Major bust targeting “Sparks” group results in dramatic piracy decline
In brief: After the arrest of three key members of the warez scene and the takedown of several pirate websites, there’s been a significant drop in new releases across all categories of content. Whether that will last long into the future remains to be seen, as the music category is already seeing a rapid recovery.
Earlier this month, news broke that a massive law enforcement operation targeting scene release group “SPARKS” and its affiliates resulted in at least 29 websites being taken down across 18 countries. The move is a cooperation between the US Department of Justice and European authorities like Eurojust and Europol, and it looks like the damage may extend well beyond the original target.
According to a report from Torrentfreak, the raids wrecked the entire Scene and caused a sharp drop in new releases from other pirate groups. For instance, the data on Predb.org shows that on August 19 there were 1944 new releases across all categories of content, a number that dropped to just 168 a week after the raids.
By the end of August, categories like TV and anime showed little action in the way of new releases, as did games and ebooks, which dropped to zero right after the raids and are still relatively anaemic to this day. An outlier is the music category, which also suffered a drop in August but that somehow managed to surge to a two-week record of over 800 releases just days after the raids.
It’s hard to predict if the effects of the bust will be long-lasting, but there are voices in the piracy community that claim it’s only a matter of time before new Scene groups emerge to continue the work of SPARKS. What is certain is that the three men arrested in August have been charged with copyright infringement conspiracy, wire fraud, and conspiracy to transport stolen property interstate, meaning they face long prison sentences.
In the meantime, pirates are getting creative with their methods, and the infamous The Pirate Bay is still up and running, not to mention expanding its feature set. The latest ITIF report on the state of DMCA shows that online piracy has merely shifted from peer-to-peer downloads to peer-to-peer streaming, with no signs of reduction.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that in 2019 digital piracy caused $29.2 billion in lost revenue and killed anywhere between 230,000 and 560,000 American jobs.
No less than 80 percent of online piracy relates to content found on TV, video-on-demand, and streaming services. And while some people will always pirate content as long as it’s possible, subscription fatigue could very well be one of the reasons why consumers still go through the trouble of pirating. The entertainment market seems flooded with content silos from several major broadcasters, which is why aggregators like ScreenHits TV can’t launch soon enough.