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Online Piracy Report: Problem is Big, Growing

Online piracy continues to be a huge and growing problem, according to a new study, "Sizing the Piracy Universe," from NetNames (formerly Envisional).

Commissioned by NBCUniversal, the report consolidates and extends a 2011 piracy report by the company. Among the key takeaways from the study are that worldwide, 432 million unique users sought infringing content in January 2013 alone. That translated to 13.9 billion page views on web sites "focused on piracy."

David Price, director of piracy analysis, NetNames, said there was no double counting in those unique user figures.

The majority of that (327 million unique users) came from North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific.

The study found that bandwidth used for infringing increased by 159.3% from 2010 to 2012 to approximately 23.8% of the total bandwidth by all residential and business users in those three regions.

Video streaming of pirated content was up dramatically (471.9%) since 2010 to 1,527 petabytes (a petabyte is a quadrillion bytes).

Both the number of users and amount of piracy has increased, and in some cases quite dramatically, said Price.

According to Price, the study did not find that Google's infringement "marker" effort had had any significant impact on the number of infringing sites coming up in search results.

Price said that the definition of a site "focused on piracy" was one where more than half the content or links available on the site were to infringing content. He added that there was a "long tail" of piracy sites below the 50,000 users threshold for the study, and that no infringing pornography was included, so the study figures were probably conservative.

While peer-to-peer site infringement is on the rise, Price said there was a lesson to be learned from the shut-down of cyberlocker Megaupload in January 2012. Since then he said there has been a steady decrease in piracy via cyberlocker sites, not only from the shut-down of Megaupload (Justice said that at the time of its shutdown, it had more than 150 million registered users and 50 million daily visitors) but from the closure soon after of five of the top 10 cyberlocker sites. A cyberlocker is a third-party file storage and sharing site that can facilitate the distribution of pirated content.

The report was released ahead of a Hill hearing this week on voluntary piracy initiatives. It drew on studies of more than a thousand sites and used Web data from comScore and bandwidth data from Sandvine and Cisco.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.