“Game of Thrones” Hackers Punished – Too Little, Too Late?

Game of Thrones

One of the biggest problems big media companies face today comes from hackers. HBO’s hit Game of Thrones is no exception.

The more hotly anticipated your: film, music or television show is… the more likely these nefarious actors may seek to hold you to ransom.

Popularity paints a target on your back.

Game of Thrones: Suffering from Success?

Known for it’s violence, tasteful nudity and fantasy setting… “GoT” forms part of a unmissable weekly ritual for many. It is also the most pirated television series of all time.

To give an sense of scale. MUSO, (a UK-based piracy monitor) noted that the season 7 opener was pirated 91.74 million times. That is a lot of copyright infringement – which unsurprisingly, is incredibly difficult to enforce at such a scale.

In the past, HBO have had a surprisingly relaxed attitude to  this activity…

In 2014, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said: “Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration… more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising… If you go around the world… Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world… Well, you know, that’s better than an Emmy”.

Allowing the series to be seen, by any means necessary, has likely benefited the series’ overall profile. Making it the world-wide “watercooler” moment… whichever way viewers choose to access it.

A Darker Turn

Where before HBO might have seen piracy as inevitable and perhaps even a complementary form of secondary distribution… Allowing it to initially occur unchallenged may have emboldened hackers to go further. Recently; GoT has become the fulcrum of a series of more devious attacks.

A group of hackers now continue to hold HBO to ransom. They claim to have stolen 1.5TB of data. This includes scripts for GoT and video of other unreleased HBO shows. Most troubling was the release of personal information of many of GoT’s biggest stars. The hackers have asked for $6 million to be transferred to them in Bitcoin – and remain at large.

The Guardian reports that HBO offered the hackers $250,000 as a “bug bounty” at the end of July. This tactic can often appease hackers, by rewarding their activity and limiting damage; rather than punishing them. (Indeed, many large companies employ “white-hat” hackers to test their system’s security).

Arrests Made: But too Little too Late?

More recently, BBC report, Indian police have arrested four individuals suspected of leaking an unseen episode.

The alleged leakers worked for a company who support Hotstar (a streaming website). They are suspected of leaking episode 4 of the 7th season – which emerged online 2 days before it was to appear on TV. 

These arrests (alongside an increase in copyright claims against illegal viewers…) indicate a distinct change in HBO’s position, from passively accepting piracy to actively addressing it.

Whilst this is unlikely to stop all piracy of the show… serious legal consequences may deter others from sourcing further leaks of unseen material. (Although as of writing, this is reported to have happened again with the forthcoming episode).

Popularity and Piracy: Questions (and Solutions on the Horizon)

The situation HBO finds itself in raises questions about how best to combat piracy; whether it can be combated in this day and age; or whether to do so at all.

To recap. Game of Thrones may well have benefited from piracy in the first instance. Turning the other cheek to how people to actually watch the show may have contributed to its popularity. Black market distribution may simply have been the easiest way for supply to meet unparalleled demand!

It’s a Catch-22 situation. If you become that popular, thousands of people will begin to to breach your copyright. (So you might as well embrace the situation!)

However, it remains to be seen whether the more aggressive infringement HBO now face have (in part) resulted from this earlier relaxed attitude. Or rather that this would have occurred regardless – as the series naturally grew in popularity toward its conclusion.

A more fundamental issue lies in the way that the internet currently allows people to infringe copyright at scale and with great ease.

With the internet people have developed entirely new expectations of media consumption. With streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime available, consumers expect content to be instantaneously available and relatively cheap.

In cases like this, it is often more convenient for consumers to access material illegally. Rather than signing up for a premium television package, as is required for Game of Thrones. (Notably, the show has been made available on NOWtv in the UK; and a UK HBO app draws ever closer).

In many cases if legal access is made easy and reasonably affordable for people – piracy can decrease significantly. A prime example of this is music streaming. The success of Spotify et al has significantly decreased music piracy from its peak over the past decade.

Crucially, impending technology like Blockchain could completely transform how media commerce occurs online. In theory, this would allow content producers to distribute digital media without it possibly being copied. I will save the detailed explanation for this for another day!

Our media landscape remains characterised by runaway successes that, (like Daenary’s dragons) seem too big to control. For the time being, media producers like HBO who’ve created and benefit wildly from these behemoths simply have to hope they don’t get burned as a result. 

To talk to our world-class solicitors about copyright infringement, please call:


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“Game of Thrones” Hackers Punished – Too Little, Too Late? was written by Dr. Martin Douglas Hendry

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