As a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic this year, people’s appetite for digital content and services has only increased, with quarantine and lockdown regulations necessitating greater connectivity while stuck at home.
The same goes for piracy, as torrenting and other forms of illegal downloading saw a sharp spike when coronavirus became more prevalent earlier in the year.
In August, for example, a report from research firm Muso estimated a 40 percent increase in the use of pirate sites to download content illegally in the United States and UK. The same sharp spike in use can be seen in other European countries, with Italy at 66 percent and Spain at 50.4 percent.
Fear of missing out
While there is no data on South Africa, one has to think that locally piracy too is on the rise. Take a popular show like The Mandalorian for example, which completes its second season on Disney+ this week. The streaming platform is not available in South Africa at the time of writing, yet plot points from the series somehow appear on local social media.
This is what leads many to believe that piracy will likely increase in 2021. This as lockdown regulations look here to stay as only a handful of countries truly have the spread of COVID-19 under control within their borders. For the vast majority, and wherever possible, staying at home will be a reality for the next few months at least.
In order to get their entertainment fix then, people will turn to streaming services.
Take Netflix and Showmax in South Africa as a good case in point, as both saw significant increases in terms of streaming numbers this year, with Showmax in particular seeing a 50 percent rise in active users.
While those platforms offer a decent amount of content, 2021 will see a swathe more arrive from rival options such as Disney+ and HBO Max.
Like the offering from the House of Mouse, HBO Max is not legally accessible in South Africa either, but with Warner Bros. (which owns HBO) confirming 17 blockbuster films being simultaneously released in theatres and on its streaming platform, it means a greater chance to watch content sans leaving the safety of your home.
As both offerings are not available in SA, consumers desperate to watch the content will likely turn to piracy in order to circumvent in region-specific licensing issues.
This is why piracy will intensify in 2021 should the year pan out much like this one has in terms of the pandemic.
The desire for content, whether it illegal will drive people to look for anyway to get it. For many South Africans then, it means turning to pirate websites, until the services become available locally.
But even that may not see a decrease in piracy, as research from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) suggests that consumers in lower income countries may still prefer to go the illegal route to access content, despite legal options being made available to them.
As such, it is not simply a case of making any and all streaming services available in South Africa, which would be great if that were the case, but rather that people will turn to the most cost effective way to access content.
In 2021 then, that means piracy.
As for who is to blame should piracy increase next year, it’s difficult to pinpoint one culprit, but regardless, content creators, studios and publishers face a tough battle to curb illegal downloading of content as a result of COVID-19.