This Anti-Piracy Scare Campaign Is Bullshit

This Anti-Piracy Scare Campaign Is Bullshit
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Back in August, Creative Content Australia (CCA) launched their ‘Price of Piracy’ campaign, which aims to shed light on the issue of using torrent and streaming websites to illegally access content. Specifically, it wants to highlight the inherent risk users put themselves in when accessing these sites.

This campaign is the biggest anti-piracy push in Australia’s history – but are scare campaigns really the right way to prevent people from downloading? And how do the facts and figures actually stack up?

A black and white video starring famed Australian actor Bryan Brown tops the Price of Piracy website. In the video, Brown walks out from the darkness into a spotlight and proclaims “I need to talk to you about illegal downloading, because the game has changed.”

He discusses the fact that many of the major piracy websites are now blocked in Australia and then explains that there are other sites you could use, with a caveat. “Hell of a risk,” he explains, “could end up with viruses, spyware, stolen credit card details, even identity theft. Seems like a high price to pay after all.”

So what exactly links these kinds of problems with piracy websites?

The Links Between Piracy Sites And Malware

“The link between pirate sites and malware” – which itself links to studies – is prominently displayed on the Price of Piracy website. It redirects to a PDF document called ‘Research Links’ which includes the following statement:

Below are links to published studies / academic papers on the use of malware and other potentially dangerous programs that proliferate on infringing sites, with a brief summary of the scope of the research paper. The studies prove that, in addition to professionals in the creative industries, end users are also victims of the massive and growing cybercrime industry.

The most interesting aspect of this is the studies that CCA link to in this document. One study is funded and performed by the ‘Association of Internet Security Professionals’ and another was performed in conjunction with ‘RiskIQ’. These are companies that have a lot of skin in the internet security game – and while that doesn’t discount the validity of the studies being performed, it does mean that there may be a publication bias that leans toward improving your computer’s security.

Yet, another study links to a report about Remote Access Trojans or RATs. In itself it is not a study of the links between piracy sites and malware, but instead refers to the kinds of malicious software that you might find online. The one link it does provide to previous research regarding piracy sites and malware is buried within the document and links to a study by Paul Watters called “A Systematic Approach To Measuring Advertising Transparency Online: An Australian Case Study.”

You may be able to discern from its title alone that Watters study is more focused on the online advertising landscape. It will come as no surprise to you, I’m sure, that the advertisements on piracy sites (which you are under no obligation to click on) may contain malware. Of course, if this is shocking news to you, then the CCA documents are well worth investing some time in.

There is nothing wrong with educating the public about the threat to their security that may be posed if you visit some of the “darker” parts of the web, but to use that threat as a campaign against piracy just shows a lack of understanding.

Are Australians Becoming Worse Pirates?

Interestingly, research conducted by CCA has shown that piracy has decreased in adults aged 18-64, from 29 per cent to 21 per cent, in the last three years. This is a significant drop off, that coincides with the release of affordable streaming services, like Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now, which has given consumers the ability to readily access content, legally. In fact, CCA even report that legal alternatives are the major reason that consumers are pirating content less often – because the content is available online.

If you look at the data, the frequency with which pirates are downloading or illegally streaming TV shows significantly dropped since 2015, the pre-Netflix-era (down from 15% in 2015 to 12% in 2016). Curiously, movies did not see a significant drop off. One might infer that the access to movies in Australia is still lacking behind the US – things like the Lego Batman and John Wick 2 saga demonstrate that when content isn’t delivered in a reasonable time frame, people are likely to go and pirate that content (you can see in the Gizmodo comments that many people did do just that!).

It is true that the attitude towards pirating is changing, of the total 1010 survey respondents, 73 per cent agreed that downloading content is stealing or theft, the highest percentage recorded by the CCA yet. Of course, as legal methods become more and more available and are seen as more readily accessible by the general public, it is to be expected that the attitude towards pirating will change.

Peter Tonagh, CEO of Foxtel commented on the campaign’s site by saying:

Foxtel supports this campaign because we believe that a combination of education, fast and affordable access to content and effective regulation are essential to protect Australia’s creative industries. The good news is that this approach appears to be working. In 2016 Australia was the number one country for piracy of Game of Thrones. This year following successful site blocking cases and heavy publicity for Foxtel Now, reports suggest that Australia did not make the top ten for piracy of the first episode of season 7.

