news US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich has published an impassioned statement appealing to Australians to stop breaching the copyright of US cable giant HBO by illegally downloading its popular Game of Thrones television show in record numbers.
Analysis by file-sharing news site TorrentFreak published this month showed that Australia continues to be the world’s most enthusiastic nation globally in terms of illegally downloading Game of Thrones, despite the fact that the series was made available legally, cheaply and in high quality in Australia shortly after it was broadcast in the US, through platforms such as Apple’s iTunes and the Foxtel pay TV service.
According to an article published by TorrentFreak in early April, the first episode of the third season of the hit TV series had been downloaded over a million times illegally via the BitTorrent file-sharing platform at that point, with a record number of people sharing the episode.
Australia was the third most prevalent nation for Game of Thrones downloads, according to the site, with some 9.9 percent of those downloading the file residing in Australia. On a per capita basis, due to Australia’s small population, this means that Australia is the world’s most prolific nation when it comes to pirating Game of Thrones. “The number three spot for Australia is impressive and with a population of just over 22 million people it has the highest piracy rate,” wrote TorrentFreak. “Looking at other cities we see that most downloads come from London, before Paris and Sydney.”
Historically Australians have blamed the fact that the show was not available in a timely and cost-effective manner in Australia for the illegal downloading practice. However, there appears to be less justification for Australians to download Game of Thrones and shows like it illegally under current circumstances. Just days after it aired in the US, local pay TV giant Foxtel already started airing the new Games of Thrones episode in Australia. In addition, the episode is available through Apple’s iTunes platform locally in HD quality for just $3.49 hours after its US broadcast, meaning it is trivial for Australians to obtain the content legally, although many Delimiter readers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the iTunes platform in comments over the past several weeks.
In his statement, published on his Facebook page, Bleich noted that he and his family had just started watching the third season of Game of Thrones. “For those who aren’t already fans, it is a great epic chronicling the devious machinations of rival noble houses fighting for supremacy,” Bleich wrote. “Unfortunately, nearly as epic and devious as the drama, is its unprecedented theft by online viewers around the world.”
“The file-sharing news website TorrentFreak estimated that Game of Thrones was the most-pirated TV series of 2012. One episode was illegally downloaded about 4,280,000 times through public BitTorrent trackers in 2012, which is about equal to the number of that episode’s broadcast viewers. In other words, about half of that episode’s viewers stole the program from HBO. As the Ambassador here in Australia, it was especially troubling to find out that Australian fans were some of the worst offenders with among the highest piracy rates of Game of Thrones in the world. While some people here used to claim that they used pirate sites only because of a delay in getting new episodes here, the show is now available from legitimate sources within hours of its broadcast in the United States.”
On the day the ambassador posted his Facebook post, Bleich noted it was the UN’s World Book and Copyright Day, and alleged that copying Game of Thrones was “not a victimless crime”.
“A show like Game of Thrones takes a lot of work and talent by many artists to create,” he wrote. “These artists can do this work only if we ensure that they are rewarded for their labors. Production companies are no different. Entire industries exist to locate artists, provide them a forum for their works, arrange contracts, record, promote, and sell their works, and free artists from doing other things – like waiting tables and parking cars in Hollywood — by paying them for their efforts. Here in Australia about 8% of the workforce works in the copyright industries and depends on people obeying the law – not to mention the artists in Ireland, Malta, Croatia, Iceland, and Morocco, where the series is filmed, who depend on fans obeying the law.”
“And yet, it seems that fans often forget all of this. Anyone might be tempted to download pirated CDs and movies, and illegally share these materials; and there are big businesses that make money by encouraging consumers to illegally upload material as well. But artists’ livelihoods depend on us rejecting that urge; just as shopkeepers and small businesses depend on people not just stealing products from their shelves. If the 4 million people who watched Game of Throne legally had been illegal downloaders – the show would be off the air and there would never have been a Season 3. So to me, Copyright Day is not about government regulations, it is about celebrating and protecting the power of great writers, painters, singers, composers, actors, dancers and other artists to bring us together and enrich our lives.”
Bleich said he recognised that fans of Game of Thrones who used illegal file-sharing sites to download the show had reasons — such as the content being much easier to access through such avenues, or they had been frustrated by importation delays, or even the fact that their parents wouldn’t pay for a subscription to download the show or they had objections to aspects of copyright law.
“But none of those reasons is an excuse – stealing is stealing. Buying a book in a store costs more and takes longer than stealing it from your neighbor’s house, but we all know it is the right thing to do and it allows authors to make a living and write more books. So please celebrate UN World Book and Copyright Day by doing the right thing – Tyrion Lannister will thank you for it,” wrote Bleich.
The US Ambassador is not the only high-profile individual to severely criticise Australians recently for the nation’s high rates of Game of Thrones piracy.
For example, in early April local author and blogger John Birmingham satirically attacked those who pirate the show on his Brisbane Times blog, Blunt Instrument, writing: ““Is there some sort of internet freetard math I’m unaware of that lets the producers of GoT spend millions of actual dollars making the show while you suck it down off the intertubes for free because somehow the ‘exposure’ will put enough money in their bank accounts to pay for all the writers and actors and camera guys and set designers and costume makers and caterers and editors and special effects dudes and CGI mavens and musicians and lighting and sound techs and drivers and so on whatever and ever amen?”
Those opposed to accessing the show through Foxtel or iTunes have frequently pointed out the technical restrictions inherent to such platforms. To access Game of Thrones through Foxtel Australians are required to have a costly subscription to the pay TV player’s services — although they may not want to consume other content than Game of Thrones. In addition, many see Apple’s iTunes as an overly restrictive platform which only deploys content to PCs and Macs — but not to dedicated set-top boxes.
Additionally, IPTV player Quickflix has recently announced its intention to bring shows such as Game of Thrones to Australia more quickly.
Image credit: HBO (promotional shot from Game of Thrones TV show), US State Department