Punishment for pirating content online

Along with the rest of the world, South Africans have discovered the perks of pirating online content. But what are the consequences of committing this crime? Moneybags journalist, Isabelle Coetzee, finds out.

A study by MyBroadband involving 2889 participants, proved that more than half of tech-savvy South Africans are guilty of pirating online content in the last 12 months.

The most popular downloads included TV shows (89%), movies (86%), music (48%), and software (31%). South African pirates prefer downloading from Kickass Torrents (77%), while µTorrent is has proven to be the favoured software.

According to a 2015 report by TorrentFreak, which is based on data from the piracy tracking organisation, MUSO, just under 7% of South Africans who have access to internet are guilty of pirating online content. A statistic which has no doubt grown in more recent times as access to the internet has become more readily and easily available.

Surprisingly, the report showed that South Africa ranked higher than the United States of America (4.89%), India (3.46%), and Germany (1.71%), and it was 34th on a list of 50 top piracy countries.

But what will happen if you are caught downloading content online?

Consequences of online piracy

According to the Southern African Federation against Copyright Theft (SAFACT), “Piracy is a breach of copyright and/or trademarks, making it a criminal offence punishable in most cases by a maximum prison sentence of 5 years and/or a R10 000 fine upon conviction.”

SAFACT was created in 1999 to protect the intellectual property rights of its members in the Southern African home entertainment and film industries.

South Africans may be prosecuted for uploading pirated content online, but they face no consequences for downloading content uploaded by other users.

However, users may be unaware that pirating software, like BitTorrent, automatically uploads a percentage of the content while downloading it, and specifically while “seeding”.

This means that if you download pirated content online, you are at risk of being sentenced to 5 years in prison and/or a R10 000 fine.

On the other hand, it is perfectly legal to use downloading software, like BitTorrent – as long as pirated content is not downloaded.

Piracy trends

“An interesting trend among pirates is a move from standard definition (480p) to high-definition (720p and 1080p) video,” said TorrentFreak, in an article where South Africa made it to the top ten countries with the most downloads of Game of Thrones, episode 1 season 6.

“A few years ago roughly 10% downloaded HD copies, which are larger in size, but today this is getting close to 50%,” the monitoring organisation said.

Millennials, the tech-head generation reaching adulthood at the start of this century, are of the largest users of online pirated content. In a 2016 study by Anatomy Media, they found that 69% of their 2700 millennial applicants use at least one method of piracy.

This year the MUSO Global Piracy Report found that internet users have become more interested in streaming (60.1%) pirated content, instead of downloading (16.5%) or “torrenting” (17.8%) it.

In line with this trend, millennials also prefer streaming (42%) content rather than torrenting (17%) it and, in addition to this, they are accessing pirated content through mobile apps. With 41% of millennials preferring their mobile phones, this may become a future staple.

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