It's no secret that piracy is a big problem in the world of media. Research reveals that pirated video material gets over 230 billion views a year. Every year, billions of pounds' worth of content is pirated and consumed illegally. This has a huge impact on the industry, both in terms of lost revenue and damage to reputation.
Piracy has been around for a long time, who can forget when we copied music from cassette tapes to CDs. Then, when the internet became more accessible around the world and broadband speeds improved, piracy largely moved online. People were then able to start sharing files illegally using peer-to-peer (P2P) networks and forum websites.
The broadband comparison team at Uswitch have broken down exactly what piracy is, how it can affect people and how to avoid it. Additionally, to find the most in-demand illegal media, we’ve collated the most common international Google search volumes of popular pirating terms to determine the most pirated video games, TV shows, films and software.
In simple terms, piracy is the unauthorised copying or use of copyrighted material, typically music, films, and software, which is illegal and considered a punishable offence under international law.
Piracy became popular because people wanted to watch their favourite movies and TV shows without paying, or before their official commercial release. While piracy may seem like a victimless crime, it actually has far-reaching consequences. Piracy has a huge effect on those who work in the media industry, both in terms of lost revenue and damage to reputation.
When content is pirated, the people who created it don't get paid for their work, which can result in huge losses. This includes the actors, writers, runners, directors, production assistants, set designers and everyone else involved in making the movie or TV show.
Piracy also harms the reputations of the companies that produce and distribute copyrighted material. For example, if a movie is leaked online before its official release date, it could stop people from paying to see it in cinemas, and the performance of that movie in the box office is harder to measure.
Our study found that the list of most-pirated films is dominated by superhero movies adapted from comic books. Of the overall top 10 most pirated movies, six are superhero movies.
Ranking number one is Spider-Man: No Way Home with 83,390 monthly searches in 2022. Fans eagerly awaited the much anticipated release of the multiverse adventure which saw all three Spider Men (Toby Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland) on the screen together. Despite raking in over $1.32 billion at the box office, this didn’t stop viewers leaking the movie online.
Avengers Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) phase 3 finale is the second highest grossing movie of all time ($2.7 billion).
Disney, which owns the production company behind the MCU, preempted that the movie might quickly end up on illegal pirating sites, and carefully tried to plan their release strategy to limit piracy from happening. Within hours after this film’s release, the superhero epic appeared on illegal pirating websites.
Rounding off the top three most pirated movies is Christopher Nolan’s space epic, Interstellar. Interstellar was named the most pirated movie in 2015, and it still remains popular in 2022 with 2,910 monthly searches in 2022 for illegal streams of the movie.
The top 15 most pirated movies list also includes some older classics such as Star Wars, Good Will Hunting and Pulp Fiction.
Game of Thrones was one of the most popular shows on television during its eight-season run, and it quickly became the most pirated TV show overall. Despite ending in 2019, HBO's fantasy saga remains popular on piracy sites with 8,560 monthly searches for illegal streams in 2022. The eighth season saw episodes leak in advance of its release causing a piracy frenzy.
Similarly, another HBO drama, Euphoria, is one of the most pirated TV shows, with 7,960 monthly searches this year. Despite having only 2 seasons, the drama took social media by storm and became a favourite among Gen-Z across the globe, who were keen to avoid spoilers on social media.
Our research reveals it's not just new shows that are popular for illegal downloading, with Friends finishing the top 3 with 5,060 monthly searches. Despite the show last airing in 2004 it remains a popular piracy search.
More than 80% of global online piracy is attributable to illegal streaming services. The list of most pirated TV shows is dominated by popular cable and streaming shows. Of the top ten most pirated TV shows, eight are live-action series found on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
The most searched for pirated software is Photoshop, with 49,970 monthly searches. Adobe has tried to make the software more accessible to people by introducing a subscription based service, however this has not stopped illegal downloads.
More recently, it has been reported that Adobe will be launching a free-to-use web browser-based version of Photoshop, which could help prevent people pirating the software.
Programs including Microsoft's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, find themselves within the top ten most pirated software. These programs are often considered essential for many people who use computers on a daily basis. Similarly to Photoshop, users turn to pirated versions of Microsoft as it is cheaper than purchasing it.
While most of the software on the list is paid, there are two that are free for users of the previous version - Windows 10 and Windows 11. These are both operating systems that are offered by Microsoft, with Windows 11 being the most recent release.
It's likely that these programs are often pirated because a licensed copy often needs to be purchased with a new or refurbished computer.
