It’s a universal truth that where demand goes unsatisfied, piracy quickly follows. For the creative industries, there are high hopes that an equally predictable trend will unfold: where legal streaming services roll out, piracy quickly tails off.
It’s been a theme that characterized much of February for us, from the news that Norway, where streaming music services dominate, has seen a dramatic reduction in piracy, to the post-Oscars analysis of where Academy Award winning titles are available and how piracy spikes if they’re not.
House of Cards piracy is the latest example to underline this phenomenon, as season 3 of the Netflix original series prompted a surge in social media and viewing activity in markets where the platform is active, and soaring piracy levels in countries where it isn’t.
Season 3 was only released last Friday, yet unlicensed viewing in countries around the world already numbers in the six figures, with China heading the illegal access list at more then 60,000 downloads. That doesn’t begin to factor in a number of other methods of finding the program without paying for the privilege, as technology like VPN access helps viewers to bypass geographical restrictions and log in to the same version of Netflix made available to U.S. consumers.
Although there is also illegal access in countries where Netflix does operate successfully, not least the U.S. and United Kingdom, the general consensus is that any market will have some amount of residual piracy.
While that element needs to be tackled with more familiar education and enforcement tactics, promoting legal access channels and penalizing where pirates knowingly disregard them, the most promising new prong in fighting copyright infringement is rolling out legitimate streaming services in markets where they don’t currently operate.
In the case of House of Cards this would of course be Netflix, first and foremost, although it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which the company licenses such a popular title to another service if it can’t get into the market itself. China springs to mind in the first instance, given the censorship issues and other red tape for American companies operating in the country, but there are enough other international markets in which Netflix isn’t being compensated at all for its hit production and would surely love to bridge the gap with licensing income.
Meanwhile it’s Australia that provides the most immediate case study of how introducing a legal viewing alternative will impact piracy levels. Frequently found atop the illegal viewing figures despite its relatively small consumer base, the country saw House of Cards piracy almost on a par with China.
Here, however, Netflix seems all set to launch this month, giving consumers almost no time to wait for the popular title and everything else that the company’s expansive archives will bring.
If Australians decide that convenience (and, we would hope, copyright) trump the awkward access of covert connections and malware-plagued piracy sites, then piracy levels should decline. The experiment is ongoing, but the early results are promising that legitimate digital channels can connect viewers around the world to content they love, without having to resort to illicit and unreliable access points to get it.