Mapping the World of Piracy

tpbmapiconThe folks at the Pirate Bay released a Google Maps mash-up Wednesday that illustrates its worldwide user base, with exact percentages by country. It’s a pretty fascinating project in that it helps to dispel certain myths about BitTorrent, namely that while piracy may be a global phenomenon, swapping movies via the Pirate Bay definitely isn’t. For example, did you know there are roughly as many BitTorrent users in Portugal as there are in all of the African countries put together? And that downloaders in Spain are neck-in-neck with those of the U.S. for the No. 2 slot?

Of course, a map like this doesn’t tell us everything. It’s only a temporary snapshot of the Pirate Bay’s user base, which could change any day. Previous studies have also indicated that folks in some countries just tend to prefer other P2P protocols to get their movies and TV shows. But the information it provides can help us map out the world of online piracy.

First things first: More than 27 percent of the Pirate Bay’s users are from China, whereas only 8.17 percent come from the U.S. Even more impressive: Hong Kong, with its 2.3 million households, is responsible for nearly two percent of the Pirate Bay’s user base. Combine that with the fact that the Bay has around 21 million concurrent active users, and it becomes clear that around 17 percent of all households in Hong Kong are using the Pirate Bay at any given moment.

So how is that possible, especially given the fact that the Pirate Bay’s web site is actually blocked in China, as Torrentfreak pointed out today? First of all, the map is not based on web site stats. Instead, it visualizes the user base of the Pirate Bay’s tracker server, which is responsible for facilitating the P2P connections between BitTorrent users by telling them who has which part of the movie they want. Users can, and in many cases do, find the movies they want to download and get the corresponding torrent file from a different web site. Furthermore, there’s a number of hugely popular Chinese BitTorrent clients, such as Xunlei and Bitcomet, that offer media search straight from within the software.

Also interesting is the fact that a number of international piracy hot spots are somewhat underrepresented on the Pirate Bay. South Korea has some of the best broadband infrastructures of the world, but it’s only responsible for 0.42 percent of the Bay’s users, which puts it at No. 33, ahead of Serbia and Slovenia. Japan, on the other hand, is at No. 7 with 3.28 percent, even though we’re often told that most Japanese users primarily access the Internet from their mobile phone.

Korea’s low numbers can most likely be explained by the fact that central storage solutions, also called webhard services, have largely overtaken P2P when it comes to piracy. It’s a little harder to make sense of Japan’s strong showing. Maybe watching a freshly pirated copy of 24 on your notebook is something that even the hottest handheld can’t compete with?

Finally, there are a few countries that would probably have done better on other piracy-related maps. A previous study by German network management company Ipoque showed that many of that country’s users prefer P2P clients like Emule over BitTorrent, for example. The same is apparently true for the Middle East, which isn’t very well represented on the Bay’s map, either.

Torrentfreak is reporting that the Pirate Bay’s admins plan to release more global usage data in the future, including average up- and download speeds per region. This could shed more light on both current media consumption habits as well as future trends for P2P piracy, such as whether faster connections are leading to more P2P piracy, or if users with really fat pipes will eventually abandon BitTorrent in favor of terabytes of movies stored in the cloud, as is the case in Korea. Personally, I can hardly wait to find out.

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