With popularity comes piracy, we know this as a defining characteric of the digital age. For all the initiatives and appeals to use legitimate, safe viewing channels, illegal torrents and piracy sites stubbornly spring back up to serve inconsiderate or unwitting fans.

Nowhere is this more evident than when a new Game of Thrones season rolls around, as it did this past weekend. HBO’s flagship show was the most pirated television show of 2014 – and for several years before that – and, sure enough, it leaked over the weekend before the broadcast of its season 5 opener. Millions of views racked up in no time at all, frustrating the company and those who had patiently waited to watch it via legitimate channels.

 

 

Although Game of Thrones piracy isn’t a new problem for HBO, it’s a tough one to tackle, even after five seasons. 

Though the company can feel accomplished in its ability to keep new episodes under wraps prior to release, any leak has the potential to detract from advertising value, subscriber revenue, and fan enjoyment. HBO is of course facing a double-edged sword, given that the show is most pirated because it is one of the world’s most popular.

For those same reasons, however, it is also the one we look to for actions to take against illegitimate viewing channels. In many ways we want Game of Thrones to be the flag-bearer for online viewing, championing the many legal ways it can be consumed and acting strongly to curb those that aren’t sanctioned. While the launch of its new standalone video on demand service HBO Now covers the former, a strong stance against so many different piracy options is the tough nut that all broadcasters want to crack.

As if to underscore this point, HBO’s reaction to the leak was that familiar mixture of frustration and resolve:

“Sadly, it seems the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of Game of Thrones originated from within a group approved by HBO to receive them. We’re actively assessing how this breach occurred.”

 

The company can be angry at the source of the leak and those who take advantage of it, but only concrete action to plug known holes and take a strong public stance against piracy will send an effective message. In the end, one of the most compelling reasons to avoid pirated versions of Game of Thrones comes not from the heart, where we’d prefer it to be, but from the head. The eyes, specifically, as any knock-off stream of the HBO epic will invariably be limited, lower quality, and in some cases almost unwatchable.

While we’d all prefer to see people using legitimate viewing channels because they respect the creative rights of those who make the content, there are some who simply lack the scruples to make that ethical decision. To them, HBO can simply propose a test: put the grainy pirate stream on your laptop up against a high-definition, legal on-demand stream of any Game of Thrones episode.

Once you see the show as its creators intended, a monthly subscription or small fee to own the episode will seem like a bargain (and infinitely cheaper than replacing an infected device after visiting one too many malware-plagued piracy sites).