Sky TV is stepping up its attack on piracy. The pay-TV operator says it will start legal action against some of the biggest websites offering pirated content before the end of the year.

Today it released research showing 30 percent of New Zealand adults regularly pirate content and 10 percent do it on a weekly basis. Mark Jennings reports.

The bosses at Sky TV have had a feeling that pirates were costing the company serious money. Now they know it’s the case.

Three hundred thousand New Zealanders are regularly watching illegal streams of sports. The figure comes from a major research project Sky had carried out by Research Now in May this year.

The Navigators surveyed 1009 people aged 18 and over.

It found 50 percent had viewed pirated content at some time in the past and nearly a third of the population do it regularly or at least every six months.

Most (81 percent) gave “it’s not available in New Zealand” as the reason for their digital piracy. Nearly 70 percent said not being able to afford to pay for the content was a key reason for illegally downloading or streaming it.

Sophie Moloney, Sky TV’s general counsel, accepts that cost is a genuine issue.

“We have been trying to grapple with this problem and it is one of the reasons we have created a Neon package for $11.99. Socioeconomic factors do come into it but there is also a problem with higher income earners and these are the people we really want to have a conversation with.”

Moloney, who says her experience working in the UK and the Middle East have made her passionate about “content protection”, wants people to understand the impact piracy has on the creative industry.

“People say it is only Hollywood, but they don’t understand that there a lot of people involved behind the scenes in producing content.”

She cites Game of Thrones as an example of what it takes to get a series to air.

“With GOT there were 3589 people involved in getting the first episode from page to screen. With every All Blacks game 80 of our people are involved (getting it to air).”

Moloney says people also need to realise that there are “criminals behind these websites” and it is risky to download movies and other content.

“The pirate sites make money in a number of ways, but they also use spyware, malware and ransomware. I saw this when I worked in the Middle East. People paid the ransom, or they were never going to see their kids’ photos that had been locked up, ever again.

“When you get material from these sites you don’t know what else you are getting.”

Moloney said Sky had not quantified how much money it was losing from people pirating material but thought it would be “in the millions.” It planned to do some impact analysis later this year.

SKY knows that it is fighting what has become “normalised” behaviour for a lot of people.

The research showed that most pirates know others who watch pirated content and feel it is an easy thing to do. Still, Moloney believes the “group behaviour” also opens up an opportunity.

“If we can get one person in a group (of pirates) to change their thinking, that could have a significant impact.

“For instance, people wouldn’t go into a shop stocking a New Zealand clothing brand and steal something every couple of months, so we need to interrupt their thought process when they are looking at pirated content.”

The “conversation” Maloney says she wants to have with people will be kick-started when Sky takes legal action in the next few months.

It has two initial targets, big international operation The Pirate Bay and a sports streaming site it declined to name.

Moloney said Sky believes the Copyright Act is being breached and a High Court ruling in its favour would mean it could get ISPs to block the pirate websites.

“There would certainly be significant upfront legal costs for Sky but once the precedent is established it should be straightforward for the ISPs to block these sites and that includes the proxy and mirror sites of The Pirate Bay.

“The research shows it is time to take this forward and we are in the process of that now. We have already begun discussions with the ISPs.”

Site blocking has been effective in many overseas countries.

A Motion Picture Association study from 2016 revealed that 32 countries in Europe have legislation for blocking overseas websites and 15 countries have successfully had cases processed through the courts.

In the Asia Pacific region, South Korea has blocked 403 websites, Indonesia 215 and Australia 78.

MPA says that without piracy, box office revenue would have been 14 to 15 percent higher.

A UK case study shows “site blocking” had led to a 22 percent decrease in piracy for all users affected by the blocks and corresponding increase in the use of legal streaming sites like Netflix and BBC.

Moloney says Sky’s research has indicated strong support for “site blocking” in New Zealand.

Fifty-one percent of pirates and 68 percent of non-pirates would be happy for their ISPs to block piracy websites if were a court requirement.

Sky is also trying a softer approach to go with the legal manoeuvring. It has licensing a video game called ‘Copycat Combat’ and is piloting an education programme called Kiwa in an Auckland primary school.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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