Until Foxtel’s rebrand earlier this year as Foxtel Now, which brought HD quality to Foxtel’s streaming service at an affordable price, Australians were pirating Game of Thrones more than anyone in the world. Once this change was made (and perhaps owing to the fact that Foxtel Now offers a free trial period), we didn’t even rank in the Top 10 for piracy of the biggest TV show on earth.

So it appears that Australians are pirating less than ever. Why the scare campaign?

This Anti-Piracy Scare Campaign Is Bullshit

Are Scare Tactics The Right Way To Curb Piracy?

Campaigning to prevent piracy because you might get a virus is like telling people not to step outside when its raining because they might get wet. Pirates aren’t your everyday internet user – some are, sure – but to illegally download content or to find a streaming website with a viable stream, you have to have some tech savvy. The idea that you might get a virus from the internet is not a foreign concept to pirates, it’s not something they’ve never heard about before. So, if the campaign isn’t marketed towards the pirates, why does it exist in the first place?

Is it a scare tactic to prevent future pirates from illegal downloads? Is it to prevent the younger generation – the 12-17 year olds who seem to be pirating in similar amounts as they were in 2013 – from accessing pirated content?

It’s hard to say. Again, educating the public about the issues surrounding piracy is admirable, but is the best way to do this by running a campaign that suggests these sites are harmful to the consumer? It just doesn’t land – especially when you consider that the research commissioned by CCA demonstrates that only one in ten people have begun pirating less because of the potential threat that malicious software poses.

If you really want to prevent your computer from getting viruses or your identity from being stolen, then you will use methods to avoid those things from happening. When you step outside and it’s raining, you use an umbrella to prevent yourself from getting drenched. It’s the same thing online. When you ‘surf the web’, you make sure that you have adequate protections in place. If you do surf the web and if you use piracy sites, you can still avoid malware if you practice the right techniques. A digital umbrella will stop your computer from being drenched in harmful software.

But curbing the rate of piracy in Australia isn’t just relying on an anti-piracy campaign. Recently, the Federal Court has been ordering ISPs to block more and more piracy websites. Does this have an influence on pirating behaviours?

Does Site Blocking Help Prevent Piracy?

The Price of Piracy campaign also provides research on the effects of site blocking on piracy. The study they link to, available here, was conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics. The research demonstrated that ‘blocking The Pirate Bay only caused a small reduction in total piracy – instead, consumers seemed to turn to other piracy sites or Virtual Private Networks that allowed them to circumvent the block.”

This is a phenomenon that we saw in Australia when The Pirate Bay was blocked and it’s true that dedicated pirates will still find ways to circumvent the blocks. Especially in Australia, where DNS-level blocking of sites takes place, it seems remarkably easy to access sites that have been blocked.

However, the research did show that by blocking 19 major piracy sites in the UK in 2013, that total piracy decreased and there was a modest increase in the use of legal services, like Netflix. While the study was funded by the Motion Picture Association of America, a company that clearly benefits from reduced piracy, the outcomes of the study are telling. It’s also important to note that the study was conducted during a time when legal services were becoming more readily available, essentially ‘muddying’ the data.

Ultimately, if pirates want to continue to download illegal content and are willing to circumvent site blocks, then won’t they also be looking for ways to avoid malware?

Using Piracy Sites Is My Choice, How Can I Avoid Malware?

The same way that you avoid malware from anywhere else. You have to be smart.

If you’re visiting sites that offer illegal download of copyrighted content, then you are putting yourself at risk – there’s no doubt about that. But if you practice safe-browsing techniques, don’t click on advertisements or pop-ups, you go a long way to preventing infection. Most browsers these days are constantly updating themselves to plug security loopholes, so you should always make sure that your software is up-to-date.

Do you need anti-virus software? It’s debatable. Most operating systems and browsers are well equipped to deal with common threats and, for instance, Windows 10 boasts one of the more robust built-in security setups that Microsoft have ever put into their OS. Funnily enough, pirates are surprisingly altruistic. With torrent files that contain malware or spyware, you’ll often find that other users have commented on the file explaining that it’s a virus or that it isn’t what it says it is. In that way, it’s worth seeing what others think of certain files because those that are hardly being downloaded at all are likely to contain malicious software, whereas the torrents with hundreds of users downloading and uploading are probably real.

It’s kind of like a ‘herd immunity’ for the internet.

Obviously don’t click on something that says Space Jam 2. That movie doesn’t exist, yet, though we sorely hope it will one day.

