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Yet another major anti-piracy campaign launched last week declaring that visiting pirate sites exposes passwords, photos, plus financial and medical
records to criminals intent on ruining people's lives. This scare tactic approach is gaining momentum around the globe, with claims that it has a positive effect on the public. But does it, or should it, really?
Anyone who creates creative content has the right to protect that work from unauthorized wholesale reproduction. It is their work, their investment, and they should be able to benefit from the toils of their labors, copyright law dictates.
The reality, of course, is that while people can claim their rights all day long, there are plenty of avenues to obtain that content online without paying for it. As a result, entertainment industry groups are relentless in their efforts to disrupt and discourage such behavior.
One of the tried-and-tested methods is the anti-piracy campaign. Often in the form of short videos, trailers and clips presented online, within physical media, and on TV, these presentations get around 30 seconds to make an impact on the public. That is not a long time and as a result, the creatives behind these projects have to get well….creative….for want of a better word.
In recent years, the many ‘creative’ approaches are now diverging into what appears to be a coordinated global effort to physically scare people away from piracy. All is fair and love and war, they say, but these campaigns take the truth and bend into another dimension. Take the headline message from the new anti-piracy campaign launched online and on TV by Creative Content Australia, for example.
“Accessing pirate sites to download movies and TV exposes your financial and medical details, passwords, photos and more to criminals. So not only is pirating illegal, you become a victim of your own crime. Is it really worth it, just for some free content?”
the campaign material reads.
Here’s the accompanying TV advert for additional context: https://vimeo.com/383682579
The video appears to portray a member of the public seeking help from the ‘police’ after he got hacked and had his passwords and photos stolen. However, when the authorities find out he’d visited a pirate site they basically said:
“Screw you, it’s your own fault, you’re on your own.”
Thirty seconds isn’t a long time to get your message over but claiming that “pirate sites expose you to hackers” simply can’t be the experience of the majority of people who use them. If this was indeed the case, people wouldn’t be flocking to them every day in their millions.
The fact that a succession of campaigns are declaring pirate sites as unsafe havens filled with hackers is a clear indicator that someone feels the message just isn’t getting through to pirates. Which, when you think about it, is pretty strange.
No campaign on planet earth will ever be able to drive the message home more effectively than actually being hacked and having your personal details stolen. Victims of such crimes rarely need to be told twice which is a fairly obvious indicator that this campaign is aimed at the vast majority who have no such problems. And if the vast majority have no issues, why all the panic?
Let’s be clear here, this isn’t a pro-piracy rant at the expense of people simply trying to make some money off the back of their hard work. This is a reaction to scare tactics that are not only insulting to people’s intelligence but are also unlikely to reach their goals. Fact: if visiting pirate sites leads to all of the things being claimed, people wouldn’t use them. If people didn’t use them, the campaign wouldn’t be needed.
These claims of ‘people’ falling victim to criminals are problematic too. Last week we reported on a huge survey carried out in the UK, which also covered public attitudes towards various types of anti-piracy campaigns. One of the suggestions was that instead of making vague claims, it might help to present real-life examples of people who became victims of hacking as a result of visiting pirate sites.
Of course, this latest campaign – just like all the others – makes no effort to do that. Instead it uses actors and well-known activists to drive home the message that people who visit such platforms get what they deserve.
“If you visit pirate websites, even the law can’t protect you,”
warns Graham Burke AO, Chairman of Creative Content Australia.
“You are going to a criminally dangerous neighborhood. Pirate sites are big businesses and exist solely to make money by robbing you, or worse. This is an area where your cyber security is in danger and malware, blackmail and identity theft are commonplace.”
It’s true that pirate sites can indeed have terrible ads and of course, malware can be present in downloads, most commonly software releases where such things are easily hidden. But blackmail and identity theft are such serious crimes that one would think that if a pirate site had been involved in such things, the police would’ve got involved and we would’ve heard about it. We haven’t.
On the other hand, it is extremely easy to find reports of people getting scammed via methods that have nothing to do with pirate sites, such as by telephone or phishing attacks. This is where things start to break down and make nightmarish anti-piracy campaigns lose credibility.
The awful experiences being described in most of these campaigns aren’t the experiences of the majority of people who use these sites. If truth be known, most people reading this article have probably had more attempts to have their identities stolen via email in the past three months than anywhere else on the Internet, pirate sites included.
Indeed, when we spoke to security company MalwareBytes on this topic
in 2018, the company told us that pirate sites aren’t the biggest risk at all – email is.
“These days, most common infections come from malicious spam campaigns and drive-by exploit attacks,”
said Adam Kujawa, Director of Malware Intelligence.
In response to claims in another dubious anti-piracy campaign in the same year, security expert Mikko Hypponen from F-Secure told us that it was false to claim that pirate sites are the number one source for malware online. He again pointed to email as the number one risk.
“Pirate sites are not the most common source for infections, and it hasn’t been since the early 1990s,”
he informed TorrentFreak.
“Today, the most common ways of getting infected are via malicious email attachments, browser plugins and extensions and web exploit kits.”
The bottom line here is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with anti-piracy campaigns per se but they must be believable and based in fact, not a twisted version of the truth. Also, the companies behind them might also consider being a little less cynical.
While one can’t expect a guide on how to pirate safely, campaigns that only warn of the dangers without offering some advice beyond “don’t use pirate sites” suggest that there’s no genuine concern about the safety of Internet users. In fact, the message in this campaign is actually
“you’re on your own and nobody will help you.”
If only on a subconscious level, that won’t go unnoticed. Somehow, these messages need to move forward more positively. It’s become a cliche but all of the content in one place at a fair price from a legitimate source is the best way to stop people visiting pirate sites. Or at least powerful enough to stop a significant number from preferring them, especially when considering all of the horrors that lie within….
Originally published as “New Anti-Piracy Campaign Piles On The Scare Tactics But Who’s Scared?” with the Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) license