What Game of Thrones can teach us about online piracy

Record-breaking piracy rates for Game of Thrones and HBO’s response suggest a new path for combatting violation of copyright law in Australia.

Anxious viewers around the world are just a few months away from Game of Thrones season six, and if previous seasons are any indication, it will hit piracy sites shortly after.

A record-breaking victim of online piracy, Game of Thrones and HBO take a rather different stance on the issue than many other rights holders, one that could illuminate new strategies for combating violations of copyright law in Australia.

For HBO, piracy is no problem

Game of Thrones has experienced a rash of piracy as the show has gained popularity; it set the record for being the most downloaded show in history when the fifth episode of season five was downloaded 3.22 million times in 24 hours according to piracy tracker Excipio – breaking the record it set for the season 4 premier.

As the CEO of HBO, Jeff Bewkes is no stranger to copyright issues. The company has a decades-long history of subscribers sharing access with friends, neighbours and family, but it isn't particularly concerned with piracy.

"Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising," Mr. Bewkes said, as reported by Variety.

"If you go around the world, I think you're right, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that's better than an Emmy."

Preventing piracy by providing access

"The key thing about piracy is that some fraction of it is because [users] couldn't get the content. That part we can fix,"

Bewkes and HBO may just be on to something with their nonchalance towards illegal downloading; people would rather access content legally. According to the IP Awareness Foundation's 2015 report, piracy is in decline in Australia for a number of reasons. 

The report found that online piracy has decreased among the most frequent downloaders – down from 13 per cent in 2014 to 10 per cent in 2015 – while the rate of piracy has dropped from 54 per cent to 46 per cent for the same period among 18-24 year olds.

While new legislation may have played a part in this drop, another factor can't be discounted – the launch of Netflix in Australia. Australian consumers' ability to legally access content has reduced the perceived need for piracy.

"The key thing about piracy is that some fraction of it is because [users] couldn't get the content. That part we can fix," said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a March 2015 interview with Gizmodo Australia.

Despite geo-blocking issues, services like Netflix are poised to play a large role in further reducing piracy rates, suggesting that prevention trumps punishment when it comes to copyright and intellectual property law in Australia.