Why Netflix is winning the online piracy wars

A failed ransom attempt by a hacker shows subscription services are making piracy pointless.
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A failed ransom attempt by a hacker shows subscription services are making piracy pointless.

A hacker who has unsuccessfully tried to hold Netflix for ransom has achieved an unexpected result: His failure shows that subscription-based business models in content distribution is making piracy pointless.

Intellectual property owners' slowness in adopting these models is the only reason content is still being pirated.

Someone calling themselves TheDarkOverlord stole most of the new season of Netflix's popular series, Orange Is the New Black, from a post-production studio and demanded ransom.

Netflix refused to pay, and TheDarkOverlord put the stolen material on the Pirate Bay for anyone with a torrent client to download.

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But it's not likely that others the hacker or hackers are threatening will pay up, either.

The reason for that can be found in networking solutions provider Sandvine's Global Internet Phenomena Report.

Last year, BitTorrent traffic reached 1.73 per cent of peak period downstream traffic in North America. That's down from the 60 per cent share peer-to-peer file sharing had in 2003. Netflix was responsible for 35.15 percent of downstream traffic.

File sharing is the only traffic component of internet traffic that isn't growing - and isn't projected to grow - in absolute terms, according to Cisco Systems.

Its content has been pirated since Netflix began producing its own shows, but it's never left a mark.

It has the resources for legal fights when they're called for, but really, who wants to go through the trouble of using torrents - and risk problems with one's internet provider, or with the law - to see a season a little earlier?

Certainly, no-one will cancel their Netflix subscription because one series is suddenly available for free download with an increasingly unpopular, inconvenient technology that doesn't allow instant streaming.

Its content has been pirated since Netflix began producing its own shows, but it's never left a mark.
NETFLIX

Its content has been pirated since Netflix began producing its own shows, but it's never left a mark.

People would only consider that if all the content available on Netflix could suddenly be streamed free of charge.

"Subscription" is the key word here. This business model is a piracy killer.

For 15 years, Adobe Systems tried to sell its image manipulation software for thousands of dollars per box to professional photographers and designers - and everyone I knew in that community used pirated copies at home.

Now that the software is sold as a service, for a monthly subscription fee, everyone I know pays more or less happily.

Adobe managed to switch to the subscription model without losing revenue.

For companies in the content industry, however, it's been a scarier transition.

When it comes to video piracy, sites that illegally stream copyrighted content are the channel that beats torrents and other downloads today.

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Though it's far more convenient than torrents, video piracy is slowly declining. Subscription services such as Netflix are driving it down by expanding user choice and producing their own content, such as Orange Is the New Black.

There will always be a relatively small number of people who consume pirated content because they are averse to paying even a small access fee.

Mostly, however, consumers are motivated by convenience. Subscription services don't cost much, and they're easy and safe to use.

Finding decent quality videos on piracy sites sites without watching invasive ads and running the risk of malware infection is a hopeless enterprise. If you're like me, you'll only do it extremely cautiously - and only if the content you looking for is not available from any of the top legal services.

Therein lies a problem. When it comes to video, copyright owners are less willing to release new and in-demand content to subscription services such as Netflix.

They are eager to preserve their theatre revenues during a movie's first run, and they're happier selling older movies to Apple and Amazon which offer them on a pay-per-view basis.

That's why Netflix sees itself as more of a channel than a catalogue: It has little choice in the matter. And it can't complain of a lack of growth, anyway.

Film studios are missing an opportunity there.

According to Muso, in 2016, there were 5.6 times as many visits to film piracy sites than to music piracy ones.

Besides, there's a major risk involved in the current movie distribution model. If hackers had stolen a major release the studio would be far more worried than Netflix is about the stolen season of Orange.

Eventually, movie studios and streaming services should work out a reasonable, perhaps tiered, subscription price system to make more content available online.

It would drive down piracy, as the subscription model did in the software and music businesses, and it would make theft as nearly pointless as it has been in The DarkOverlord's case.

 - Bloomberg

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