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Digital Piracy, Illegal Downloads, and the Entertainment Industry

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The purpose of this sample research paper from Ultius is to inform how digital piracy is seen by many to be one of the great evils of the modern age, whereas others view it as a natural and normal effect of the power of the Internet. Regardless of whether or not internet piracy is harmful, it is clear that there is a convergence of different forms of media with regards to the Internet.

Media convergence, film, television, and piracy

The convergence of different forms of media has had and will continue to have a huge impact on the way individuals keep themselves informed and entertained. In particular, the digitization of movies and television shows and the ease with which they are accessed via the internet have drastically changed the way that many people consume these products. However, this convergence has also generated a swift rise in online video piracy through which, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Senior Counselor, Erik Barnett in a 2010 CSPAN broadcast, the film and television industry has incurred annual losses estimated by some studies to be in the billions of dollars and over 300,000 jobs. 

According to a report funded by the Motion Picture Association of America,

“the top-three websites classified as ‘digital piracy’ – Rapidshare.com, Megavideo.com, and Megaupload.com – collectively generate more than 21 billion visits per year” (TrafficReport, 2011).

Entertainment isn't the only industry susceptible to piracy. Piracy can also affect education. The case of Alexandra Elbakyan is a prime example. Elbakyan made a vast number of academic journal articles available for free on the internet. These journals are technically the property of the publisher, and normally require payment to access them.

If this claim is accurate and the popularity of online piracy continues to rise, then, despite recent attempts to pass legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which purport to minimize piracy, these industries can expect their losses to rapidly increase unless they take action to reform their practices in a way that will meet the increased demands of affordability and accessibility that the digitization of media and advancements in technology have brought about in the general viewership.

Changes in delivery and consumption

In terms of television and film, perhaps the most obvious and practical effect of media convergence has been the changes in the delivery systems by which these products are consumed. While ten years ago, a viewer who wanted to watch a certain program had to be in front of a television at a particular time to see it air, today, many television shows can be accessed on multiple devices live via the internet.

Additionally, features such as On Demand make it possible for viewers to watch television programs long after their air dates. Similarly, in the past, one would have to either go to a movie theater to see a film or wait for several months to a year for it to be released on VHS or DVD so that he or she could watch it at home; however, services such as Netflix and Hulu have recently made it much easier for viewers to watch movies in almost any location. Moreover, smartphones, tablets, Smart TV's, and computers have served to increase consumers’ capabilities to watch shows and movies in terms of when, where, and how they choose to view them. 

It is clear in each of these examples that the digitization of films and television shows and the technological development of new delivery systems have contributed to the rise of a new demand on the part of consumers: accessibility. In an article in Technology Review, Stephen Cass states that,

“The key technical characteristic of what works is the ability to facilitate consumers’ desire to read, watch, or listen to any content they want, anywhere, anytime” (Convergence is King, 2009).

As viewers are now able to consume movies and programs at their convenience, they do so, and they expect to continue doing so more often and at a higher rate than in the past. Unfortunately, the demand for accessibility has not been met by much of the film and television industry. Viewers possess all of the material capabilities necessary to enjoy watching whatever they want to watch whenever they want to watch it; however, the supply to meet this demand is still lacking. 

The motivation to illegally download

Even with the radical advances in delivery systems and the digitization of films and television shows, consumers’ accessibility is relatively limited. Often, a viewer must still wait for months after a movie is out of theaters for it to become available on Netflix. According to an article by Eric Pfanner,

“restrictions like these stimulate piracy, because there are few geographic or time restrictions on illegal downloads” (2010).

The same can be said for those television shows that air on premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime, as they are often inaccessible to viewers who do not subscribe to these channels. According to Kris Mukai in a New York Times article,

“The most downloaded television shows on the Pirate Bay are the ones that are not legally available online...”

The Pirate Bay is a popular torrenting website for people who want to download shows and movies. Often illegally downloaded more times per week than it is watched on television, Game of Thrones, a hit series on HBO, is a good example of Mukai’s claim (Dewey, 2013).

Technology, Digital Piracy, and Media Convergence

This inaccessibility is viewed as a failure on the part of the suppliers by The University of Central Florida’s Matthew Immerman who states that, given the technology available and the high demand for access to the show on the part of consumers, “it is unreasonable and quite frankly inexcusable that almost a year after the first season of Game of Thrones airs, the only way to for people to watch it legally is to subscribe monthly to HBO” (2012). In keeping with Immerman’s sense of discontent, Game of Thrones is considered to be the most illegally downloaded show in the world (Dewey, 2013).

