By now, every CreativeFuture follower should be aware that piracy is not a victimless crime – but you might be surprised at just who the victims are.

There are, of course, the 5.7 million creatives whose livelihoods are harmed by billions of dollars in content theft every year – a threat we live to fight every single day.

Of course, if you (or someone you know) happens to be someone who streams or downloads pirated content, you’re also likely aware that the creative community invests an untold volume of work hours and dollars to create the works you steal. Maybe you have bought the argument that piracy actually helps this community by spreading awareness of its products. Maybe you have decided that the industries behind content such as film and television are not made up of real, hardworking individuals such as yourself but are just faceless conglomerates who are too big to be harmed by your petty theft. Or you might know that the U.S. motion picture industry consists mainly of small businesses – with 87% of entertainment companies employing fewer than 10 people – and you just don’t care.

But even if you have made peace with the fact that your pirating hurts real people – and have decided to keep doing it anyway – you might not know that there is at least one other very, very important person you are putting at risk every time you pirate. That person… is you!

Here is just a small collection of data that shows how piracy is not as benign as you may think.

“Over 50% of illegal content users are victims of hacking, viruses” – Rapid TV News in August 2020, citing research from the UK’s Industry Trust for IP Awareness.

“Pirated Software Helped An Unknown Malware Infect 3.2 Million PCs” – Ubergizmo in June of this year, citing a study from NordLocker.

“90% of pirate streaming sites offering live football and shared on social media contain scams, malware or extreme content” – TorrentFreak in April of this year, citing a study published by cybersecurity firm Webroot.

“People who use piracy devices in the home were THREE TIMES more likely to report an issue with malware than those who didn’t have such a device in the home” – the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) in a report titled Piracy in the Pandemic 2021.

Here is the big takeaway: if you are regularly pirating content online, you have probably been exposed to malware. And if you are exposed to malware, you are taking some very serious risks. Previous research from the DCA found a wide range of criminal schemes in which users are victimized by malware, including:

  • Stolen bank and credit card information
  • Identity theft
  • Locking the user’s computer and demanding a ransom fee to regain access to their files (also known as “ransomware”)

And then there are the risks that are not so obvious. Some versions of malware, like adware, infest the user’s internet browser or apps with pop-ups and other ads that the malware creators are paid to deliver. Other forms of malware quietly work in the background of the hijacked computer or device, using it to harvest fake clicks on advertisements to earn revenue. Some malware takes over the user’s webcam to snoop or take photos or videos of the user.

These insidious malware creations range in threat level from nuisance to truly dangerous and life-destroying – and they don’t just jeopardize the owner of the occupied computer or device. Some types of malware, such as viruses, are made to be spread from one network to another, possibly affecting the user’s family or friends or employers. The DCA found that 50% of people who admitted to having a piracy device in their home (and one in 10 made such an admission) also claimed to work in a job that could “include sensitive or confidential information” such as law enforcement, national security, or the military.

Which is all to say that when people expose themselves to malware by choosing to pirate content, they are not just endangering themselves – a long list of people and organizations who may have never pirated at all become victims, as well. And there is no “safe” way to pirate that somehow avoids the threat. Malware operators insert their dangerous software into every piracy outlet possible – embedding adware within streaming piracy websites or apps, plugging viruses into illegal downloads of movies, music, and television, or infesting piracy devices, such as “fully-loaded” Kodi boxes.

The DCA reports that 12 million Americans use a piracy device such as a Kodi box. That is 12 million people who, “by plugging the device into a home network… are enabling hackers to bypass the security (such as a router’s firewall) designed to protect their system.” The malware then “looks for a pathway to any connected device, putting an entire home network at risk.” No connected device is spared, including your new refrigerator, your smart TV, or “a child’s tablet”.

That’s right – your children are also at risk of malware when you pirate. If you won’t stop because of the harm piracy poses to millions of creatives and to yourself… maybe you will stop for them?

Piracy really isn’t worth the risk. Do the right thing – for the creative communities and for you and your family. Use legitimate sources to watch entertainment. Just do it.