Whether it’s national organisations like SAFACT or big companies like M-Net, the battle against online piracy is a prominent one.
The move to shut down online piracy websites and services has been driven by hits like Game of Thrones – which reportedly had pirated copies of its episodes downloaded over one billion times in 2017.
With titles like Game of Thrones bringing in large revenues for their owners, and costing a packet to make, it is easy to see why online piracy is being combated.
But just how much content is available online, and is it of a good enough quality to divert users from accessing paid-for services like Netflix or DStv?
Piracy in South Africa
According to Amazon’s Alexa website statistics for South Africa, two of the top 50 sites accessed by South Africans are known piracy sites.
- The Pirate Bay – No. 11
- YTS.am (YTS.ag/YIFY) – No. 19
For the non-pirates, The Pirate Bay is considered the king of torrent sites.
It provides a searchable database of Magnet links – also referred to as torrent links – which allows user to download movies, software, and more via a BitTorrent client.
At the time of writing, The Pirate Bay’s top content – based on the numbers of seeders (the people sharing the file) – included hits like Black Panther and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
As with most pirated content, the newer the original property is, the less likely you are to find high-quality copies for torrenting.
As content is launched on DVD or streaming services, however, it is ripped and posted online.
For example, the version of Black Panther at the top of The Pirate Bay’s movie chart features a video resolution 720 x 320, and was posted at the end of February 2018.
By comparison, a popular copy of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, posted in December 2017, features a resolution of 1,280 x 542.
The Pirate Bay offers links to the latest movies, as shown above, as well as episodes from series like The Walking Dead and The Flash, music, audiobooks, PC and console games, software, and ebooks.
It is for this reason that rights holders in South Africa view it as a major threat.
YTS.am – known as YTS.ag or YIFY – is a knock-off of the original YIFY group.
The torrent site took the original YIFY site’s place after it was taken offline, and offers magnet links to the latest movies.
Unlike most piracy sites, content on YTS is curated to ensure only high-quality copies are distributed.
The site offers movies in either 720p or 1080p, which means its movie links are typically only up long after competing piracy sites.
Another standout feature is the layout of the site.
When a user clicks on a movie, via a large thumbnail image and title, they are taken to the movie’s page. This provides links to the relevant torrent files, movie trailers, IMDb scores, and a synopsis of the film.
Its high-quality inventory and user-friendly layout means it is viewed as a direct threat to content rights holders.
An avenue for copyright infringement which is more difficult to assess is peer-to-peer (P2P) streaming services, which are predominantly used to watch sports matches for free.
P2P streaming is a popular method for watching big football matches or pay-per-view boxing events, and is often done using an “acestream”.
Acestream content IDs – long alphanumeric codes – are shared among users who then create a P2P network to share a broadcast.
Like downloading a torrent, an acestream feed requires a client, with Ace Player, Soda Player, and Kodi popular choices.
Once the acestream content ID is placed in the client, the stream can be viewed.
Reddit is a popular platform for the sharing of acestream IDs, which are often posted just before the event starts and are removed after it is finished.
For sports rights holders, “illegal” online live streaming like this is difficult to combat.
It is also a different threat compared to torrents, as a rights holder’s opportunity to generate revenue from a broadcast is in a small window – when the event is live.
Recent reports state that online piracy is more popular than ever, and with the wide array of options available to users it is easy to see why.
It is also clear to see why rights holders are adamant piracy websites must be shut down, with their potential financial losses substantial.