The Motion Picture Association (MPA) recently asked the European Commission to increase enforcement efforts against online piracy. Citing threats to the €1 trillion EU copyright industries contribute to GDP, the trade group called out numerous IPTV, torrent, and streaming sites they claim enable mass copyright infringement.
The list includes 50+ domains the MPA asserts are havens for pirated movies, TV shows, sports, and more. However, critics argue this escalation fails to address the core issues driving users to pirate content.
In this comprehensive analysis, we‘ll dive deep into the various piracy ecosystems called out by the MPA. Looking at IPTV, torrents, and streaming hosters, we‘ll examine how each platform works and the challenges facing enforcement. We‘ll also consider whether targeting sites and services directly addresses piracy or simply pushes the problem elsewhere.
Ultimately, we find that stricter enforcement absent meaningful legal alternatives does little to change entrenched user behavior. Policymakers face a nuanced balancing act between copyright and access.
Piracy by the Numbers
While precise figures are elusive, piracy costs global media companies tens of billions annually per industry estimates. Pre-release leaks and camcordered theater rips remain problems, but online piracy predominates today.
The MPA submission cites a 38% piracy rate for films based on a 2021 online survey. However, some researchers contend such self-reported statistics inflate actual infringement levels. More conservative estimates place piracy rates at around 20% for certain media.
Delving into specifics:
- Streaming sites now account for over 50% of piracy with 123 million regular users globally [Sandvine].
- IPTV revenues reached $4.4 billion in 2021 and could pass $6 billion by 2027 [ResearchAndMarkets].
- YTS is the dominant movie piracy group with releases topping torrent charts [MPAA].
- 1337x and ThePirateBay remain popular torrent indexes [MPAA].
So while precise statistics vary, it‘s clear online platforms enable significant copyright infringement. Next we‘ll break down how the ecosystems called out by the MPA actually work.
IPTV – How it Works
IPTV providers were the most heavily targeted category in the MPA submission, with over a dozen services called out. But how does pirated IPTV actually work?
Unlike legal IPTV that streams licensed VOD and live TV, pirate services use illegally captured live feeds. Channels from across the globe are encoded and delivered to users through subscriptions or daily passes.
Popular pirate IPTV apps like STB Emu act as frontends to access the streams. Providers typically offer thousands of pirated channels, including premium sports and movies, for around $10-20 monthly. Some even offer dedicated VOD sections.
Enforcing against rogue IPTV services poses challenges, as many operate internationally across multiple jurisdictions. While site blocking provides some mitigation, subscribers often access streams through direct apps/player URLs. So restrictions are hit-or-miss.
Torrent Sites – The Perennial Battle
Torrent platforms constitute another major piracy arena called out by the MPA. Sites like ThePirateBay, 1337x, and YTS are decades-old staples allowing users to share infringing files via BitTorrent.
Despite persistent enforcement efforts, established torrent portals endure by moving to new domains and servers when pressured. Meanwhile, new indexers constantly emerge to replace blocked options.
Attempting to target individual sites proves ineffective when replacements are online within hours. This whack-a-mole dynamic leads many experts to conclude enforcement should focus higher up the chain on search engines and intermediaries.
Streaming Hoster Sites – Ad Revenue Fuels Growth
Streaming portals round out the MPA submission list, with sites like Fmovies, Cima4u, and EgyBest called out. Users can instantly stream or download movies and shows from cyberlocker-style hosts.
Streaming piracy has boomed in recent years, fueled largely by ad networks and intermediaries willing to work with infringing sites. Easy embed of video players and availability of open source scripts also lower barriers to launching platforms.
Rights holders issue large volumes of takedown notices, but overwhelmed processes mean links reappear quickly. Search engines refusing to downgrade infringing domains further enables access to streaming repositories.
Piracy Perspective – Indie Filmmakers and Small Creators
While the MPA submission focused on major studios, piracy also impacts smaller indie creators and niche producers.
