Game of Thrones most pirated TV show of 2013

Author George R. R. Martin with members of the Game of Thrones cast at ComicCon 2012 – a photograph by owlandbear released under the Creative Commons license.

Author George R. R. Martin with members of the Game of Thrones cast at ComicCon 2012 – a photograph by owlandbear released under the Creative Commons license.

House of Stark has plenty of problems – one of them being that the television show that tells their story is the most pirated television show of 2013. TorrentFreak released its most pirated television show list of the year, and Game of Thrones topped their chart for the second year running. How much does intellectual property theft impact television networks like HBO? Do writers like Cory Doctorow, who support major revisions to copyright law and produce works under the Creative Commons license, make a good case for digital works being free? If you are looking for a good research paper topic in digital media classes or in intellectual property law, consider looking into these different views about copyright.

Game of Thrones

According to TorrentFreak, there were an estimated 5.9 million downloads of the season finale of Game of Thrones, HBO’s political fantasy series about the trials and tribulations of the House of Stark, based on the fantasy tomes by author George R. R. Martin. That total nearly beat out the competition: Breaking Bad had 4.2 million downloads, and The Walking Dead 3.6 million. Another interesting note about Game of Thrones: the estimated number of downloads exceeded the estimated number of television viewers.

The rest of the top ten includes:

  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Dexter
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • Suits
  • Homeland
  • Vikings
  • Arrow

What does this data tell networks? Piracy data actually helps networks monitor the popularity of their programs, according to a contributor to Huffington Post in “’Game of Thrones’ is the most pirated show for the second year in a row.” Streaming companies like Netflix also use piracy data to determine what shows to add to their subscription services. And for Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, the piracy of Game of Thrones on his network is “better than an Emmy. … Our experience is, it all leads to more [subscribers].”

Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer of The Walking Dead, had a different take, however. According to the Huffington Post article, Hurd didn’t trust anecdotal data about piracy being good for ratings. She concluded, “The people who pirate are not then going to choose legal downloads or legal viewing in the future.”

Tribe of readers (and viewers and listeners?)

Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer who is one of the most outspoken voices about changing copyright law to better suit an Internet dominated world, has long supported the notion that free content leads to purchased content. In a collection of essays he wrote, which he released under the Creative Commons license at Write4Kids, The Problem Isn’t Piracy, the Problem Is Obscurity, Doctorow recalled a Q&A session in which fantasy author Neil Gaiman was asked about his feelings on piracy. Gaiman responded: “Hands up in the audience if you discovered your favorite writer for free — because someone loaned you a copy, or because someone gave it to you? Now, hands up if you found your favorite writer by walking into a store and plunking down cash.”

Doctorow recounted the audience’s reaction: overwhelmingly, people had been introduced to their favorite writer through a loan or a gift. People who read for pleasure, according to both Gaiman and Doctorow, are a small percentage of the world, and that same percentage of people like to buy books. If they find an author they love through a free source, they’ll go out and purchase that author’s other works. Doctorow used data from the music industry to further his point: “People who study the habits of music-buyers have discovered something curious: the biggest pirates are also the biggest spenders. If you pirate music all night long, chances are you’re one of the few people left who also goes to the record store (remember those?) during the day.”

Other studies have supported Doctorow’s hypothesis. In a July 18, 2013, article “Are the Internet pirates sunk? Study shows huge drop in illegal downloads,” written by Adam Sherwin for London’s The Independent, Sherwin described a study in Norway that showed a decline in music piracy between 2008 and 2012. During that period, illegal downloads of music decreased 82.5%, from 1.2 billion downloads to 210 million. Movie and television downloads also dropped by more than 50%. But the decrease was not attributed to anti-piracy laws: instead, “the decline in illegally copied files was ascribed to the rise of legal alternatives, which offer consumers a more reliable experience than peer-to-peer file-sharing sites.”

Does illegal downloading lead to legal purchasing? Tell us your thoughts in the comments. 

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