Piracy is a serious issue. Live-streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat have plenty of sticky societal implications. These are two indisputable facts! Let’s not make the mistake, though, of assuming that they overlap.
This week, HBO confirmed that it sent takedown notices to Periscope, the Twitter-owned emporium of bored iPhone owners showing off their cats in real time. At issue were several streams of the network’s Game of Thrones season five premiere that had found their way onto the service, thanks to a handful of unscrupulous users.
Devoting serious resources to Periscope and Meerkat piracy is like swatting away a ladybug in a room full of vipers.
If you’re not familiar with Periscope or Meerkat, or know of them but haven’t actually used them, you’re in the vast majority and should be applauded for your restraint and/or focus on more vital aspects of human existence. You should also, though, be aware that while watching a live-stream from a smartphone can be fun and engaging under certain circumstances, watching someone else’s television or computer is not one of them. Even setting aside the mind-numbing absurdity of looking at your screen through someone else’s screen to yet another screen, consider the quality, or lack thereof.
No matter how big a Periscope pirate’s TV is, it’s going to look might small on your smartphone’s display. Streaming quality has come a long way over the years, but trusting both your connection and a Periscoper’s to hold up for a full hour is a fool’s game. And unless you’re dealing with someone who has either a smartphone tripod or wrist supports, you’re going to be shaking all the way from King’s Landing to Winterfell.
None of which prevented people from streaming the Game of Thrones premiere last weekend. Although Periscope wouldn’t provide WIRED with the number of associated takedowns it issued, there were reportedly dozens of accounts broadcasting the episode as it aired. What’s not clear is how many people actually watched those streams, or how much self-loathing it took to make it through more than a few minutes of the blurry, bouncy, bite-sized mess.
Yes, Piracy is bad, and HBO is fully justified in protecting its lavish Daenerys and Dragons spectacle, as is Periscope in swiftly responding to valid, copyright-related takedown requests. But there are wildly varying degrees of bad in this world, and devoting serious resources to Periscope and Meerkat piracy is like swatting away a ladybug in a room full of vipers.
Game of Thrones provides helpful context here, too, and not just because of the cutthroat power-mongering. If you really truly wanted to watch the first episode of season five—or in this case, the first four episodes—without paying, it was available on torrent sites before it ever hit television sets. Imagine that! A clear, crisp, full-screen, downloadable version, instead of one that features occasional sneezes from an invisible stranger death-gripping his Droid Turbo.
Unless you’re dealing with someone who has a smartphone tripod, you’re going to be shaking all the way from King’s Landing to Winterfell.
Those torrents, popular and pervasive, are of genuine concern to content providers everywhere. According to piracy-tracking site TorrentFreak, the Game of Thrones premiere alone was downloaded over a million times within 18 hours of its release. Periscope piracy, by contrast, is (if anything) a reminder that hey, yeah, I bet this would be really fun under remotely watchable circumstances. It’s shakeycam movie DVD bootlegs without the reusable jewel case.
At least some potential Periscope and Meerkat piracy victims realize that the issue’s not yet serious. After a WSJ report that Major League Baseball would police live-streaming of its games—an MLB.tv subscription tops out at a hefty $130 per year, after all—MLB executive Bob Bowman later clarified that it wasn’t an actual concern. And rightly so; spending an entire baseball game recording with your smartphone not only defeats the purpose of going to a baseball game (along with demolishing your battery and data plan), but watching a stream like that would be unthinkable. You’d be better off with a box score and a vivid imagination.
A better argument could be made for following an illicit stream of a big pay-per-view event, like Wrestlemania, or a big boxing match if boxing ever becomes popular again. You can usually find higher quality versions of those on the internet already, though, if you’re already intent on law-breaking. The only Periscope piracy live event stream even remotely worth following would be Spike Lee recording at a Knicks game, because he is both an iconic filmmaker and has good seats. But even then, you’d have to watch the Knicks.
There will almost certainly come a day when live-streaming quality advances to the point that a Periscope feed of your favorite show or event isn’t excruciating to watch. There will just as certainly still be higher-fidelity, more easily attained options that lead to the same ends. If you want to fight piracy, spend your energies there. For now, at least, watching Game of Thrones through someone else’s lens is punishment enough.