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The FBI shutdown of Megavideo.com on January 19th combined with national interest in SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) has pushed online piracy directly into the media spotlight. This prompts the question, what is the current state of the online piracy landscape and what repercussions can we expect in light of these events?
The online piracy ecosystem consists of thousands of domains at any given point in time. As many domains increase in popularity, others are taken down or fade away. This leads to an ever-evolving landscape of pirated content on the web. For over a year Megavideo was the largest site on the Internet that was used to host illegal, copyright-infringing content such as television shows and films. Given Megavideo’s stature within the infringing community, we are left wondering what effect its recent shutdown will have on the online piracy community.
In an effort to understand the current U.S. online infringing market, we gathered unique visitor traffic to Megavideo and its six largest competitors. Megavideo competitors were defined as hosting sites that allow easy file sharing and are known to be hot spots for pirated content. A few important findings stand out when the traffic on Megavideo and its competitors is viewed year-over-year.
In December 2010, Megavideo was twice the size of any other comparable hosting site. Throughout the following year, its traffic steadily declined and was down 40% in December 2011. In August of 2011 its status as the largest site hosting infringing content online was overtaken by 4shared.com. Despite no longer holding the number one ranking, Megavideo remained a significant player in the online pirating industry. However, its phased decline opened the door for several other websites to increase in popularity. By the end of December 2011, mediafire.com was also poised to surpass Megavideo. While smaller in size, both filesonic.com (up from 550,000 unique visitors to 1.9M unique visitors) and novamov.com (up from 1.1M unique visitors to 2.1M unique visitors) have shown significant growth over the past year and are positioned to continue that trend heading into 2012.
While these alternate hosting sites are growing quickly, it is essential to investigate the exclusivity of Megavideo users in order to understand the full impact of its shutdown. Users who are distinctly loyal to a specific site may be limited in their online knowledge and less apt or able to find new alternatives. In order to determine the stickiness of Megavideo users, we pulled their data from the past six months and analyzed it to see if they also using any other popular hosting competitors.
Over the past six months roughly 70% of visitors to Megavideo had also visited at least one other popular hosting competitor within that same month. This evidence suggests that users already have knowledge of and use other hosting domains to access pirated content. When viewed in this context it seems as though the majority of users will still have significant hosting domain options and will be able to reach pirated content despite Megavideo’s absence!
While the takedown of Megavideo may at first seem like a win against online piracy from an awareness standpoint, the data suggests that users who want to find pirated content will find other locations to do so. Not only are Megavideo viewers adept at navigating around restrictions already in place but over two-thirds have already visited alternate hosting domains. Given the sheer volume of websites hosting pirated content, as well as the speed that new domains pop up, it seems that the void left from the shutdown of Megavideo will instigate a shift to other pirating domains.
The one potential wrinkle in this conclusion is the recent reaction of other sites that host infringing content. Within days of Megavideo’s shutdown, both filesonic.com and fileserve.com eliminated their file-sharing capabilities and now allow their users access to personally uploaded content only. Another website, Uploaded.to, took an alternative approach by shutting down all service in the United States. What remains to be seen is what path the other large hosting sites will follow. Some may choose to imitate sites like Filesonic and adjust their policies to make it difficult for those who upload pirated content. Others may continue their growth and find success now that Megavideo has left so much of the market share open. Those that choose the latter option will have continual reason for concern as they exist knowing they may also be are shut down by federal and international authorities. The decisions made in the next few months should give us a good indication of what the hosting site industry will look like throughout 2012 and beyond.