Pirate In Your Pocket: The Future Of Stolen Media?

Future of online piracy: Meerkat and Periscope

Cable costs are on the rise, and the price of a night at the movies — once you factor in gas, popcorn, drinks and tickets — is often more than an upscale dinner out. It’s no wonder, then, that more and more Americans are turning to streaming TV and movie services to get what they want, when they want. And while Motley Fool notes that above-board over-the-top streaming services are on the rise, media piracy is also skyrocketing. Now, popular network HBO has set its sights on what some are calling the “future of online piracy”: Your smartphone.

Yours or Theirs?

Here’s how it works. Live-streaming apps like Meerket and the Twitter-owned Periscope let users record whatever they want using the video camera on their smartphone or tablet. Right now, Periscope is only available to iDevice users, while Meerkat has made the jump to Android. Anyone who downloads one of these live-streaming apps can watch whatever other users are broadcasting — this could be anything from an endless loop of cat videos to bootlegged movies or first-run television shows. The big difference? Periscope keeps livestreams for 24 hours after being broadcast so more users can watch.

This stream-saving, however, has HBO all twisted. Why? Because during the April 12th Game of Thrones episode, hundreds of users watched the show on Periscope — and hundreds of streams were saved. According to the Washington Post, HBO sent a series of takedown notices to Periscope, demanding they remove the offending content. The network described Periscoping as “mass copyright infringement,” even though the number of users watching live streams didn’t come close to total of those committing the more familiar version of online media piracy — downloading entire shows and movies from torrent-based websites. So why do these live streaming services have traditional media providers running scared?

Previous Piracy

Their first fear centers on content. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, platforms like Periscope and Meerkat aren’t responsible for anything posted or streamed by users. They are, however, compelled to remove this content on demand from rights-holders. But what happens when you take content out of the equation, when streams are saved temporarily or not at all?

This leads into their second fear: Accessibility. While the number of users watching Periscope channels is a fraction of those downloading full movie files the “average” user won’t find themselves on a torrent site, and will happily pay for cable if it means they get to watch their favorite shows every week. The smartphone in their pocket, however, offers an alternative: Check out someone’s live stream of a movie you really wanted to see or an episode you’ve missed. Why not watch a live stream during your commute or when you’re on vacation instead of recording the show for later viewing? Simply put, on-demand content is bad news for traditional providers.

Cracking Down

So what are they going to do about it? HBO started the party with its takedown notices, but it won’t stop there. As content disappears from sites and apps, producers will find a new target: Users. This is already happening in places like Australia, where the Dallas Buyers Club (DBC), fought for and were granted permission to obtain IP address and personal data about users who hosted their film for downloading on torrent sites in order to send out warning letters.

The response? You’ve got a few choices. There are apps like Popcorn Time, an open-source BitTorrent client described as the “Neflix of Pirating,”. For many users, however, their aim isn’t to pirate but occasionally watch live streams they find interesting — and if these happen to be first-run shows or new movies, so be it. Here, a standalone VPN service gets more traction; as media producers zero in on smartphones and tablets as the future of piracy, it pays to look like a merchantman rather than raise the Jolly Roger.


Featured image: Linnaea Mallette / Public Domain Pictures.net