Is all this to say that you should pirate content or that pirating content is okay? Absolutely not.

Piracy is theft – that much is obvious. Will running a campaign based on internet security curb piracy? I don’t think so. But, as Bryan Brown says at the end of the campaign’s header video:

“Good luck.”

This story has been updated since its original publication.


    • Well, that’s sort of it, right? They went and blocked sites and what did people learn to do… use a VPN

      Now they’re saying: Hey, PS. you could get a virus if you do this! Aaaagh! So people will go and learn how to prevent those.

      If anything, this is perfect marketing for internet security companies!

  • How about they provide digital media at an affordable price at the same time as the rest of the world? Wouldn’t matter anyway with the shit show that is the internet for the majority of people.

    • On the weekend we went to see IT. We saw one of these anti-piracy ads during the 15+ minutes of “trailers” and I thought yo myself “If I’d pirated this movie, I wouldn’t be seeing this bullshit”, so you’re spot on there.

      • This is correct, legally. Copyright infringement is a civil issue about use of intellectual property rights. Theft is a criminal act. Totally different. There are some criminal offences related to copyright infringement, but these mainly apply if you are somehow commercialising or profitting from the copyright infringement. eg, selling copied DVD’s at the market. Otherwise, no, user based copyright infringement IS NOT theft. (Source: Law degree, experience in IP Law)

      • For your convenience, from the very handy Australian Copyright Council (Feb 2017):

        Criminal offences involving copyright infringement
        Not every infringement of copyright is a criminal offence. Generally, only infringements of
        copyright that involve commercial dealings or infringements that are on a commercial scale are criminal. For example, under the Copyright Act, it may be an offence to:
        • cause infringement on a commercial scale, even if the infringer makes no financial gain;
        • make “an article” that infringes copyright for sale or hire or to obtain a commercial advantage or profit, or to sell or otherwise deal with such an article, sometimes with the intention of obtaining a commercial advantage or profit, in specified ways;
        • import “an article” that infringes copyright for trade purposes, or to obtain a commercial
        advantage or profit;
        • distribute “an article” that infringes copyright for trade purposes, or to obtain a commercial
        advantage or profit, or for any other purpose that prejudicially affects the copyright owner; or
        • possess an article that infringes copyright, for specified commercial purposes, including for
        distribution to obtain a commercial advantage or profit or in a way that prejudicially affects the copyright owner.
        It may also be a criminal offence to:
        • make or possess a “device” that is to be used to make infringing copies of a copyright work;
        • advertise the supply of infringing copies of copyright material; or
        • cause the public performance of some copyright material at “a p

        • In the context of digital media: the only person who should be worried about criminal consequences is the individual who uploaded the material in the first place.
          Of course, a Judge in the Federal Court could always deem that a mere participant in a torrent seed pool is participating in “commercial scale” distribution of a copyrighted work. The law isn’t all black and white, I’m afraid. But good luck a) identifying and b) prosecuting every person who torrented the finale of Game of Thrones in Australia.

      • Infringing copyright itself isn’t an act of theft. It’s not obtaining the right or licence to copy the work in question.

        The implication of theft is in denying fair compensation for the licence to the author of the work.

      • I’m not a solicitor but all the sources I have say that yes, it’s a legal distinction. In short, theft amounts to taking something from someone, so you now have that thing while they don’t. Copyright infringement is making or obtaining unauthorised copies of someone else’s work.

        Let me make it clear that both are wrong and both are illegal. I’m not trying to sugarcoat copyright infringement as somehow being not as bad as theft. At the end of the day, someone is a victim, and copyright infringement, to a degree, denies the copyright holder the chance to sell their work and make a living. All I’m saying is they are not the same thing.

      • Basically what everyone here says, and I think it’s important for people to understand the differences.

        The anti-piracy marketing keeps repeating it for brainwashing purposes, because
        just doesn’t have the same shock-factor.

        Copyright infringement is still bad, but can oftentimes be harmless (maybe that 10 year old couldn’t afford that movie ticket anyway), while theft always causes harm by giving the victim actual losses.

