2016 has been a terrible year for Internet users who pirate content from prominent torrent sites.
This year saw three of the 10 biggest torrent sites in the world taken offline – including the king of piracy portals, KickassTorrents.
KickassTorrents went offline after US authorities arrested the owner of the site, Artem Vaulin of Ukraine, in July.
Vaulin was arrested in Poland after a US federal agent posed as an advertiser wishing to purchase services on KickassTorrents.
Following a payment, the site’s bank account was traced – which helped authorities in locating their suspect.
Other popular torrent sites which have gone down in 2016 include Torrentz and TorrentHound – the latter voluntarily shutting down its operation.
Pressure from Hollywood
Torrent sites which share copyrighted material – mostly movies and TV series – have come under increased legal pressure from film studios and television networks in recent years.
Faced with multi-million dollar lawsuits if tracked down, torrent site owners often choose to take their site offline when confronted by copyright holders.
The Yify torrent group, and its torrent site YTS, faced this situation in 2015.
YTS was well-known in torrenting circles and praised for its professional layout and content.
Users could often choose between 720p and 1080p content, which was encoded to keep files sizes small.
The site also linked to trailers, movies reviews, and descriptions of a title you were interested in – and was reported to receive millions of page views per day.
Unfortunately for its users, its founder was tracked down by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) in New Zealand and given two choices – shut down your operation or face us in court.
He chose to close shop.
Put it all on one platform
Despite big torrent players going down, pirating media content online still has an army of supporters.
Sites like The Pirate Bay continue to operate, providing an array of movies, TV series, adult content, and music.
One of the driving forces behind torrent sites is that users want a single platform from which they can access all the media content they desire.
While “getting stuff for free” is often the reason people think users pirate, it is not always the case.
Sections of online pirates argue that if there was a single legal platform from which all the movie, TV series, and music content they wanted was available, they would pay for the service.
While services like DStv and Netflix have made huge progress in providing content to users in a timely and easy-to-consume manner, there are still perceived problems in terms of what they are licensed to distribute.
Pirate sites give users access to multiple forms of content on a single portal.
Netflix provides TV series and movies, but only those which it is licensed to. It has no rights to Game of Thrones, for example.
Netflix also does not provide a music service.
DStv faces similar challenges, along with the fact that not all its shows are available on-demand.
Acquiring and producing content is extremely expensive for players like DStv and Netflix, as is maintaining their services – which have to meet service-level agreements, copyright holder requirements, and abide by laws laid down by the countries in which they operate.
Pirate sites are not bound by these formalities and can therefore offer a similar product, for free, with relative ease.
You get what you pay for
DStv and Netflix still have drawcards which keep subscribers coming back, though.
The satellite service’s SuperSport channels are world-class and offer live sports coverage which will satisfy the majority of fans.
Netflix, like DStv, also guarantees the quality of its content – which can often be a problem with media from pirate sites.
The resolution of a movie, what language the dialogue is in, and whether there are foreign-language subtitles you cannot remove are common concerns when looking for a torrent file to download.
With paid-for services, users know that the content will work how they expect it to the first time they hit play.
The fight continues
While the pros and cons of piracy may be up for debate, its legality is not – as indicated by the arrest of Vaulin and the voluntary shutdown of YTS and TorrentHound.
Online streaming services will also continue to make progress on what they offer their audiences, which will decrease the need for users to torrent media from piracy sites.
For niche shows or movies not available on any local platforms, though, pirates will argue that torrenting is still the only way to access the content they want to watch.