Pirates Find New Shelter

Demand for Pirated Content Surges as the Public Stays Home

Written by Eleanor M. Lackman

At a time where theaters are shut down and productions are on hold, the entertainment industry is facing another challenge: the sudden surge in demand for pirated audiovisual and game content.  According to anti-piracy firm MUSO, the number of people illegally streaming the movie Contagion increased by over 5600%.  As lockdowns and stay-home orders keep people at home in an increasing number of countries, online searches for local pirate sites have ballooned, even despite studios’ in-home release of films that were slated to premiere this month in theaters.

Apparently taking advantage of the situation, well-known piracy app Popcorn Time, which launched in 2015 and was quickly shut down thereafter, has just reemerged in a new version.  In its own words, Popcorn Time announced in a tweet on Tuesday: “Love in the Time of Corona Version 0.4 [sic] is out!” Popcorn Time offers an easy-to-use system that uses BitTorrent to stream movies and television shows without needing to download them.  This time, the instructions for the app include a suggestion for users to use VPNs to avoid detection by users’ ISPs, which may be held responsible for repeated acts of infringement by their users if the ISP fails to take appropriate steps to curtail it.  See, e.g., BMG Rights Management (US) LLC v. Cox Communications, Inc., 881 F.3d 293 (4th Cir. 2018).

With more choices for at-home and on-demand content than ever, home-bound viewers no longer have the argument that the content they want to consume is available only via pirate sites.  Yet early signs from the world’s widespread stay-at-home measures show that piracy remains popular among a large segment of the public.  Particularly when law enforcement resources are diverted toward health and safety concerns, strong publicity around legal sites will be key for encouraging the public to get in the habit of going to legal sources first for their favorite TV shows, movies, and games.  Copyright owners may also want to remind the public of the danger of using illegal sites, including the risk of breaches and the inadvertent downloading of malware.  While pirates will always exist, the current situation provides an opportunity for a cultural shift toward better content consumption habits that last long after the pandemic is over.

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