        • It’s also hard for people to sympathise with a victim with a seven-figure bank account, living in a multimillion dollar mansion, zipping around town in a car worth more than the average family home and not paying most taxes by hiding money in off shore tax havens. When a new release blue ray or DVD can cost as much as $50, the only victim is the consumer. After all, the distributer can compensate for losses by raising prices. The consumer responds by downloading even more. And the distributer responds by raising prices further. And the entertainment industry continues to mass produce an endless supply of mindless garbage, making obscene amounts of money while blaming the pirates for the mindless garbage. Mindless garbage they were making long before the pirates came along. Many businesses would barely survive if it were not for piracy… Microsoft, Adobe and Mozilla especially. And new entrants into the industry simply can’t afford the software they need to learn to use. Sometimes piracy isn’t an option, it’s an imperative.

  • If books were a new thing that just came out today the corporate elite would never permit public libraries.

    Yet almost all other media isn’t easily available to the public in the same way books are at public libraries.

    What is the difference? We are told we cant share some media because “reasons”. Usually “oh no the poor content creator needs to earn a living”. Do authors not need to make a living? But we can “borrow” their works easily! In reality the mega corp needs to make $$$.

    If you share a book at a public Library its “borrowing” and its not an issue.
    If you share a file of media on a website its “copyright infringement” and you are in big trouble!

    Why the big difference???!!

    Make ALL media free: books, games, movies, music etc.

    Why? Same argument as to why we have public Libraries.

    Pkay so Meg Corps need to make $$$ too? Have only low res media at the public library. Corps can make the $$ out of the physical box or the DL 4k non Mp3 versions.

    OR make it Public Libraries charge a dollar a day for anything. And ANYTHING is available to down load. And no BS watch it once cant save it… No you can D/L it and its yours forever if you want. Save it to your local drive.

    You can even make it so its free to do the above if you have a concession: pension, welfare or vet for instance. All that media no charge.

    Logic of the argument OR Because: why do we have public Libraries again? Same dif

    • Libraries don’t pay shelf price, they pay a higher price for a license to be able to loan the book. That’s also why they charge stupid high amounts for lost books.

  • The whole movie industry, Foxtel and alike need to change the way they do business. This issue will never go away. Also I take offence to the implication that Australia as a whole is in some way the worst piracy offender in the world. We are talking about 26% of only 0.3% of the worlds population. Yeah its a problem, but lets keep it in perspective.
    In any case dinosaurs like Foxtel should probably call it a day and close up shop. We don’t need public money being squandered on propping up their market share.

  • We saw “IT” on the weekend (first time in months we’ve been to the movies) and we saw one of these ads. I turned to my wife and said “well if you buy DVDs from your local Sunday market dealer, or get a copy from the guy at work who always has the latest movies, you don’t get viruses, or these shitty ads”

    This whole “piracy hurts” thing is garbage anyway. Just buy the DVD and loan it to your friends to show to as many people as they please. Lost sales right there, yeah?

  • I believe first of all the Internet (NBN) needs to work correctly and at a speed that a family can watch online entertainment and get what they pay for in speed and movies.
    Next all this piracy talk is over rated as ask some simple questions?

    1. how much profit do you really need? millions of dollars isn’t enough?

    2. So paying Netflix or Foxtel about $40 per month or more, how much of
    that is given to the people that made the film?

    3. So Diners Club movie for example, 30 million people in Australia compared to over 300 million in US. The company complains “over” about 4600 people that downloaded the movie in Australia? REALLY!!

    WELL Easy fixed, stop complaining, stop wasting courts time, stop blocking, fix up the NBN service, and simply include for example a $5 a month fee from every internet user account to be put back in a fund for the companies and people that make the films instead of re-sellers like Netflix.
    This option is cheaper for every one and still supports the film makers and much more…

    1. people have freedom to watch what they want without complaints on their new
    65inch Samsung smart tv screens
    2. children of all ages can watch there favourite shows on youtube for example without copyright removing them!!
    3. removes the need for average families to use vpn’s
    4. supports/helps the data retention laws to continue to record families and what they do in there own home. LOL…
    5. Also is affordable for the families living on Centrelink payments as the cost of all the services and general living is already too much.

  • I have noticed since this blocking has increased the commercial networks and foxtel have gone back to their old ways and stopped fast tracking many series to suit themselves when to release.
    Many series such are delayed far to long and cannot be obtained any other timely factor other than to use these sites.

  • The movie/music companies had a choice between using a stick or a carrot to keep their customers, and they opted for the stick instead. They’re now watching as their decades-old monopolies are broken down bit by bit. Soon it’ll just be people who produce content and the Internet that deliver it to customers. All content producers have done (or are doing) is cut out the middle-man and gone directly to the consumer (like Uber, AirBNB, Airlines, etc) did.

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