A new study from the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) suggest that online piracy has increased for the first time in years. In fact, piracy rates have been falling for several years, so a reverse in that trend is significant.

What is online piracy?

At the most basic level, online piracy is copying or stealing digital content. This could be music, video, software, ebooks or any other kind of content that should be paid for.

In the early 2000s, tools like Napster and Limewire allowed people to download music and video files for free – depriving artists of their income. The emergence of streaming services like Netflix, Apple Music and Spotify make it easy to access unlimited content – and ensure that artists are paid for their creations.

What happened?

New subscription services make it easier for people to access whatever digital content they want, when they want it. And because these services are relatively affordable, more people are choosing to pay for content.

However, the EUIPO’s discovery that piracy has increased suggests that something has changed. According to their study, 48% of all piracy is caused by people illegally viewing TV content. 58% of pirates access illicit content via streaming sites while 32% download episodes from torrent-based file sharing services.

What is the problem?

There are two main problems with digital piracy. First, it robs the creator of their income. It’s not just big companies who suffer – the people working behind the scenes lose out too.

Second, piracy is illegal. Penalties for stealing digital content vary from country to country, but they can be quite harsh. In the UK, digital pirates face up to five years in prison and a £5000 GBP fine (~$6000).

Whatever the penalty, piracy is illegal and you could be prosecuted if convicted of accessing or stealing digital content.

What has changed?

The EUIPO speculates that financial pressures, like inflation, means that people have less money to spend on entertainment. This can be seen in the way that fewer people are signing up for Netflix or Amazon Prime – and some are even cancelling their subscriptions altogether. 

The EUIPO suggests that rather than stop watching digital content online, these people are now turning to illegal sources to access the TV shows they watch. And that is why piracy rates are on the up.

Adding some perspective

It’s worth noting that although piracy is up, the rates are still far lower than they were 20, 10 or even five years ago. Whether people continue to access content illegally remains to be seen – hopefully this is just a ‘blip’ and rates of theft begin to fall again as the economy recovers.

If not, we can expect to see legal channels raising their prices again to cover the losses caused by piracy.