A crime wave swept over Australia last night as millions of pirates swarmed around Foxtel to download the Game of Thrones season premiere illegally. Securing their gold medal status as the world’s most enthusiastic thieves of intellectual property, local Throners hit BitTorrent more than a million times to grab a free copy.

Other pirate sites have yet to report their figures, but no surprises are expected. Unknown numbers of Australians also used VPNs to tunnel under HBO’s geofence to watch the show. TorrentFreak reports at least half of the thieves opted for high definition downloads, in spite of the extra bandwidth needed.

 

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The industrial-scale piracy follows a year of high-profile action against a much smaller number of downloaders who pirated The Dallas Buyers Club. Fans of the movie found themselves targeted in Australian courts by DBC LLC, the US company which owns the rights to the film. DBC secured the right to seize the contact details of Australians who had pirated the movie, but the Federal Court baulked at allowing them to send ‘speculative invoices’. This is a process common in the US, where rights holders send demands for very large payments with a threat of further costly legal action if the recipient doesn’t settle.

The only legal channel for watching Game of Thrones in Australia is a subscription to Foxtel. The Pay TV giant has offered more flexible packages this year, including a discounted $30-a-month offer without contract. The overall cost of watching the series this way would run close to one hundred dollars — a price at least one million potential customers were unwilling to pay.

Two years ago the series producers offered Thrones via Apple’s iTunes and other video-on-demand suppliers such as Google Play, as both a season pass and as individual episodes. Piracy of the series collapsed in Australia during that year, but surged back when Foxtel locked up future series as exclusive content. The Pay TV giant paid a premium so that it could charge a premium for access, but the traditional model has demonstrably failed because consumers have cheaper — if riskier — options elsewhere.

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