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Verimatrix Unmasks BitTorrent Piracy in 2021

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During the first half of March, Verimatrix used our own client to scrape BitTorrent’s mainline DHT protocol and gain first-hand, localized information about piracy on the world’s biggest distributed network. Our aim was to derive insights about the number of active distributors for each of the top 100 pirated TV shows, movies, and live sports events along with their geographical distribution and network provider information. BitTorrent has long been abused by users downloading stolen content, and the network is often synonymous with piracy, though it also has legitimate uses. One study found that 178.7 million unique internet users turned to BitTorrent for digital piracy in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. The BitTorrent P2P (peer to peer) community is often believed to be made up of individual users acting with “Robin Hood” principles rather than malicious for-profit thieves – singular users upload stolen content to make it more easily accessible for the masses. However, even if that is the case, this attitude reduces the public’s awareness of wrongdoing, and encourages cheap & fast VPNs that allow evasion from prosecution. All of these circumstances are working to keep the medium popular for piracy. We took a deeper look at current BitTorrent activity and its regional and institutional abuse. Here’s what we found about the BitTorrent community and content:

As we expected: Faster, better-quality pirate copies are being distributed illegally

Content pirates are catching up with today’s content protection technology and they are distributing high-quality movies and TV series faster than ever before. Whenever a new blockbuster movie or successful TV series is released on official, legitimate streaming services, a ripped version of it appears in BitTorrent within the next few hours—in high quality. This may be due to the widespread availability of free, easy-to-use software, faster broadband, and powerful entry-level PC technology. This lowers the barrier to entry for any users who may want to try their hand at stealing and distributing content illegally. Of course, the shift from cinemas to home distribution due to the pandemic also adds to piracy’s popularity. Although premium content protection is usually effective, high quality screen rips and HDMI-based piracy are getting easier to do and more popular.  This puts additional focus and urgency on tracing technologies like watermarking and end-to-end anti-piracy solutions when it comes to tracing leak sources. If legitimate content owners and operators want to protect their revenue, it’s critical to combat illegal content distribution – and fast.

What we didn’t expect: Piracy is happening outside the comfort of home

BitTorrent usage has been surging during the pandemic. However, we found that the perpetrators of piracy aren’t always who – or where – you would expect. Throughout our piracy harvesting activity in BitTorrent, we observed a substantial number of IP addresses that belonged to organizations such as:
  • Banks (including some countries’ national banks)
  • Military and government networks
  • Universities
  • Cybersecurity companies
  • Major tech companies
  • TV broadcasting companies
  • Nuclear research organizations
  • Hospitals
Quite often, even having Internet access in some of these organizations is already a violation of corporate IT policy, but accessing BitTorrent from these networks obviously indicates that the popularity of BitTorrent is not confined to teenagers or regular users at home. While some of the connections to piracy can be explained with investigations, this would not work as a plausible explanation for the majority of the members on this list.

No surprises: More people + more popular = more pirates

During the sample 16 days of our piracy harvesting, we aggregated all events to uncover the top 10 countries in the world that have the highest number of pirate BitTorrent users. From highest to lowest, the list of countries shows a strong correlation between population size and number of pirates:
  1. India
  2. Russia
  3. China
  4. Korea
  5. Brazil
  6. United States
  7. Ukraine
  8. Spain
  9. United Kingdom
  10. Pakistan
During the time we spent observing BitTorrent usage, the most pirated streaming services were DisneyPlus and HBOmax, which matches the fact that these both broadcasters have had the most popular shows in that time. The most pirated movie title on BitTorrent in early March was Zack Snyders Justice League 2021. Below, you can see the peak in Google searches for consumers seeking “Justice League Free”: Google trends chart showing searches for

Implement anti-piracy solutions to protect your content and revenue

With piracy platforms raging and advances in technology making it easier than ever to steal valuable, premium content, there’s no time like the present to combat these strains on your revenue. Content owners and operators must take the steps to implement security and roadblocks that make it more difficult for cybercriminals to gain access to content. Verimatrix offers solutions to protect the entire distribution chain, from forensic watermarking to application shielding for media apps. Talk to a specialist today to discuss your needs and how to easily implement solutions into your workflow.
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