Unlike prominent studios and networks, independent filmmakers lack the resources and leverage to protect works and issue takedowns at scale. Many report entire catalogs freely shared without recourse.
For less mainstream international and documentary features, even modest piracy hits can drastically undermine projects operating on thin margins. Protecting exclusivity windows is vital for independent creators trying to recoup costs.
So while fans may see piracy as a victimless crime, the losses caused by leakage and early access periods cannot be ignored when considering the wider creative ecosystem.
Limited Legal Options Drive Piracy Demand
Critics of strict enforcement argue it fails to address the underlying driver of piracy – limited availability of affordable, convenient legal options.
Data clearly shows piracy rates decline rapidly in regions where services like Netflix and Spotify launch. But restrictive licensing means many titles are unavailable legally for months or years post-theatrical release.
Geo-blocking also frustrates consumers, as just 5% of Netflix‘s US catalogue reaches UK users for example. And niche content lacks legal options entirely in many areas.
Until legal services can compete comprehensively on price, release dates, and catalogue breadth, piracy fills the vacuum. Policymakers face the difficult balancing act of nudging industry toward access while protecting IP.
The Whack-a-Mole Response Cycle
Opponents also contend strict enforcement fails due to the inevitable whack-a-mole response cycle:
- Industry submits lists of "rogue" sites and services to be targeted
- Policymakers and courts facilitate blocks and other restrictions
- Targeted sites relocate domains and servers to evade enforcement
- Users flock to mirror sites and easy workarounds like VPNs
- Industry provides updated block lists, restarting the cycle
With internet users now wise to bypass tools, site blocking has proven resource-intensive yet often ineffective. Most experts agree a broader strategy is needed beyond targeting individual domains.
Search Engines Hold the Key?
Given the limits of site-specific enforcement, policymakers are rethinking strategy to target higher level intermediaries like search engines, social media, and ad networks.
Some data shows that demoting pirate domains in search rankings meaningfully reduces piracy rates by limiting discoverability. But search engines resist such regulations as impediments to neutral indexing.
Another challenge is that user-generated sites like Reddit and Telegram often directly distribute or link to pirated content. Attempting to restrict such platforms triggers concerns about internet freedom.
Following the Money – Ad Networks
Perhaps the most promising pivot is focusing on the ad revenues that sustain many piracy services. Companies like Google are now proactively banning sites from their ad networks.
Cutting off profits could undermine the commercial viability of ad-funded piracy platforms. But offenders often turn to shadier networks with lower standards as workarounds.
Comprehensively tracing the complex web of intermediaries facilitating piracy remains an uphill battle across industries. But progress is possible with cooperation from key players.
Ground-Up Change Through Legal Alternatives
Beyond legislation, services like Spotify demonstrate consumer migration to legal options where they meet demand. Carrots can be more effective than sticks.
Some propose using subscription revenue to fund crowdsourced compensation pools for creators as an alternative to strict copyright. This would provide artists direct income while enabling flexible user access.
Radical solutions require industry relinquishing some control over distribution, so incumbent resistance slows reform. But bottom-up change through compelling legal models may prove most influential long-term.
Outlook for Users – Gradual Changes Ahead
Given the complex landscape, users are unlikely to see dramatic changes overnight as the EU weighs its response. graduala Approach Incremental measures like expanded site blocking seem most likely in the short term.
For European residents, this could mean more frequent notices from ISPs that torrent or streaming sites are blocked per court orders. VPNs and proxy services remain effective workarounds for determined pirates.
The smarter approach for lawful viewers is embracing the ever-expanding options for legal streaming. Services like Netflix, Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer continue improving access. Additionally, ad-supported platforms offer quality movies and shows without subscriptions.
While the tug-of-war between industry and digital rights advocates continues, consumers can drive progress by supporting creators through sanctioned platforms. Migration of users and dollars will ultimately dictate how policies evolve across the EU and beyond.