The New York Times has an interesting piece about Hana Beshara, who ran pirate web site and chat community NinjaVideo from 2008 to 2010 until she was arrested and served 16 months in prison. Beshara still doesn’t believe she did anything wrong.

Her position isn’t exactly helped by the fact that the site made about $500,000, of which she kept nearly half, but Beshara said for her it was more about being part of the online community than about the money.

The story takes a reasonably balanced look at Internet piracy these days, mainly in terms of music and movies but it could apply just as well to e-books. It seems that piracy isn’t so much about just getting stuff for free anymore.

There is another obstacle to stopping illegal downloads, said Andre Swanston, the chief executive of Tru Optik, the media analytics firm. People want access to everything, anytime, and there is little to stop them from having it. “Even if you added Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, Sony Crackle and everything else combined, that is still less content available legally than illegally,” he said. “The popularity of piracy has nothing to do with cost — it is all about access.”

Complex exclusivity agreements between networks and streaming sites govern when popular television shows are available. But people are not always willing to hop among a streaming service, a site or an app to watch different shows. Mr. Swanston gave the example of how ABC in January started requiring people to verify that they had a cable subscription to watch its shows on Hulu. Users either didn’t have the necessary information or declined to go the extra step, it seems, because the rate of piracy for “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a network drama, shot up 300 percent.

I can see where they’re coming from. I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime (well, when I can afford to resubscribe to Prime again), but there’s still a lot more stuff I can’t watch than I can. Indeed, it’s possible the existence of these services may help promote piracy by putting customers in the mindset that they should be entitled to pay a monthly fee and then watch whatever they want for no additional charge. It’s not a matter of not wanting to spend money in my case—heck, I just dropped $50 on a USB TV tuner so I could watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. directly off the air instead of waiting until it shows up on Hulu the next morning—but what I want just isn’t available.

That’s something that studios, record labels, and publishers are going to have to grasp. If the customer wants something badly enough, they’ll feel entitled to take it. You might want to get out in front of them and that way at least you’ll make some money out of it.


  1. Piracy isn’t exactly instant gratification…
    Clicking on a Netflix or Hulu Plus streaming show is instant.
    Waiting on a download that can take hours or days instant.

    Some pirates are lazy.
    Some pirates are cheap.
    But a lot of piracy is simply lack of access and lost sales.
    HBO acknowledges it when confronted with Game of Thrones piracy numbers.
    Their business model acknowledges and expects it as the price of maintaining their high-priced subscription service and Disk set sales.

    Others don’t have that good of an excuse.

  2. Yes, those license agreements are not very good for consumers.
    I started watching Castle on UPC Prime (my cable company). I had only watched a few episodes when suddenly, without any explanation, Castle was gone.
    Fortunately Netflix is now officially available in the Netherlands, which makes it easy to watch all Netflx version. So I started watching Castle on Netflix UK. Having almost finished season 2, ABC recently removed Castle from all UK tv channels. So except for buying the DVD’s I have no legal way now to watch the rest of the series.
    These kind of things do no make the studio’s very popular, and are also not very good for the reputation of companies like Nexflix and UPC.
    Why would you start watching a tv series when it can be removed at any moment, without any explanation?

  3. It’s not cost for me. I’ll gladly pay for certain British shows if they are available. I’ll even jump through hoops to go to different sites. The last time I pirated a show, it was because there was no way for me to legally obtain it short of purchasing first a Region 2 DVD player and then the disks. I would have bought the DVDs, but I drew the line at having to buy a new DVD player.

    That was several years ago. Now I just shrug and watch something else.

  4. You are totally right, Geert, and you know what? It happens all the times on TV. The total disrespect for the watchers of series is blatant.
    Here, in France, so many series got cancelled, shuffled around the time table, had their episodes broadcasted in the wrong order (Dr Who, recently), or a variant with missing episodes. There is also the traditional “one new episode followed by on old” which ostracizes people who are catching up while trying to dodge the spoilers. So many ways to destroy your TV series experience which make me enjoy even more Netflix.

