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Better legal streaming options are the best way to end piracy

Netflix TV
Netflix TV (Image credit: Android Central)

I watch a disgusting amount of Netflix these days — well, 'watch' might be the wrong word to use. Often, Netflix is just playing in the background while I do other things like folding laundry, browsing Reddit on my phone or, regrettably, falling asleep at night.

It's a similar story for Spotify, which delivers all my tunes whether I'm on a road trip, walking to the store, or hanging out with friends.

But here's the thing I realized recently — Netflix and Spotify alone have done more to curb my illegal downloading habits than any PSA campaign, copyright law, or regulatory board ever could.

I was inspired to ponder on the changing way I consume media after watching an excellent NYT's documentary on the rise and fall of Napster, which brought me right back to 1999 when my 11-year-old self was first introduced to the world of peer-to-peer file sharing. It opened my eyes and ears to a wide world of music that I may have never otherwise discovered and led me down a decade-long love affair of pirating media.

Netflix and Spotify alone have done more to curb my illegal downloading habits than any PSA campaign, copyright law, or regulatory board ever could.

From Napster to The Pirate Bay, for the longest time, it was way easier to just download everything than dealing with iTunes, paying for cable, or bothering with rental services. Ten years ago, I admit that, like most folks my age, I was downloading most of the music and media I consumed.

That is no longer the case today, thanks to vast improvements in both the technology we use to watch and listen to content and the availability of legal streaming services that are way more convenient than the illegal counterparts. And here's the thing I've discovered: I can justify paying for a growing list of legal streaming services so long as they are more efficient to use than the process of illegally downloading something.

Today, I could spend the time to download a massive library of all my favorite music and transfer all the files to my phone — or I could just use Spotify. I could torrent a movie or TV series and send the files across all my devices — or I could just load up Netflix or Amazon Prime Video across most of my devices and instantly be watching a show or movie I love.

It helps that both Netflix and Amazon have become studios in their own right, creating original content that is instantly accessible to everyday viewers like you and me. Netflix might be banned from the Cannes Film Festival, but I'm still more likely to watch Netflix content than any of the films debuting in France.

More and more we're seeing TV networks (opens in new tab), premium cable, and film studios offering their own streaming services because once you ditch cable and start enjoying the convenience of streaming content you don't go back.

Here's the thing — I'll always check out an offer for a free trial to a new streaming service, or test a free service with a ton of ads with a paid subscription available to remove those ads, and I'll ultimately subscribe if it's got things I want to watch and I can justify it in my monthly budget. The ad-free premium model worked gangbusters for Spotify and its the model that YouTube appears to be following in the run-up to the company's forthcoming music subscription service.

But this still leaves traditional cable TV providers in a tricky spot; as we all know, cable TV is pretty expensive that also happens to be chock full of ads. After years of binging on Netflix, it is downright jarring to sit down and watch a TV show on cable these days because of all the ads, and a DVR that lets you fast forward through the ad breaks in recorded shows is only marginally more convenient and still frustrating in a lot of ways.

Censorship and stricter copyright laws won't curb piracy — better legal streaming services will.

In Canada, a consortium of media companies lead by Bell has been lobbying the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to blacklist specific websites linked to piracy and require all Canadian internet service providers to block those sites.

I acknowledge that the TV and movie industries are massive with a lot of folks working hard that need people to pay for the shows and movies they create to maintain a living, but censoring websites is such an ass-backward approach to trying to alleviate piracy without addressing the fact that the way we consume media has evolved.

To me, it just shows that these big, wealthy media companies would rather invest in lobbying the government than investing in creating innovative services to better serve potential consumers.

There's no reason why watching a hockey game on Bell's own TSN GO streaming service is choppier than an illegal stream offering 1080p HD quality. And there's no reason for me to pay whatever cable companies are charging for cable service and DVR box rentals when I can stream content endlessly on my phone, computer, or Android TV box.

Censorship and stricter copyright laws won't curb piracy — better legal streaming services will.

Marc Lagace was an Apps and Games Editor at Android Central between 2016 and 2020. You can reach out to him on Twitter [@spacelagace.

