Can piracy be a good thing?

An opinion exists that piracy of copyrighted material can be a good thing. Piracy, by design, has a major defect;...

An opinion exists that piracy of copyrighted material can be a good thing. Piracy, by design, has a major defect; the word itself implies unlawful looting, often from unsuspecting passers-by or rightful heirs or owners. Is this always the case, however, with digital piracy?

With sites to download movie torrents being a major source of film viewing in international markets, even helping boost film popularity (especially for films banned in certain regions), one has to concede that these sites are now a mainstay of the film industry.

Piracy, in all its forms, is most definitely illegal; however, the legality of digital matters continues to be a widely debated topic and, as with most things, can still bring about some sort of by-product that could benefit businesses. In many cases, these are relied upon (such as for contingency plans) by companies.

In fact, there have been studies that show piracy has had a negligible effect on the industries at all – the real driving factor being digitalization, period, that companies failed to catch up to in time. In fact, people sharing files online were also the ones spending more on content overall!

The notorious leak that changed nothing

In 2014, a group with alleged ties to North Korea protested the imminent release of the action-adventure-comedy The Interview.

Their chosen method, however, was unique and largely unprecedented. They chose to target the production company, Sony, and deter them by leaking a large dump of their personal files, including five unreleased and upcoming films.

While Sony set aside $15 million to deal with the legal and security ramifications, the effect on the business that the movies actually did was none too alarming. The biggest of the titles, a Brad Pitt vehicle called Fury, was downloaded over 3.5 million times in just five days – and yet went on to become a hit with an 85-million-dollar gross.

Fighting for an audience

A paper entitled Digital Music Consumption on the Internet: Evidence from Clickstream Data polled over 16,000 regular music fans and formed a positive correlation between those downloading their music illegally online, yet still contributing the most revenue.

This raises an important point, one of audience engagement. The ‘pirates’ still spent more actual money on their music. The same people wanted music by both avenues – the end goal was not to harm the music industry or the artists, just to get their music quickly and easily.

However, not all business might have customers as passionate as music fans. With software, for example, the competition of alternatives is something that companies might take as a priority. On television, a billion-dollar industry, the stakes are even higher.

With nearly 500 scripted TV series on the air in the United States in the year 2018, it stands to reason that the average viewer might be a valuable commodity to each of those shows in terms of fighting for his attention.

In such a climate, torrenting shows might just be a very viable way of getting your show ‘out there’. But don’t just take our word for it.

Game of Thrones and the binge-watching model

Game of Thrones, airing on the subscription-based HBO Network, is the most-torrented TV series globally. You would think this hits their viewing numbers, but Director David Petrarca disagrees, claiming it makes the show ‘thrive’. Backing him up, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes is on record stating that the piracy leads to more paying subscriptions as well.

In fact, the second season of the show premiered to a massive spike in viewing numbers, owing to the positive buzz generated in between seasons while the show was off the air; fueled largely, of course, by torrenting.

Even Netflix, the world’s largest streaming platform, exists on the back of the binge-watching culture cultivated by the ease of simply downloading a season of television all at once and watching it at your own leisure and pace, something the traditional model of television never allowed.

Currently, the last and final season of GoT can be accessed to everyone too. Find out how to watch Game of Thrones legally online no matter where you would be.


In fact, Oxford economist Karen Croxson raises an excellent point, arguing that business software companies are fully aware that the students who might torrent their software would never have bought the product anyway, or had any need to – and the customers who do buy it are not the ones tech-savvy enough (or are too far removed from the Internet culture) to torrent. Thus, these companies don’t worry too much about it in any case.

None of this is to say you should go and pirate your heart out – what’s illegal remains illegal. However, what we discussed here is that the actual effect of it on business might be overall meaningless. Whether or not you engage in piracy is up to you!

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