Video Piracy: Pirated Content Website Traffic Rises by 12% Reaching 141 Billion

Video Piracy is impacting creators worldwide and streaming platforms are seeing their revenue fall. To tackle this issue a collaborative approach is required.

A recent study by MUSO and Kearney found that the number of visits to websites offering pirated content rose by 12% in 2023, reaching a total of 141 billion. This trend is worrying for the film and TV industries, as well as for streaming platforms, as it directly impacts their revenue. At the heart of this issue lies a fundamental tension between the viewers who want content to be affordable and creators who want a fair return on their investment. In this article, we look at how prevalent video piracy is, the impact it has on creators, and whether OTT or streaming platforms are doing enough to stop it.  

The Prevalence Of Video Piracy

Despite numerous studies on video piracy, pinning down its global, national, and regional impact is difficult. The reason is the lack of a consistent method to track the problem and the ethical and legal considerations while doing so. Nonetheless, we have discovered a few outstanding studies done on video piracy that shows how prevalent the issue is. 

  • A study in 2015 showed more than 1 million pieces of premium video content being made available on pirate sites and warned that video piracy was a growing problem. Torrent Freak reported in 2014 that the season’s finale of Game of Thrones was downloaded more than 1.5 million times. This specific example highlights the popularity of pirated content. A single show can have millions of illegal downloads, showing the potential audience pirates can reach.

  • Another study conducted by the European Intellectual Property Office revealed the impact of piracy across member states. The result revealed that about 13.7 million people across the EU are using illegal pirate services. The researchers discovered that the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain have the highest percentage of video piracy within the population. Millions are actively choosing unauthorized access, and some regions seem to have a stronger culture of piracy than others. This is concerning at it suggests a potential gap in legal streaming services and a lack of awareness people have about the consequences of piracy.

  • Adding to this, a study conducted by the Asia Video Industry Coalition Association in 2024 showed that piracy increased from 52% in 2023 to 59% in 2024 in Asia Pacific. This statistic adds another layer of concern, highlighting a substantial rise in video piracy in a specific region.

These numbers are scary, but they're probably just a tiny fraction of the real problem. Piracy hurts creators and the entire industry, so figuring out how it affects the content creator and how to stop it is super important. 

How are Video Pirates Making Money?

One of the most common ways for pirates to earn money is through pay-per-click advertising. Every time a user clicks on a pirated site to watch a movie, the pirates earn. The more malicious pirates, however, work along with cybercriminals who embed malware within the site. 

The malware is designed to receive all the user's personal information, which is then used to facilitate data theft. Many piracy sites and torrent files contain malware that can infect a user's device when accessed or downloaded. This can lead to data breaches, identity theft, and other serious security issues for the consumer. When doing this, pirates receive a significant payout. 

The Impact on Creator’s Revenue 

Filmmakers, musicians, YouTubers, and Illustrators —creators across the board are having their work stolen, and their ability to make a living out of what they love seems challenging. There’s a loss of revenue, creativity, and job insecurity. 

Let’s look at Brendon Clement, an Emmy Award-winning videographer whose videos were pirated by 60,000 Facebook pages. He quotes, Some of these pages have millions of subscribers and followers, some have zero. But when you start dividing your views by 60,000, you just can’t make money. You can’t grow an audience, and your content is ruined by overexposure.” 

Clement also said that scammers create dozens of fake YouTube channels, pump out stolen videos, and earn from ads before the original creator even knows their work is pirated. It's a systematic failure, and creators like Brendon are the victims. With piracy in place, it becomes very hard for creators like him to make a living, whose entire revenue depends upon making videos.

Another filmmaker James Cullen, says that it is “stealing the work of filmmakers and many creators out there”. Piracy will push the creators to not make content because they can’t afford to keep creating if their work is constantly being ripped off. 

A Threat To Creativity 

Piracy is a threat to creativity for comic artist  Colleen Doran who made her comic series available for free online. She says, “Despite assurances that the many sites pirating my work were doing me a favour with their “free advertising”, I virtually made no money’’. This means people who might have visited Colleen's site and clicked on ads (giving her money) can just see her work for free elsewhere. Colleen says this lost income hurts her ability to pay bills, like health insurance. She points out that everyone gets paid for making the things that we create (manufacturers of computers, electricity) except the creators themselves. 

The real problem here is the idea that everything should be free. This leads to a race to the bottom, where creators are left with nothing and quality content no longer exists. 

Piracy Breeds Job Insecurity 

Beyond revenue loss, piracy leads to job insecurity. With uncertain budgets and the amount of content made available for free, studios become more cautious about launching and investing in any project, leading to fewer opportunities for writers, directors, and other creative professionals. Eventually, what we see is that talented individuals are even afraid to enter the field of video creation or any other profession. It's a vicious cycle that ultimately hurts everyone—creators, viewers, and the entire entertainment industry.

Are The Measures Adopted By Streaming Platforms Enough To Reduce Piracy?

Although streaming platforms have their own set of safety measures, they are not enough to prevent piracy. Gabe Newell, president and founder of the video game company Valve Corporation states that piracy is a service issue. Gabe talks about how the video streaming industry should focus on delivering higher quality content and better service than what pirated sites usually offer. 

The OTT services have already been facing challenges in finding a solution to account fraud sharing, takeover, password sharing, and identity theft. According to Parks Associates, $9.1 billion was lost in revenues due to account sharing and data piracy in 2019 alone, with about $12.5 billion predicted to be lost by 2024. 

With multiple streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Hotstar and many others, viewers are usually confused about what to choose and what not to. Viewers don’t get all the content in a single platform and hence they have to migrate to multiple platforms which costs them a lot. The high pricing point set up by each OTT platform also becomes the main reason for viewers to move to pirated sites to download or watch the movies. Streaming services should put all their shows in one place, to make it easy for consumers to use or offer a wide range of content within their libraries. 

OTT providers should even focus on lowering their pricing point and offer movies and series in better quality. Too many choices existing in the market confuse viewers and push them towards "free" (but illegal) alternatives. A robust legal framework is also necessary. Also, what is required is more awareness regarding piracy and the need to report such practices by content creators.

A Collaborative Approach 

Ultimately, what is also required is a collaborative effort. Streaming platforms need to invest in more stringent anti-piracy measures, explore different monetization models, and focus more on the user experience. Creators, on the other hand, can take a broader approach by exploring and launching their own VOD platforms or partnering with established players to reach wider audiences and gain greater control over their work. Viewers, meanwhile, need to understand the impact of piracy on independent creators and support them by subscribing to legal streaming services or VOD platforms. Piracy is a tricky problem that requires careful consideration and solution. If creators, platforms, and viewers all work together, we can build a creative system that benefits everyone equally. 

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