Internet Piracy Is Surging, Researchers Say

New studies reveal that people love to pirate TV and books, and that Americans outpace every other country when it comes to piracy.
Image: Getty Images.

The pandemic caused piracy to spike in 2020. According to a pair of reports from security researchers, 2021 was another growth year for online piracy. As first spotted by TorrentFreak, new reports from research groups Akamai and MUSO revealed that users visited pirate sites a total of 132 billion times in the first months of 2021, a 16% rise over the previous year.

Popcorn Time made headlines earlier this month when it announced it was shuttering due to a lack of interest. It seemed like a nail in the coffin of online piracy. But, as Motherboard pointed out, there are still a ton of Popcorn Time style sites on the internet and plenty of places to watch stuff for free.


The MUSO and Akamai reports reveal another reason Popcorn Time’s traffic dropped off—people are more interested in TV than movies. “At just over 67 billion total visits, television is the  top  pirated industry  among MUSO’s  data,” the Akamai report said. “The average visits  per internet user reached 20.01 across the nine-month reporting window, with the United States, followed by  Russia, and China ranking as the leading three sources of visitor traffic.”

The next largest chunk of the piracy pie is publishing. People visited piracy sites 30 billion times looking for books with the U.S. once again leading the pack. Movies were a distant third at 14.5 billion website visits. “India was the  top  source  of traffic in the film dataset, followed by Turkey, the United States, China, and Brazil,” the report said. Godzilla vs. King Kong, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and Black Widow topped the piracy film charts. Loki, WandaVision, and Rick & Morty topped the TV piracy charts.

Piracy is complicated. It flourishes and declines for many reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic kept people home and out of theaters, but many of the most pirated films were available to watch at home the same day they hit the cinema. There’s so many different streaming services now that it can be hard to keep track and watching a specific film or TV show can entail signing up for a specific service to watch one show. Faced with the prospect of paying another $10 a month to catch up on a TV show or watch the latest Marvel movie, many people chose piracy and decided to watch for free instead.

The report also noted that piracy has grown, in part, because companies have made streaming ubiquitous and it's easier for pirates to harvest content. “The need to balance access for legitimate customers versus combating piracy is a business decision that has to be evaluated  constantly,” Akamai said.

Access is key and Akamai noted that many of the pirates it talked to were stealing not because they couldn’t afford the content, but because they had no other way to see it. “Akamai researchers observed online related to piracy show that while a given show or movie is being pirated, those looking for this content pay to access other streaming services,” the report said. The reason—outside of criminal enterprise—that many are pirating the content that they do is lack of access and availability.”