23 Comments
  • What's the deal with piratebay these days? I can't upload anything without getting some weird message?
  • Better legal streaming options as in more content that is on all platforms, with only the products actually being produced by the streaming company as exclusives.
  • Streaming options are fantastic, but better will eventually also have to include "convenient". It's getting less and less convenient to use good streaming options. Want to watch Dragon Ball Super? Well you'll have to subscribe to Funimation. Game of Thrones? Go to HBO. Transparent? Off to Amazon. How I Met Your Mother? Well, it was Netflix, but now you'll have to switch over to Hulu, sorry about that. It will never happen, but it would be nice if there was some kind of one-click repository of streaming services, where you can simply click to re-start your subscription and click to stop it. I want to watch one show on one streaming services, well I can just click to start my sub up for a month, and click to stop it just as easily. At the moment, it's a whole thing going from place to place, creating accounts, entering credit card info, hunting down to cancel option so you don't accidentally pay another month after you're done, etc. It's a bit of a pain in the ass if you only want to use something temporarily. Granted, I understand that's the point. They don't want you to use it temporarily, but it would be nice if there was some app or something that let you jump around, starting and stopping, easily.
  • Totally agree. I'll admit...the only time I resort to th "shady practice" is when they make it near impossible to see what I want.
  • Lol like having to illegally stream the Grand Tour because Amazon won't stream to my Chromecast...
  • 100% agree. There are just a couple things that I still watch illegally, because they don't offer me an easy way to watch them without cable. Give me a $5/month subscription model, and I'd pay for NASCAR.
  • Indeed. And on the other side of the coin, piracy is the only reason streaming services are as good as they are today. Where there is a will there is a way, there will always be some workaround to stupid moves like unreasonable DRM and censorship, and I for one am glad of it.
  • Indeed.... It is their greed that 'caused real fans not to want to pay for sh*t anymore. And I can't blame them. I try my best to get things legally. But when you do dumb sh*t like try and charge people $33 to watch a 3D movie on Vudu (and offer no option to rent), I'm making a 360 and take the free route.
  • or better illegal methods might help too. Kodi is hella powerful but still clunky as hell trying to find working streams. Sometimes you dont know if it is loading or not and when you hit back and the movie is still playing in the background.. it isn't clear how to return to the movie. Showbox simplified it a little bit, but often gets stuck in the endless loading world too when taking torrent streams. Popcorn time is decent though
  • I understand your point, but I think that if there are services offering what we want and at a price that is fair, then we should use them. It isn't free to make content.
  • Popcorn-Time has been my fav lately. It has a great interface.
  • I watch my stuff with either Netflix, Amazon or ShowBox for certain shows that aren't available on Netflix or Amazon like Arrow, The Flash, Super Girl and DC Legends of Tomorrow and of course Game of Thrones which I would have to pay for as Sky has the rights for it in the UK this is why I love Android as there's always a solution for everything illegal or legal and I'll do what is necessary to watch my favourite shows, soon I'll eventually just rely on ShiwBox or other illegal methods because it's becoming ridiculous expensive with all these "exclusives" on all these different streaming services which adds up.
  • Here in the UK the only way to curb some illegal downloading is to show TV shows simultaneously or within hours of the US broadcasts (like Game Of Thrones). With Social Media Spoilers are everywhere and to have to wait months sometimes over 6 months or longer for shows to be legally broadcast after its been seen elsewhere is a big problem that film and TV companies need to resolve.
  • being honest due to what is convenient is... an interesting moral stance. glad the offense mentioned was not capital. i do agree that drm need not be insane for the user. the only way one streaming house is going to have ALL the content we want is if one gets big enough to buyout all their competition, and we generally stop that before it could happen because we like competition because we like lower prices. so if it could ever happen it'd be really expensive for the user.
  • Couldn't agree with you more. I've been saying this for years.
  • Apple's TVOS helps in this regard. Being able to have all the apps on the Apple TV and then just launch your shows from that single interface instead of having to switch apps is convenient. I'm looking forward to the upcoming Android TV update which does something similar. As far as the content goes, most of these studios will realize that the only reason they have viewership is because they are bundled into a cable package. I only pay for Netflix and Playstation Vue (mainly for sports) and an apk for movies I can't find legally.
  • Until Tues cable companies start offering a la Cart plans, they're just going to keep failing. Say 20-30 stations that you choose every month. I'm not paying 10 dollars for HBO then another 10 dollars for ESPN etc etc. Makes no sense financially.
  • The issue, I'm afraid, is money. For decades, these companies have made truckloads of it, so the prospect of having their profits decline from obscene to merely outrageous is something they'll fight tooth and nail. That's why they're all trying to launch their own services. Disney, for example, figures people will subscribe to their upcoming service to be able to get their content, so they're going to make sure you can't find it anywhere else. But I'm not sure this will work out for them in the long run. I mean, my kids may love the Disney shows they can get on Netflix, but they like many other shows, so, if the Disney content goes away, I'm not going to spend more money to sub to a Disney service to continue to have access to them. They'll watch something else, and life will go on.
  • I too have stopped downloading content with the introduction of iTunes and Amazon prime in India. Netflix is a different story since the subscription charge is higher that is relatively to the other two I mentioned. Right now Netflix is charging Rs.800 per month for a family account while Prime Video is charging only Rs. 999 for a year.
  • My main problem with streaming is when providers like Netflix or now Tv put a whole boxset on and then say something like available until 20th june 2018, There is no way I can watch a whole boxset of something in a couple of months. Rights needs to be sorted, so sky TV have this,so Netflix can't and then Sky loses to say Virgin and that is it, gone.
  • That's not Netflix, it's the license agreement for that show/movie.
  • Try Transfer your tracks and playlists to Apple Music, Spotify, Google Music and more for free with MusConv tool. This is a great help
  • I've been thinking about this a lot lately. The reality is, pirating is extremely complex. It's not just a matter of "morals." There are several factors that need to be considered before a downloader is immediately judged. The biggest problem people still overlook is how much movies cost. Now, there's no doubt that we all want to see the best actors. However, if they keep asking for these extraordinary salaries, the fans will no longer have the money to see your work. Second, I don't want to be bombarded with 40 minutes worth of trailers on a $30 blu-ray (and make it difficult to exit). We used to have all kinds of cool extras on our Blu-rays, now it's just a movie, and pay them $40 for a piece of crap.They're giving us less and less and charging more and more. This is why people torrent. And if it where possible to "end digital piracy," people would still be making DVD copies and mailing it to each other. If both the music and movie industry wasn't so f**king greedy and embrace digital technology from the beginning, I don't think it would have been this bad. The music industry certainly learned the hard way. Didn't they?