Copyright Police Target Dodgy Set-Top Boxes As Aussie Pirates Turn To Streaming

Copyright Police Target Dodgy Set-Top Boxes As Aussie Pirates Turn To Streaming
Image: HBO / Game of Thrones

As Australians lose their taste for BitTorrent, content owners are opening up a new front in the war on copyright infringement.

It was always going to be difficult to measure the effect of Australia’s piracy crackdown when it’s child’s play to bypass the blocks on BitTorrent search engines like The Pirate Bay. Meanwhile there are tricks for cloaking BitTorrent traffic, so the copyright police can’t claim they’re winning the war simply because they’re catching fewer pirates in the act.

By the numbers

Rather than relying on internet traffic reports, Creative Content Australia is going straight to the source by asking Aussies about their piracy habits. We’re not shy about it, with 21 per cent of respondents to the ‘Australian Piracy Behaviours and Attitudes’ survey admitting to sourcing content via less than legal channels.

Piracy figures among Australian adults have remained steady over the last 12 months, despite the crackdown, while the number of teen pirates has dropped by about 20 per cent.

While that’s a significant drop, it’s only a drop among “casual” teen pirates and teens who consider themselves “persistent” pirates are refusing to budge. All up about a third of Australia’s pirates classify themselves as “persistent”.

Change the channel

Unfortunately the BitTorrent crackdown hasn’t been as effective as copyright holders might have hoped. Rather than turning over a new leaf, Aussies are simply turning to other forms of piracy.

Dive into the figures and you see that streaming piracy is now twice as prevalent as downloading. Rather than going through the hassles of installing a BitTorrent client, finding reliable torrents and then masking their downloads, today’s pirates are finding it easier to visit pirate streaming sites like SolarMovie.

Streaming presents less of a learning curve for new pirates, plus there’s less chance of getting dragged through the courts, but visiting these sites puts you at greater risk of malware infection. Streaming might not feel as wrong as downloading, but you’re still infringing copyright.

Think outside the box

Creative Content Australia’s piracy figures contain a new column this year: streaming or downloading via set-top box.

For a long time there’s been a cottage industry in selling piracy-friendly set-top boxes or HDMI dongles that are pre-configured to tap into vast libraries of pirated movies and TV shows. Often they’ll run the popular Kodi media player – which in itself isn’t against the law – but they also feature piracy-friendly plugins.

These kind of services have long been popular with Australians chasing foreign language content from overseas, but now they’re finding a mainstream audience. Interest in these devices is naturally growing as Aussie pirates favour streaming and look for an easy way to watch content on the big screen in the lounge room.

It’s easy enough to build a box like this yourself, with Kodi running on a wide range of platforms, but of course there’s always a market for selling plug ‘n’ play devices for those who want something that just works. It’s the 21st century equivalent of the pirate pay TV boxes that let you tap into all the subscription cable and satellite pay TV channels.

Along with chasing the distributors of these streaming set-top boxes, pirate hunters are looking to block their online marketplaces and payment portals. There’s also a push to expand Australia’s block on pirate-friendly websites to include the IP addresses that these boxes rely on to access pirate content.

The Alliance For Creativity and Entertainment and the Coalition Against Piracy recently teamed up to shut down an illicit IPTV operation in Australia, selling boxes bundled with a 12-month subscription to pirated movies, TV shows and sports. Meanwhile UK regulators are cracking down on so-called “fully loaded” set-top boxes.

Have you turned your back on piracy, or simply switched from downloading to streaming? What would it take for you to go legit?