Movie Piracy, the Oscars, and Copyright Infringement in Global Film Industries

  • Content Protection
Movie Piracy, the Oscars, and Copyright Infringement in Global Film Industries

In an industry as competitive as Hollywood, you might not expect to hear too many people saying, “It’s not the winning but the taking part that counts”. When it comes to the Academy Awards though, participation in the Oscars is so highly prized that even receiving a nomination can improve a movie’s profitability. In fact, movies such as 2014’s American Sniper and 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty both generated more than 90% of their revenue after their Best Picture nominations. But does this increased attention also cause a spike in movie piracy? In the case of the 93rd Academy Awards, taking place on April 25, 2021, are digital pirates attempting to watch titles such as NomadlandJudas and the Black Messiah, and Promising Young Woman free online?

According to at least one recent report on Oscar movie piracy in 2021, yes, they are. Industry analysis of pirated movie downloads from torrents suggests that downloads of several titles increased after they were nominated for Best Picture. The same general level of interest can be observed on Google Trends, which reveals spikes of worldwide interest for Nomadland and Judas and the Black Messiah after the nominations announcement on the 15th of March.

For everyone working in anti-piracy and anti-counterfeiting, being able to anticipate and proactively manage these periods of intense interest and activity is crucial to constructing an effective brand or content protection program. The same can certainly be said of events such as the Olympics and the soccer World Cup, both of which generate global increases in copyright infringement, trademark misuse, and counterfeit goods. What is just as important as understanding these temporal events though is being alert to geographical and cultural differences that also impact how and where pirated content is accessed. Having this awareness is key to developing an impactful content protection solution.

In the remainder of this post, I outline some of the non-Hollywood areas of the filmmaking world where both cinema and piracy interact.

Although the Academy Awards is a globally watched event with the power to change the fortunes of nominated releases, there are many other film industries and events around the world. These different countries have their own stars and awards shows, and it is important to recognize that these alternatives to Hollywood are also incredibly popular.

Similarly, we should note that not only are international film industries and audiences different from one another, but that piracy differs by country too. Effective anti-piracy protection should be flexible enough to take account of the different ways that cultures search, download, and consume both legitimate and copyrighted content.

So, which countries have the most popular film industries outside of Hollywood? And, what does that mean for online piracy?


As in many other sectors, the rise of Chinese movie making and consumption in recent decades has been meteoric. According to recent reports, China is now the world’s biggest film market, having surpassed the United States in 2020 when U.S. cinemas and movie studios were closed due to the pandemic. This momentum has continued in 2021 and February was China’s biggest ever month for movie ticket sales ($1.7bn). In part, this success also came as a rash of new Chinese films such as Hi, Mom and Detective Chinatown 3 were released to coincide with the Lunar New Year festival.

Despite the popularity of its domestic creative industries, however, China is still beset by a widespread problem with digital piracy, which accounts for its continued inclusion on the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) Priority Watchlist for piracy. According to the IIPA’s 2019 report, China faces a number of unique problems, including the proliferation of piracy apps and devices, illegal camcording, and the distribution of pirated content through cloud services such as Baidu Wangpan. In addition, China’s ecosystem of social media platforms and VOD locations has facilitated movie piracy among its billions of netizens.


With an abundance of languages, production centers, and eager movie goers, India is the world’s largest film market by number of productions (more than 1,800 per year) and its fourth largest by box office revenue. Although the Hindi-language sector known as Bollywood is India’s most famous, there are similarly important offshoots based in Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad, and Kerala.

India also remains on the IIPA’s Priority Watchlist, although the concerns around movie piracy in India extend beyond its own productions. Due in part to India’s growing importance as a consumer of Internet services and smart phones, and perhaps also to the widespread use of English, the IIPA sees India as important to the future growth of creative industries such as Hollywood. Typically, movie piracy on torrents and streaming websites are concerning, but is the large, decentralized nature of Indian bureaucracy that also appears to hamper anti-piracy protection.


Although it may be better known for making ‘telenovelas’ for the small screen, Mexico has one of the most important film industries in Latin America. Based in Mexico City, the country’s domestic movie sector supports the overall sale of more 330 million cinema tickets per year and its most prestigious film industry event is the Ariel Awards (El Premio Ariel).

Reports suggest that piracy problems in Mexico stem both from consumer demand and from an as-yet under resourced attempt to put in place legislative and enforcement systems resulting in cost effective and impactful deterrents. According to a study from the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) and the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, websites and social networks have also transformed digital piracy in Mexico. The report claims that 53% of Mexican Internet users admitted illegally downloading pirated music, movies, and/or TV shows on a frequent basis.


From the glory days of early Soviet cinema to popular modern titles such as Stalingrad and Going Vertical, the Russian film industry is a significant creative industry. Russian-made films generated more than 17% of the $900 million total box office revenue in 2019 and Russian cinema goers bought 213 million tickets in 2017.

When it comes to online movie piracy in the Russian Federation, however, the black market is as significant as the legitimate movie industry. The country has high levels of consumer apathy about digital piracy and possess an administration that, in the words of the IIPA, has directed IP enforcement “only against the infringing activity of users within Russia”. This means that copyright laws “are not being used against Russian sites and services catering to users outside the country for whom infringing material is easily accessible. This has resulted in a substantial and persistent international copyright piracy problem.”

In 2019, some industry reports claimed that the most active Russian Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which were supplying significant amounts of infringing content to pirate websites, had been taken offline. Although this action appeared to result in a decrease in Russian online piracy, the COVID-19 pandemic is thought to have encouraged its resurgence, funded largely by illegal online casinos and sports streaming websites.

A Global Problem Needs a Comprehensive Anti-piracy Solution

Regardless of what the content is or where the infringement is located, our goal is to deliver an anti-piracy solution capable of finding and eliminating copyright-infringing content. Our Analysts use a mix of skilled investigative training and efficient automation to find illicit and infringing material online. Once found, they submit notices for removal, check and verify compliance, and, if necessary, use manual techniques to investigate and disrupt the distribution of pirated material at a highly sophisticated level.

In addition to the supply of illicit content, demand-side consumers are constantly using search engines and social media to seek out movies, music, and other copyrighted media. While these searches are important for legitimate content owners, the same search platforms also index and promote piracy from sites which divert consumers away from paid-for channels.

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