Piracy is theft

  • TECH
  • Sunday, 21 May 2017

Illegal streaming, downloads and hardware could potentially prove disastrous to consumers. — 123rf.com

Illegal streaming may be convenient, but at the end of the day, it is still illegal.

SOME consumers believe that streaming or downloading content that is illegally ­available online is a victimless crime.

What they seem to forget is that it is a crime.

According to the “Global Piracy Insights Report 2017” by Muso, a London-based piracy tracking company, over 179 billion visits to piracy sites were recorded globally last year.

The study tracked global traffic from 23,000 of the largest piracy sites and 200 ­million devices.

With over 20.3 billion visits to pirate sites, the United States ranks first in online piracy, with Russia (14.1 billion) and India (9.7 ­billion) trailing behind.

The actual “cost” to the film and entertainment industry is difficult to pinpoint, although the oft-cited 2006 study by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), conducted by the Institute for Policy Innovation, estimated that film piracy sets back the US economy alone a whopping US$20.5bil (RM88.7bil) annually.

“The effect of online piracy on both the film and television industry is significant. Consumers looking to watch a film or ­television show online will often turn to ­illegal websites, rather than to those offering authorised versions.

“These illegal websites are making a lot of money from advertisers who frequent the sites because of the high volume of ­infringing traffic. This revenue should be going to the filmmakers and legitimate rights holders,” says a Motion Picture Association spokesperson from its Asia Pacific ­headquarters in Singapore.

But illegal streaming, downloads and hardware, don’t just harm relevant media companies; they could potentially prove ­disastrous to consumers as well.

An article in the Business Insider states that a joint study conducted by the KU Leuven University in Belgium and the Stony Brook University in the US found that around half of the ads hosted on illegal sports streaming sites are malicious.

The research, posted on the KU Leuven’s official website, claims that browsers like Google Chrome and Safari were more ­targeted than the rest, and in some cases, they found scripts that detected ad-blocking software and tried to bypass it.

Issue at hand

The Global Piracy report indicates that entertainment and media companies should be vigilant against unlawful streaming sites. These websites illegally host full movies or TV shows, and generate revenue from ads.

Over 107 billion visits to these sites were tracked last year, mostly via desktop and with direct traffic to the websites.

“Rogue sites that specialise in online ­piracy are commercial ventures, which means that one effective way to combat them is to cut off their money supply,” says a Google ­spokesperson.

But digital and content piracy are not ­contained to just desktop and mobile devices.

While the possession of set-top or multi-­media boxes is not illegal, streaming channels without the approval of the copyright holders is an offence in Malaysia.

According to Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission’s network ­security and enforcement sector chief officer Zulkarnain Mohd Yasin, the local market for illegal streaming services is probably wide because Malaysia currently has 20 million active Internet users.

During an interview with Astro Arena, Zulkarnain also stated that many Malaysians are still ­unaware that creating, utilising and selling illegal streaming services and set-top boxes is against the law. Under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, an ­unlicensed service provider or person who possesses illegal ­network service, on ­conviction, is liable to be fined.

“For example, if the user is found guilty under Section 232, the fine is RM300,000; under Section 236 the fine is RM500,000 and under Section 239 it is RM100,000,” he said.

Zulkarnain reminded the viewers that many filmmakers, service providers and ­production houses are financially invested in the industry, and if the illegal streaming and downloading continues, it would affect the industry as a whole.

“We would see a decrease in the production of local content, and this would in turn affect our local industry,” he added.

MPA stresses that online piracy affects ­people who are working in the industry.

“The film industry supports the jobs of thousands of people both in Malaysia and around the world. These are real people with real jobs, such as the student who serves ­popcorn at the local cinema, or dedicated ­producers who need to prove to their ­investors that their valuable investment will not go to waste if the film is pirated – which is often the case,” says the MPA spokesperson.

Fighting back

Earlier this year, the ­government in Britain reached a truce with tech giants Google and Microsoft that allows its ­copyright body to monitor the search results they provide for illegal websites.

According to The Telegraph, under the new voluntary code, Google and Microsoft have agreed to “demote websites that have repeatedly been served with ­copyright infringement notices, so that they do not appear on the first page for ­common searches”.

The search engines’ autocomplete features are required to remove terms that would lead users to pirate websites.

As early as 2010, Google began making substantial investments in streamlining the copyright removal process for search results. These improved procedures allow Google to process copyright removal requests for search results at the rate of millions per week with an average turnaround time of less than six hours.

Meeting demand

“Piracy often arises when consumer demand goes unmet by legitimate supply. The best way to battle piracy is with better, more convenient, legitimate alternatives to piracy, which can do far more than attempts at enforcement can,” says Google’s spokesperson.

Legal streaming services available in Malaysia include dimsum, Astro Go, iflix and Netflix.

MPA believes that curbing piracy requires a multi-pronged approach. “This includes awareness campaigns to encourage audiences to access content legally; enforcement actions to take down major pirate operations; ­working with ISPs to block access to major pirate websites; voluntary agreements between industry, government and the ­advertising community to cut off advertising revenue flowing to infringing websites; and reducing the availability of set-top boxes which have pre-installed pirate apps,” says the MPA spokesperson.

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