Thanks to the internet, stealing is easy

There are numerous alternative options, including Toorgle, SuperTorrents, and isoHunt. The once infamous Demonoid was taken down by Canada’s CRIA at the end of 2007, but as one site is removed from the action, another emerges to take its place.

Despite aggressive legal actions, BitTorrent sites proliferate, and look increasingly bold and mainstream. They have been joined by websites which simply stream video content, such as QuickSilverScreen, and Veoh. Even Google Video and YouTube are being used to host video which hasn’t been uploaded legally, although content owners have taken action.

Viacom famously filed a $1billion lawsuit against YouTube in March 2007, which many considered to be the beginning of the end for the site. The lawsuit involves 160,000 clips with more than 1.5 billion views, but hasn’t resulted in the death of YouTube just yet.

In contrast, the BBC entered into a licensing deal instead, as have a few other major content owners.

Commercial file sharing

P2P technology isn’t intrinsically bad. The BBC’s iPlayer uses it, as does the Joost video service. But what’s more surprising is just how mainstream the pirate sites are beginning to look.

Most carry advertising – and not just for pornography and online dating services. Some of this is very mainstream indeed. Hop onto Mininova, and you may see adverts for Tesco and Alliance & Leicester. Yet scroll down the site and you will be able to access BitTorrents of the latest Hollywood blockbuster movies.

We asked Mininova how the site managed to balance mainstream advertising and large-scale content piracy. “We do not infringe any copyright. Torrent files clearly aren’t copyrighted,” explained Niek van der Maas, Mininova’s Business Development Director. “Besides that, many corporations have no problem targeting 29 million unique tech-savvy users (per month).”

Der Maas’s comment highlighted two important features of online piracy today, making it a particular thorn in the side of content owners. On the one hand, sites like Mininova don’t host any pirate content themselves – just the means to find it and access it from elsewhere.

Similarly, is a portal aggregating links to other streaming video sites. No ISP we know of has been successfully prosecuted for hosting Usenet groups used for distributing illegal content.

BitTorrent sites can similarly argue that they are a communications medium, although that argument didn’t work for Napster. But on the other hand, these sites can command a very powerful body of consumers.

At the time of writing, Mininova was the 53rd most popular website in the world, according to web information company Alexa.

Pirates or revolutionaries?

From our explanations so far, it should have become fairly obvious that music is no longer the focus of attention of online piracy. Instead, video is now the most popular content.

Movies and TV series are the new stock in trade, and not just as downloads, but streamed from video sharing sites. Even Google is great for finding torrents – just chuck in the name of what you’re looking for plus the word torrent. This shows how mainstream torrenting has become.

Radiohead’s album giveaway also showed that people do value music enough to pay for it even if they don’t have to. We talked to a couple of heavy users of online pirate video content services about their reasons for using them.

“Legitimate download content is still shooting itself in the foot,” explained ‘Tarquin’ (real name withheld). “It’s hard or impossible to move your video between devices legally. For me, the main point is that torrenting is by far the quickest and easiest way to get HD content, and content that I can watch when I want and how I want. It’s a lot easier than going out and buying a disc.”