Interestingly, however, despite Barnett’s claims of lost revue to the television and film industry, Games of Thrones’ director David Petrarca claims that illegal downloading has helped the show by creating publicity, and the CEO of Time Warner, the company that owns HBO, stated that the high volume of piracy associated with the show was, “better than an Emmy Award” (Dewey, 2013). Additionally, Dewey states that, “There’s also some evidence to suggest that piracy has contributed to GoT’s strong DVD sales. According to industry analyst Nash Information Services, the show’s first season was the best-selling TV DVD of 2012” (2013). Thus, though it may seem paradoxical from a business standpoint, online piracy might serve as a boost to the film and television industry; the more people watch and discuss and show or film, the more other people will be interested in watching it. While some of these viewers will end up pirating the film online, many others will do so through legal means. Thus, it is unclear whether online pirating results in a loss for the industry, or whether it gives with one hand while taking away with another.


The idea that media convergence has placed paramount importance on a viewer’s demand for accessibility is not lost on many providers in the film and television industry. Stephen Cass quotes James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research, commenting on the simplicity and high quality of Apple’s distribution system, “It’s easier to buy media from iTunes than it is to steal it” (2009). McQuivey appears to be in agreement with the idea that accessibility can be used as a chief deterrent against online piracy. 

However, the consumer demand for greater accessibility to movies and programs can only be achieved through a fundamental restructuring of how most film companies and many television networks allow their products to be distributed. If, in fact, contrary to Dewey’s claim that illegal download actually helps the television and film industry, piracy does result in a loss of profits for these businesses, industry leaders will either have to find a way to reconcile profitability and accessibility or continue to suffer increasing losses for years to come as technology progresses and media continue to converge with one another.

Notes on sources

I began my research by using Google to search for the terms “media convergence.” This returned many different hits, though many of them were from blogs, corporate websites and other unreliable sources. I refined by search by using the terms media convergence, articles. This search returned a number of articles that I read and, I have incorporated several of these into this paper, including the article by Eric Pfanner which sparked my interest in the relationship between of media convergence and film and television piracy. I then searched for “media convergence, piracy, articles.” This search helped me find some more articles, including one that quoted Erik Barnett during his interview on “The Communicators.” I used YouTube to look up his interview which also helped to inform my paper. My sources were all very easily accessible and it took me just over five hours to compile them.

The interview with Erik Barnett and the Traffic Report by MarkMoniter Inc. were both very usefully in establishing online piracy as a core problem for the industry and the economy in general. The source editorial by Jenkins helped me to understand the contention that is bound to arise between consumers, suppliers, and lawmakers in light of media convergence. My sources by Mukai, Cass, and Pfanner were helpful as they detailed how the lack of legally available means of access encourages online film and television show piracy and how illegal downloading is rooted in the consumer’s demand for accessibility. Finally, my sources by Dewey and Immerman provided me with the statistics behind the piracy of Game of Thrones episodes, which I have used as one of my main examples in this paper.


Barnett, E. The Communicators: Stopping Online Piracy.mp4 [Television broadcast]. (2010, August 14). In The Communicators. New York, New York: CSPAN. Retrieved August 16, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXdzOuehLVo

Cass, S. (2009, December 21). Convergence is King. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://www.technologyreview.com/article/416825/convergence-is-king/

Dewey, C. (2013, August 9). ‘Game of Thrones’ Exec. Says Piracy is ‘Better Than an Emmy.’ He Has a Point. The Washington Post. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/08/09/game-of-thrones-exec-says-piracy-is-better-than-an-emmy-he-has-a-point/

Immerman, M. (2012, February 23). A Look At Online Piracy. Media Convergence Initiative. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://tv.cos.ucf.edu/blog/?p=1190

Jenkins, H. (2001, June). Convergence? I Diverge [Editorial]. Technology Review, 93. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/converge.pdf

MarkMonitor Inc. (2011, January). Traffic Report: Online Piracy and Counterfeiting. Motion Picture Association of America. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://www.mpaa.org/policy/industry

Mukai, K. (2012, August 4). Internet Pirates Will Always Win. The New York Times. Retrieved August 15, 2013.

Pfanner, E. (2010, January 3). A Second Stab at Convergence. The New York Times. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/technology/04cache.html?_r=0



Ultius, Inc. "Digital Piracy, Illegal Downloads, and the Entertainment Industry." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 13 Jul. 2014. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/digital-piracy-illegal-downloads-and-the-entertainment-industry.html

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Ultius, Inc. (2014, July 13). Digital Piracy, Illegal Downloads, and the Entertainment Industry. Retrieved from Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services, https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/digital-piracy-illegal-downloads-and-the-entertainment-industry.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Digital Piracy, Illegal Downloads, and the Entertainment Industry." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. July 13, 2014 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/digital-piracy-illegal-downloads-and-the-entertainment-industry.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Digital Piracy, Illegal Downloads, and the Entertainment Industry." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. July 13, 2014 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/digital-piracy-illegal-downloads-and-the-entertainment-industry.html.

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