Why movie piracy is much more dangerous than you think

5 February marks Safer Internet Day. All week on Yahoo Movies UK we’re going to be exploring the murky world of online piracy, how it affects the film industry and you.

Movie piracy didn’t used to be so sophisticated. A bloke flogging timecoded DVDs of the latest film releases down the pub, your mate who had seen a shaky version of the latest Arnie movie, shot with a camcorder in a cinema in Iowa… the effect was still the same and just as wrong, but it seemed almost quaint.

Not so anymore. The rise of the internet has meant that around a third of over-16s consume pirated TV and film content via any method and now 14% people admit they pirate using illegal apps and add-ons on boxes and sticks sometimes referred to as Kodi boxes.

It’s a trend – and it’s a problem. In a world where even supposedly benevolent companies mine your data like they’re digging for gold (and with what we’re giving them, that’s what they’re getting), it’s crazy to think almost a third of adults are openly inviting nefarious organisations – and code – into their lives. And that’s not even considering the legal ramifications, as well as the impact on the industry.

“There are many risks to the consumer,” says Kieron Sharp from the Federation of Copyright Theft (FACT), one of the UK’s leading intellectual property protection organisations.

“Not only is this activity breaking the law, but it can also expose the user to identity theft, malware and viruses, explicit content and in the case of illicit streaming devices, fire and electrical risk. In the UK, internet service providers also block and discourage this type of behaviour so you could be putting your own access at risk.”

The thing is, it’s not like accessing pirated material is even that good of an experience. According to The Industry Trust’s research, 68% of people who’ve used boxes or sticks to watch unauthorised content have experienced some sort of adverse effect, whether that’s damaging their TV or device or opening themselves up to viruses and malware.

Unfortunately, it’s often worse than that. The Independent reported in November 2017 that several boxes designed to give free access to copyrighted material which were confiscated in raids demonstrated significant risk of electric shock and fire. Electrical Safety First (ESF) said they had tested 15 unbranded devices and not one reached minimum safety standards. Several of them were “potentially life-threatening”.

Read more: How piracy puts children in danger

“We urge anyone with one of these devices to unplug it and stop using it immediately,” ESF product safety manager Steve Curtler told the paper.

Identity theft and malware is also a significant problem. A quarter of people experienced viruses when watching unauthorised material via their box/stick, one in ten has been a victim of fraud and one in twenty have had their personal details stolen (The Industry Trust Research 2018).

“Similarly to how free apps rely on capturing and selling user data for revenue, services that illegally offer free access to premium movies, TV or sport are often funded by the malware of malvertising codes embedded within them,” online safety expert Adele Bannister explained to web watchdog Internet Matters last year.

“Many [cases of piracy] involve significant loss or harm to victims and there is an increasing influence of organised crime groups,” adds Sharp.

So how do you know if you’re doing something wrong? The internet can be something of a Wild West where it’s often difficult to discern between what’s real and what’s fake (just ask Donald Trump). There’s no easy answer, save for exercising caution and common sense – if the deal seems too good to be true, offering excessive premium content at a ridiculously low price – it probably is. Make sure you do some proper research and make yourself aware of the potential pitfalls.

“Some of these illegal services provide details of why they are ‘legal’,” explains Sharp. “That is not usually the case with most legitimate services of any type…If you want to enjoy and watch premium pay-for channels, our strong advice is to go directly to the official provider and to stay clear of any service or product that offers ways to access illegal content.”

Read more: The hidden victims of piracy

And it’s important to remember that it is illegal.

“In relation to piracy and quite a lot of online behaviours, it is clear that some people do not register that there is no difference between the physical and digital worlds in terms of what is illegal,” says Kieron Sharp. “If you steal someone’s property or use it without the correct permission, licence or authority, you are likely to be committing an offence for which you can be punished in a similar way to how the civil and criminal courts deal with more traditional offending.”

So if you’re thinking about treating yourself to a ‘fully-loaded’ set-top box or are hovering around a torrent site because you’re annoyed about missing Ant-Man and the Wasp at the cinema, take a moment to think about it.

Then don’t.

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