Whether or not unauthorized streaming services should be able to host copyrighted material free of charge has been a major discussion lately. However, in recent years, sources have demonstrated that unauthorized streaming and online piracy of copyrighted material, for all intents and purposes, promote the creator of such content and the truth remains that there is no actual evidence that free, unauthorized streaming and piracy financially harm the copyright holder of such content.
ARTISTS’ VIEWS ON PIRACY
While this is not much sought, illegal streaming and downloading of such content actually help artists and filmmakers gain popularity by assisting the general population become more exposed to new genres of music and films. Having more easy access to TV series, movies, and music indicates that more people will be exploring new movies, listening to different types of music that they have not heard before. Therefore, artists, filmmakers, and actors are able to gain more popularity, while cinemas and conventional streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu continue to make profit as well.
Interestingly, music artists and filmmakers have also been found to download movies and music from unauthorized, pirated websites as well. In fact, when the Dutch Government announced plans to outlaw downloading of all copyrighted material and measures to make it easier to immobilize websites that facilitate copyright infringement, a survey they published on the same day demonstrated that artists' views on file-sharing were not all that negative.
They then conducted a large-scale survey to find out more about the views of artists on the topic of piracy, digital rights management (DRM); technologies that limit access to digital content), along with similar opportunities and challenges they had faced in the digital era. The questions that were asked in the article were answered by approximately 4,000 artists of all ages, which included musicians, filmmakers, authors and photographers.
When the results came out, the results were indeed shocking. It turns out that many of the artists also used piracy websites. While not all of them were involved with piracy, there were a good amount of people who were; approximately 22 percent of the surveyors responded saying that they had downloaded copyrighted works without the owner's permission in the last 12 months. Another 71% told the researchers they hadn't downloaded anything without permission during this period, and the remaining 7% did not know or did not want to answer the question. The results had shown that music was the most downloaded media type, with 80 percent from music, 40 percent for movies and 5 percent for e-books and games.
Despite some arguments claiming that unauthorized use of copyrighted material harms the copyright owner (artist, filmmaker, author) financially, there has not been any evidence when it comes to such streaming websites financially threatening the copyright owner. As a matter of fact, according to the survey conducted by the Dutch Government I have mentioned earlier, there were only about 12 percent of artists who thought that illegal downloading hurt them.
The majority of the artists were not convinced that illegal downloading is doing any economic harm towards the artists. Interestingly, higher educated artists, in particular, believed that file-sharing is doing them no harm. Further, the majority of the artists thought that illegal downloading helped promote them. Around fifty percent of the artists believed strongly that illegal file-sharing helps their work receive more public recognition. There was only about five percent of people who thought the other way around. In particular, the younger artists recognized the promotional benefits of piracy, as more than eighty percent of them thought file-sharing increases the popularity of their work.
MORAL PERSPECTIVE OF UNAUTHORIZED STREAMING PROVIDERS
While some seem to question the morality behind the use of illegal streaming providers, as I have mentioned previously, as long as the creators of such content are in favour of their content being available on unauthorized websites, I must argue that this alone substantiates enough evidence as to why it is ethically right for unauthorized streaming to host copyrighted material free of charge.
Moreover, it does not make sense for fore-profit businesses such as unauthorized streaming services to care about ethics. Businesses, traditionally and theoretically, do not value morality higher than profit. - That is the role of non-profit organizations; organizational structures that are designed to value social impact, rather than profit. On the other hand, for-profit businesses, in a traditional sense, are designed for profit and fame. Therefore, when properly managed, they achieve what generates more profit, and for unauthorized streaming platforms, what enables that, is to not care about ethics nor morality.
With a few exceptions, providing more unauthorized content to the general public does not cost the unauthorized streaming platforms anything, but enables them to gain more website use and profit, thus the theoretically correct thing for unauthorized streaming websites to do, as a for-profit business, is to provide the amount of unauthorized content that enables them to generate the most website use and profit, regardless of morality or ethical concerns.
Likewise, morality and ethics do not seem to be a concern for the majority of us; to give you an illustration, within twenty-four hours of streaming, more than 71 million people had watched the premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones. More than 75% of them were able to watch the premiere of the final season through a pirated stream; for reference, that is 54 million people, approximately three million more people than the population of South Korea. However, the fact remains that it is not just Game of Thrones; estimates range from 53% of millennials accessing illegal streams in one month to 78.5 billion visits to piracy sites in 2015.
LEGAL PERSPECTIVE ON UNAUTHORIZED STREAMING
According to the Copyright Act of 1976, the act grants copyright holders “exclusive rights” to make copies of their work, distribute it and perform it publicly. This implies that watching a stream - even if it is unauthorized by the copyright holder - does not technically violate these rights, unless downloaded.
Further, under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statutes that might otherwise be infringing. Therefore, legally, provided that the copyrighted material is not downloaded and used for sale or rental, streaming of such content should and is authorized, according to interviews conducted with legal experts.
In the final analysis, I must argue that streaming of copyrighted material, free of charge, is an extremely lucrative deal for both the audience and the creators of such content since it allows artists to gain more fame and recognition, without having to risk financial losses, while the audience can enjoy and explore a wider variety of new content, in other words, it is a win-win situation. Not to mention that both sides are willing to do so and feel comfortable with utilizing unauthorized streaming websites.