"If you have ever been robbed of anything in your life, try to remember how you felt."
Since the computer chip was invented, the pace of digital innovation has continued to accelerate. As access to fast broadband has become indispensable, the main source of information and entertainment has shifted from traditional media to the internet, from reading publications, listening to the radio and watching free television broadcasts, to subscription-based cloud services and virtually unlimited digitalized content.
As expected, these wonderful digital technologies, which are now essential to everyday life, have become the same medium of content piracy now wreaking global havoc to legitimate creative industries. In particular, the television and film industry which now struggles to fight piracy websites illegally distributing pirated content.
Digital piracy is defined by the content industry as the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material such as software, music, e-books, movies, and all the content we see in legitimate streaming websites such as Netflix, and cable. Digital piracy negatively affects not just the content industry, content producers, and intellectual property right owners. It affects the individual creative artist and even us consumers. These pirates are stealing from every person working in the whole creative ecosystem: the actors, the directors, the writers, and the production crew.
According to the Global Innovation Policy Center, in 2020 online piracy’s estimated damage to the US economy was as high as $71 billion each year — and this was before the pandemic. According to reports, just a few weeks after global lockdowns started, visits to illegal streaming websites surged in all countries ranging from 17 percent to 66 percent.
This huge loss of revenue will eventually become too big a risk for content owners to invest which means there will be lower budgets for quality production and new content. For consumers, we will see fewer and fewer new shows and the level of quality will degrade. Cancellation of ongoing TV series have occurred in the US that producers blamed on rampant piracy of their show.
For consumers, it’s not just lower quality shows and fewer titles to watch. Cybersecurity experts have warned that one out of three piracy websites embed malware that will compromise personal data and lead to more serious consequences if users are victimized by cybercriminals.
The Philippines has become an important market for both international and local content and consequently becomes a flourishing hunting ground for digital piracy. The September 2020 survey of YouGov revealed that 49 percent of Philippine respondents admitted to accessing pirated content from streaming websites. This is assuming all these respondents were being honest, which is unlikely. Of these piracy patrons, half said that they cancelled their legitimate content subscriptions. Another survey by Media Partners Asia estimated the loss of the OTT (Over-the-top, means a media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet) video industry at $120 million.
However, the situation in other Southeast Asian countries is not as alarming. For the last few years, Malaysia and Indonesia have successfully implemented site-blocking strategies that have greatly reduced online piracy and resulted in consumers’ return to legal content consumption.
The closure of our movie theaters since the lockdowns has forced our local film industry to shift to Video-on-Demand streaming. What the industry hoped would make up for the losses from the lockdowns instead became a disaster when last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) was marketed online. According to reports, total receipts were less than 2 percent compared to 2019, a very painful blow to our movie industry because of rampant piracy. The producers of MMFF 2020 Best Picture “Fan Girl” reported monitoring 10 to 20 pirated links every hour that were streaming their movie online.
In response, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines is engaging the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA) and the major internet service providers Globe Telecom, PLDT, Smart Communications, Converge, Sky Cable Corp, and DITO Telecommunity Corp. to effectively block-off websites with pirated content. IPOPHL described this anti-online piracy campaign as a “holistic approach in fostering a society that respects IP rights.”
AVIA CEO Louis Boswell said, “Site blocking is a responsible means of not allowing access to pirated sites… We have experience now in multiple markets all around the region that site blocking, where it is done properly, can be incredibly effective at reducing the levels of piracy in a market.”
AVIA will support IPOPHIL by organizing training sessions, supplying valuable information on piracy matters, and providing recommendations on how IPOPHL can successfully develop mechanisms on online piracy monitoring and site blocking. AVIA has committed to assist the IPOPHL in defeating this piracy scourge.
As consumers, we must be responsible and sensitive to the millions of families being victimized by these cyber-criminals. If you have ever been robbed of anything in your life, try to remember how you felt and you will know why this blatant act of theft must be stopped.