Video games are the most pirated pieces of media content, with searches often exceeding 58,000 per month. The most pirated game is Minecraft, with 58,010 monthly searches for pirated versions.
The game lets players mine for minerals, build shelters, and fight off monsters that come at night. It has remained a widely popular game since its release in 2011, resulting in the continuous high search volume for pirated versions of this game.
Roblox is a free game across various devices, where users can create anything and share it with the world. Whilst the game is free for players to download, it does come with in-game transactions to enhance player experience, which could explain why its in such high demand for pirated versions with 21,190 monthly searches.
GTA also makes the top 3 of most pirated games with 16,820 month searches for illegal copies of the game. Since the franchise first debuted in 1997, it has remained popular among gamers. The game follows three criminals as they commit daring and profitable heists across various U.S. cities.
Illegal downloading has lasting effects on studios and production companies that finance and distribute the content, as well as the workers who are employed by them. This is because far less money is made from piracy-prone content, which means they're less likely to invest in new and exciting projects.
Piracy can also hurt the quality of the content itself, as many pirated copies of newly released films are filmed on low quality cameras and illegally distributed. Studios and production companies are less likely to invest in high-quality projects if they know that they won't be able to recoup their investment through ticket sales or subscriptions.
Whilst illegal downloading might be a free alternative for some users, piracy can lead to job losses in the entertainment industry. Production companies are less likely to invest in new projects if they know that they won't be able to make as much money from them to pay the staff they employ.
And piracy can have a huge impact on the economy as a whole, due to the entertainment industry being a major contributor to GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and piracy takes away from the revenue that would otherwise be generated.
These are just some of the reasons why pirating is an illegal offence and can result in huge fines or even imprisonment. Many pirating websites can also result in viruses and hacking, which could endanger users’ tech.
The software industry has been working hard to combat piracy through the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM), making it harder for people to pirate software. Likewise, the video game industry has been implementing DRM technology, which makes it more difficult for people to pirate games.
The movie and TV industry has also been continuously working to prevent piracy, working with law enforcement to shut down illegal streaming sites and torrent sites. They've also been working on developing new technologies, such as watermarking and digitally preventing screen capturing technology, making it harder for people to pirate content.
Netflix, specifically, recently announced that it would be cracking down on users that shared their login information with other people outside of the account's household. The move came with massive backlash, causing some users to reconsider their subscriptions. At a time where over 200,000 subscribers had already left the platform due to issues such as the rising cost of living and the explosion of rival streaming services. With this in mind, the decision to crack down does show a firm stance in the company’s desire to reduce piracy.
Downloading pirated media can lead to a number of threats to your devices including unwanted ads, downloading malware or making your personal data vulnerable. There are few things you can do to protect yourself from the dangers of piracy.. Here are a few examples of how:
Only download or stream content from official sources, such as Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, the iTunes Store and so on. If you're not sure if a site is legal, do some research to find out.
If you're using a peer-to-peer (P2P) service, make sure the shared content is legal. Just because the service itself may be legal, that doesn't mean that all of the content being shared on it is.
Be mindful of the content you're downloading or streaming. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Make sure that your computer has up-to-date security software, this will help to protect you from hacking, viruses and malware, which can be buried within pirated content.
Be careful what you click on online. Many piracy sites use deceptive advertising to lure people in. Once you click on one of these ads, you may be taken to an illegitimate site that could infect your computer with malware.
Educate yourself and others about piracy. The more people that are aware of the negative effects of piracy, the less likely it is to happen. Report piracy when you see it happening. By reporting illegal piracy activity, you can help limit piracy's impact and make the internet a safer place for everyone.
Nick Baker, Broadband expert at Uswitch says:
“With the increasing cost of living, some people may turn to illegal downloading as a means to access their favourite TV shows, films, games and software online. This could be cause for concern as online piracy not only has a negative impact on creators, but it can come with risks to your own safety and security.
“Using illegal piracy websites can put users at extreme risk of hacking and phishing scams which makes your personal data vulnerable. In addition to that, industries that are affected by illegal downloading closely monitor the internet and can take legal action against you if caught.
“While the temptation to pirate your favourite content is appealing, it’s worth asking yourself if it’s really worth putting yourself at risk of scams and legal action.
“Ustream is our onsite tool that helps viewers plan out their viewing calendar and understand which streaming services they need in order to watch their favourite content and which ones they could cancel to save some money.”