Saturday 22 October 2016

Are piracy laws a sinking ship?

With little to no legislation being enforced, illegal downloaders have filmmakers hook, line and sinker

Eva Hall

Published 14/05/2016 | 02:30

Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
Jon Snow in Game of Thrones

Were you one of the five million people who watched Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic on Monday, or one of the 14 million who downloaded the show illegally?

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For the fourth year in a row, the HBO show has been named the most pirated TV show ever, with the season five finale illegally downloaded 14.4m times in 2015.

It's hard to say how many of these downloads were streamed in Ireland, as agencies that track pirated shows cannot tell which territories they're streaming from or to, but it's estimated there are 770,000 illegal downloaders in Ireland, according to an IBEC report.

And although the majority of illegal downloaders tend to be younger audiences aged 16-24, according to the Industry Trust, older audiences are getting in on the act, and making a few bob while they're at it.

Neil (not his real name) is a 44-year-old father of two who admits downloading films from a website and copying them onto blank discs to sell to punters for ¤5 in his local pub at the weekend.

"They've everything on the site - sometimes before they're even in the cinema. I take orders now of what people want; they see the trailers on the telly and ask me when I can get it," says Neil.

Does he not have a problem profiting off not only theft, but someone else's creative work?

"It makes no odds to the film industry - they've enough money. People would rather pay me ¤5 than ¤15 or ¤20 to go the cinema."

Neil is not alone in his attitude that the film industry is booming, so why shouldn't we skim a little off the top?

Ciaran (again, not his real name), a 30-something media professional, says: "The Irish film and TV industry seems to be in rude health.

"I'll carry on doing as I am. I can't see how I'll get caught - I'd imagine hundreds of thousands of people are doing it here. They get away with it, I suppose it's a case of why would they pick on me?".

The Irish film industry is estimated to be worth over ¤550million, but, according to Andrew Lowe, of Element Pictures, the production house behind Oscar-winning film Room, there has been "a radical implosion of the market, which has been offset by an increase in illegal downloading".

Andrew reckons his 2011 Golden Globe-nominated feature The Guard has been Element's most pirated film, but admits "there's not very much we can do about it".

The production and distribution company employs agencies to track their films on release, and gets them removed from torrent sites on a case by case basis. And while he's unsure how much money the Dublin-based company is losing to illegal downloads, the producer admits "our digital reveneues point to piracy."

So just how are Irish people downloading films via the internet?

Ciaran says: "I bought a 'jailbroken' Apple TV box on eBay. It's jailbroken to allow one of the streaming apps on it (Kodi) to work. It plugs into the telly, and the Kodi app allows you to easily find just about any film or TV series on the internet.

"I'd watch a film or box set most nights. It's usually good quality - better than the terrestrial stations, anyway - but can have some drawbacks.

"I watched Eddie the Eagle last night and it had Japanese subtitles, but you get used to it!" adds Ciaran.

John (not his real name), a 36-year-old professional, says: "I download the torrent from sites such as Pirate Bay or Seven Torrents, put them on a USB and stick it into my smart TV every month or so.

"I used to have Sky, which is amazing for box sets and movies, but I moved to an apartment complex where they don't let you put up satellite dishes so I had to move to Virgin Media, which wasn't ideal.

"I know it's probably not fully kosher, but Sky was too expensive. I pay my TV licence even though I get very little in return," says Ciaran.

Andrew says he "doesn't buy" and that people download movies illegally due to price. "I wouldn't accept cost is a driver of piracy. Look at Netflix, a very reasonable monthly payment. The content is affordable when you consider the quality, so I don't accept that's the problem."

So what measures are being taken to combat piracy in Ireland?

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, under which Intellectual Property (IP) protection and enforcement fall under, says: "Ireland is recognised as having a robust legal framework in place to support IP rights and the Department continues to focus on providing, in its legal system, for effective IP protection against acts such as counterfeiting and piracy."

But the Department does not hold an official record of piracy figures in Ireland, nor does the Department of Data Protection.

The Industry Trust for IP Awareness Ireland is the body that promotes the idea of copyright, but can't actually enforce it.

John says: "Sometimes I use a proxy site to go to the sites but I'm sure that can still probably be traced if an agency really wanted to."

Andrew continues: "It's very difficult to quantify piracy, but if there are no consequences for people involved then why wouldn't they continue?

"I'd like to see the industry and the Government come together to put in place a framework to tackle the issue."

And with Game of Thrones' first episode of the new series revealed this week as Sky's most-watched entertainment programme of all time - with nearly five million viewers - the show's popularity is only increasing.

"Sky has invested billions in high-quality entertainment. It's therefore important that companies like ours do what they can, alongside the Government, to help protect their copyright," said a Sky spokesperson.

"This means taking effective action against online piracy and copyright infringement.

"Sky would welcome a greater focus on criminal enforcement and the ability of victims of digital theft to be able to seek redress from criminals who operate on a cross border basis, and are often difficult to locate."

Irish Independent

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