By Grayson Walloga
Piracy is once again on the rise. Going into 2021, the number of visits to websites containing pirated media rose 16% from 2020. The “State of the Internet” report released by the cybersecurity firm Akamai recorded 132 billion visits to pirate websites. That number may seem high, but it is nowhere near the 190 billion visits for 2018 or the 206 billion for 2017. It does seem odd that 2020’s numbers were lower than previous years when everyone was trapped in their homes, bored out of their minds looking for any source of entertainment during the COVID 19 lockdown, but there is a good reason for that. Many believe that the ample availability of streaming services caused online piracy to decline.
These services have made it easier for people to legally watch or listen to their favorite media without having to resort to piracy. A piracy report from the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office in 2019 found a 5% decline from 2016 in those aged 15-24 who used unlicensed sources to watch shows or listen to music. Additionally, around one-third of the respondents claimed that their use of the pirated material was unintentional. The pirated music market saw the biggest decline of all the media types, dropping a whole 17% from 2016. It may be enlightening to note that Spotify, a music streaming service with over 82 million tracks, had started to see great financial success around the same time. Apple Music and SoundCloud also entered the fray which gave consumers ample choice on how they wished to legally access extensive libraries of their favorite tunes. Even still, about 1/3 of music consumers still pirate their music.
Most people may think that the primary reason for engaging in online piracy is because people want things for free. While there are certainly people out there with such a philosophy, many others pirate because the content they are seeking is not available on any of their subscription channels or, even worse, not available in their country at all.Teasing Master Takagi-san is a simple, run-of-the-mill high school romance anime that would otherwise be wholly unremarkable if not for how difficult it is to watch the complete series in the United States. There are three seasons of this show. If you wanted to watch all of it (a reasonable request) you would need a subscription to three different streaming services, one for each season. You could technically knock it down to two services if you pay extra for VRV because Crunchyroll (which has season 1 and only season 1) is included within the VRV package.
Some shows from the land of the rising sun are completely unwatchable due to the certain companies going under. For years, the only legal way to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion after ADV Films went out of business in the late 2000s would have been to find an unreasonably priced after-market copy or be lucky enough to already own the DVDs. Alternatively, you could’ve gotten everything in great quality for free by pirating the show online. Even after Netflix purchased the global streaming rights for $3 million and put the whole series on its platform, there was still a compelling reason for long-time fans to continue watching the pirated version instead. Netflix had decided to release its own English dub for the version on its platform. It also changed the subtitles for the original Japanese version which sparked a sizable controversy about how a character’s sexuality seemed to be changed. A similar situation can be found if you wish to watch the original Star Wars trilogy instead of the later version featuring new CGI and musical numbers.
In theory, more streaming services should make it easier for people to legally watch their favorite shows. The problems foreign media face have already been discussed above, but there surely aren’t any issues for domestic media, right? Remember when Friends was still on Netflix? Now the only place to stream it legally is on HBO Max. Oh, you don’t want to pay for another streaming service because you already have Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Paramount+, and Crunchyroll? But you still want to see a sitcom about a group of friends of questionable moral character living in New York? You’ll just have to settle for Seinfeld on Netflix. Unless that gets taken off too. But of course, no show can truly replace another. You want that particular show and not a similar show, or a knock-off of that show, or a show made in the same style, or so on and so forth. Do you dare turn to a life of crime and pirate the show? Piracy is stealing. You wouldn’t steal a car, right?
Does all this mean piracy should be excused? Of course not! But it does mean that certain aspects of why people choose to pirate can be explained and addressed. People are starved for content and are willing to pay a reasonable price. But if they must subscribe to a dozen different streaming services just for access to a handful of shows on each one that may have been edited or changed from their original versions, then these fine people might start searching for less legal alternatives that give them what they want.
 Ernesto Van der Sar, Pirate Site Traffic Surged in 2021, Research Finds, TorrentFreak (Jan. 27, 2022), https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-site-traffic-surged-in-2021-research-finds-220127/.
 Corinne Relchert, Piracy ‘significantly’ declining due to availability of streaming services, ZDNet (Nov. 20, 2016), https://www.zdnet.com/article/piracy-significantly-declining-due-to-availability-of-streaming-services/.
 Chris Cooke, Online piracy is declining among young internet users, CMU (Oct. 31, 2019), https://completemusicupdate.com/article/online-piracy-is-declining-among-young-internet-users/.
 See Jeff Parsons, History of Spotify: how the Swedish streaming company changed the music industry, Mirror (Apr. 3, 2018), https://www.mirror.co.uk/tech/history-spotify-how-swedish-streaming-12291542.
 See How Spotify came to be worth billions, BBC News (Mar. 1, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-43240886.
 Damjan Jugovic Spajic, Piracy Is Back: Piracy Statistics for 2022, DataProt (Mar. 8, 2022), https://dataprot.net/statistics/piracy-statistics/.
 Teasing Master Takagi-San, JustWatch, https://www.justwatch.com/us/tv-show/teasing-master-takagi-san (last visited Mar. 24, 2022).
 Ellation, https://vrv.co/watch/GY192N0VR (last visited Mar. 24, 2022).
 Eric Vilas-Boas, Anime Classic Neon Genesis Evangelion Is Finally on Netflix. So Why Are Some Fans Upset?, Vulture (June 27, 2019), https://www.vulture.com/2019/06/neon-genesis-evangelion-netflix-controversy-explained-guide.html.
 Bradley Russell, How to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion in order – including the Rebuild movies, GamesRadar+ (Jan. 24, 2022), https://www.gamesradar.com/neon-genesis-evangelion-order-netflix-end-of-evangelion-rebuild-movies/.
 Vilas-Boas, supra note 14.
 Mr Sunday Movies, Star Wars 1997 Special Edition Retrospective, YouTube (Mar. 13, 2022), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obumGmfRHuc.
 Liam Barker, Where to watch Friends: Stream every season online, TechRadar (Sept. 16, 2021), https://www.techradar.com/news/where-to-watch-friends.
Image source: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-pirate-means-web-content/119526/