  5. Sure, consumers are frustrated by their inability to have one-stop watching/reading, but, unlike pirate sites, media companies are ruled by international laws, contracts, and the vagaries of business so some of these frustrations will never go away.

    But pirate sites take and don’t give back to those who created so you are removing the profitability and the survivability of those things you are desperate to see.

    As to American shows disappearing, that’s the way American TV works. If a show isn’t providing enough of the right kind of viewers, it may disappear in midseason with no closure or be cancelled after a cliffhanger ending to the current series.

    Bringing this back to reading, books, unlike media with commercials or tickets sales from theaters, must be bought for the business to be profitable. Even a library sale is a profit. A stolen book profits no one but the pirate and the selfish reader who doesn’t care that he is hurting the creators of the book.

  6. More like laziness trumps everything. Services like Netflix work at combating piracy because it’s easier to simply pay and queue up a stream than it is to search for a torrent file, wait for it to download and then start watching it.

    However the study also says that accessibility is important – there’s still a lot of content that is not available for streaming legally at all, and that’s particularly vulnerable when it comes to piracy. Region controls and DRM also directly drive people towards piracy; if a TV show is available on the US Netflix, but not other regions, people outside the US tend to either download it illegally or (technically just as illegal) use a VPN to bypass the region controls and justifying it to themselves as “I’m paying for it anyway, not my fault they’re blocking access”. Windowing and region limitations drive piracy in a modern digital world probably a lot more than the “I want stuff for free” crowd does.

  7. DRM also abrogates the rights of consumers such as educational and other kinds of fair use (criticism, parody, etc.), access for the handicapped as well as subtitles and alternate audio tracks for non-native speakers. BTW, this issue now extends to eBooks with ePub 3 support for audio and video added to the longstanding issue of being able to render text as audio for the visually challenged. The attitude behind DRM is, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”

  8. Marilynn, the LoC rules are vague and inadequate. But even if they weren’t, the consumer still has the obstacle of removing DRM which can be a substantial barrier. To avail oneself of these exemptions, one must know about them, understand them, know how to find and use DRM striping software and, often, contend with fair use deniers, many of whom are in positions of authority and can hurt you.
    For example, the IT policies of the university where I work includes the following:
    Authorized users of XXXU’s network resources shall not:
    o Transfer copyrighted materials to or from any system or via the university network without express consent of the owner as this may be a violation of Federal and/or State Law.

    There are no ifs, ands or buts there.

    They do acknowledge fair use in other, less formal, communications by reference to university system guidelines but only after faculty such as myself insisted they do so. Not many people will go to the extra effort required to find and read those guidelines.

    Rights holders have been largely successful at influencing policy makers such as with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 which mandates semi-annual missives reminding us about the sanctity of copyright. This has the effect of intimidating media consumers to the point where they are afraid to assert their fair use rights. In law, one’s rights can atrophy – if you don’t use it, you loose it.

  9. The Bittorent Broadcasting Corporation blows industry’s content delivery mechanisms out of the water.

    1) The viewer gets full control of the content to use on whatever device they wish, for as long as they wish and can share it with whomever they wish.
    2) Content can be viewed on offline devices.
    3) For most shows content discovery is as easy as it is on a proprietary platform.
    4) No exclusive licensing restricting what content is available on what location and tp whom it is available to.
    5) No proprietary media players, no DRM.
    6) Digital files are easier than dealing with physical media, especially for TV shows which only fit about 4 episodes per physical CD.
    7) No ads.

    Oh…and on top of all that ITS FREE.

    The content industry needs to move to a business model that does not need to restrict how and when viewers consume the content before they will be able to begin to compete with non-licensed methods.

  10. I began pirating when Netflix couldn’t keep up with demand… It’s pretty annoying to be half way into an episode, just to have that loading wheel appear, followed by the message “There is problem playing this title at the moment, please select a different title”

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