The seventh season of Game of Thrones didn’t exactly break the Internet, but its July 16 premiere was a near thing. Not because, between live audiences, DVR recordings, and online subscriptions, over 26 million viewers watched the episode—a record-breaking first for the TV network. This number would be a lot more impressive if it included all of the people who watched the episode illegally. With pirate viewership included in the mix, it’s safe to say over 100 million people tuned into the premiere.
Despite the term pirate, there’s no need to navigate your way through the uncharted waters of the dark web to get your fix. Millions of ordinary people can find streams and downloads of their favorite show with a few clicks and swipes, all from the safety of their home.
People are watching without paying HBO for that right. Some are hosting Game of Thrones viewing parties as they use TV boxes like Android Box to stream the channel straight to their 4K television. Others are downloading it to watch later on their iPads, tablets, and smartphones in preparation of long commutes, wait times in doctors’ offices, and even parks.
Modern day piracy has its risks—but not necessarily those that you might think. Thankfully, unlike the pirates of old—or even Euron Greyjoy of Thrones—online piracy doesn’t risk death. Unless, perhaps, you live in North Korea.
There is, however, a very real threat to your watching device of choice. Say you take your iPhone 6s or Surface Pro onto the bus or subway with the intent to watch the latest ep as you commute to work. The sweaty, rough, and overcrowded conditions of public transit aren’t ideal for a lot of reasons, but it can cause damage to your device. One wrong step or push as people pile on can catapult your tablet or smartphone out of your hands.
Unless, of course, you’ve wrapped your device in a skin from the people behind dbrand. Their engineers understand the conditions you’re up against when taking public transit, so they’ve made tablet and iPhone 6s skins that enhance the grip of your device. These skins can also help protect against scratches and scuffs that may occur on the subway car — or anywhere your day takes you. Luckily, you can find iPhone 6s skins online as you pirate the next Game of Thrones episode. But you aren’t safe just yet, as there comes another unique risk with your criminal behaviour.
HBO hopes to crack down on those streaming and downloading their creative content illegally, and they’re being vocal about their objectives. Compared to the very real and very scary ‘fire and fury’ promised by Trump, the threats laid out by HBO are tame. In fact, they’re nonexistent as the letter received by pirating fans is the equivalent of ‘um, could you maybe not?’
For the innocent few who haven’t heard, HBO’s anti-piracy partner alerts the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) of any IP addresses under its charge involved in downloading or streaming the series without “authorization”. From there, the ISP relays a message to the customers in question, stating HBO owns the exclusive rights to the show and those who download it illegally are infringing on copyright laws. It also warns viewers that downloading Game of Thrones from unknown sources could result in a security breaches—as if the television network actually cares about your computer or tablet’s security.
HBO finishes its spiel by stating:
“We also encourage you to inform the subscriber that HBO programming can easily be watched and streamed on many devices legally.”
For the guilty streamers and downloaders, this will read similar to the letter they received last year as HBO hoped to squash piracy around the premiere of its sixth season. While individuals and small websites may throw caution to the wind, the might of HBO was impressive enough to pull thousands of links offline.
Despite its best efforts, HBO has no hope of eliminating piracy. MUSO, a piracy monitoring firm based out of the UK, studied the internet traffic of over 23,000 well-known piracy websites. Nearly 85% of these sites posted unauthorized streams of the episode. Meanwhile, the premierewas pirated 91.74 million times around the world.
According to MUSO, the stat is just an estimate. The latest technical innovations in TV boxes make it incredibly easy for even novice streamers to pirate movies and TV shows from around the world. These boxes also make the act incredibly hard for firms like MUSO to track. Unlike downloading, which can be tracked by ISPs, streaming is often encrypted. These security measures muddy the waters for those hoping to track piracy, so there could be hundreds, thousands, even millions more people watching Game of Thrones illegally.
Though HBO knows you’re doing it, there’s not uch else they can do about your streaming habits beyond their letters. With numbers comes safety, so even if you received your very own letter from HBO, you’ll be safe to stream or download your favorite series.