What's Down: TV stations are taking a hit from online pirates despite wide efforts to make cyber buccaneers walk the plank.
Online pirates loot TV stations of prize shows
TV stations are taking a hit from online pirates despite wide efforts to make cyber buccaneers walk the plank.
Game of Thrones has emerged as the most-pirated TV show over the internet this year, according to news site TorrentFreak's latest annual survey out this week.
It said one episode of the series had racked up 4.3 million illegal global downloads - slightly more than its estimated US television audience.
The level of piracy may be linked to the fact that the TV company behind it, HBO, does not allow Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or other US streaming services access to its programmes. It instead restricts them to its own HBO Go online product, which is only available to its cable subscribers.
"Not all of the people who pirate do it because it's free - availability is also a big factor," Ernesto Van Der Sar, the editor of TorrentFreak, told the BBC.
TorrentFreak said that overall there had been a "small increase" in the amount of illegal sharing, after a "levelling out" of the activity the previous two years.
Investigations by American, Mexican and Ukrainian authorities led to two of the best-known file-sharing services disappearing earlier this year - Megaupload and the BitTorrent link site Demonoid.
The administrators of Newzbin2, a site that aggregated links to illegally copied material sourced from Usenet forums, also abandoned the operation after courts in the United Kingdom forced internet service providers to block access.
In addition, Surfthechannel, based in the UK, went offline after its owner was found guilty of "facilitating" copyright infringement and was given a four-year prison sentence.
After Game of Thrones, the top five most pirated TV shows this year were Dexter, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and Breaking Bad, according to TorrentFreak.
TorrentFreak noted that Australia was responsible for a disproportionate amount of illegal copies of Game of Thrones and suggested that might have been because episodes were broadcast locally a week later than in the US.
Mr Van Der Sar acknowledged that, despite the multimillion illegal downloads of Game of Thrones, HBO might still want to keep its current model.
"Most of the titles in the top 10 list are behind paywalls and are not distributed very widely," he said.
"If TV companies offered them online to a broader audience, piracy would be lower than it is now. But I'm not sure that would be best for their revenues as they rely on expensive subscriptions, which they still sell a lot of."