paying for the likes of music and TV will seem more and more commonplace.
The entertainment industry now has to prove why it’s worth paying for; it needs to keep up with its consumer base which finds it more convenient to pirate than to invest in its objectively superior product (in all but library and cost).
If illegal sites have proven anything, it’s that there is no stopping piracy as a whole. Giants may fall, but there will always be new sites eager to take their place, because people want them. The demand exists.
The entertainment industry has an edge, though: it controls the content, and can provide the best product. Cracking down on piracy will only do so much; allowing global audiences a chance to watch the same content as the US, expanding their libraries and making their cost worth it will do so much more.
Until then, people will stick with slow buffer times and annoying ads if it means they can get exactly what they want, when they want, at no charge at all.