Some 8 per cent of the adult population or 300,000 New Zealanders are watching pirated versions of sports events, according to a survey commissioned by Sky TV, while 10 per cent regularly watch pirated movies and TV.

And 69 per cent think the likelihood of getting caught is slim.

The figures were extrapolated from interviews with 1009 adults. Sky says it mirrors a recent survey conducted for NZ on Air.

The pay TV broadcaster has also proposed a solution today: that internet service providers should block websites that provide "pirate" content.


Sky general counsel Sophie Moloney says 42 countries, including Australia, already have site-blocking, and that New Zealanders favour that approach.

"The majority [68 per cent] of non-pirates say they would be happy for their ISP to block access to a pirate website if it was required by the court to do this," she says.

However, the largest ISP, Spark, is not on-board with that plan.

"While we are sympathetic to the issues faced by Sky, requiring ISPs to take on the role of 'Internet police' and block site access would be a significant step and not one that we favour," Spark corporate relations lead Andrew Pirie says.

Pirie says Spark's position is constantly under review. It could come under pressure in September next year when the telco streams the Rugby World Cup.

Source: Sky TV
Source: Sky TV

It's notable all of the top-tier players opposed the (now moribund) "three-strikes" law that required them to police individuals' accessing copyright-protected music and movies - citing the cost and administrative hassle.

Pirie says Spark opposes Sky's plan for a mix of reasons but "Especially cost and hassle that would be imposed on ISPs for what in many circumstances would involve policing the content rights of third parties."

He also fears it could skew the market if some ISPs play ball but others don't.


2degrees takes a similar stance. "Policing content is not something we see as practical, nor would it stop people from accessing content they haven't paid for," comms head Katherine Cornish says.

"If we look at traffic on our network, we can see high usage of subscription-based content services, which suggests that most Kiwis are happy to pay for content."

Source: Sky TV
Source: Sky TV

InternetNZ strategy director Andrew Cushen says he doubts site-blocking would be possible under our current laws. If it was implemented it would likely be with a blunt tool that rendered large parts of the internet inaccessible in a bid to solve a relatively small problem, he says. He things sees a lot of false-positives and other technical problems.

Cushen also says Sky's survey could be turned around into a celebration of the fact that 90% of New Zealanders now pay for content - a real turn around from the Napster frenzy in the early days of the internet.

But although piracy is down overall, there has been a surge in illegal streams of sports events.

Sky and other pay TV broadcasters around the world have blamed the increase on so-called "Kodi" boxes, which make it easy to access a free version of a sports event from an overseas provider (who is providing legitimate free-to-air coverage in their home country) or a copyright-infringing site.

Sky's research found 5 per cent of the population has taken advantage of a Kodi box, which makes it easy for a tech novice to access content usually geo-blocked to New Zealanders because Sky holds local rights.

In the UK, one report said one in three Premier League viewers watched games via an illegal Kodi box. In July, the Premier League was able to get a court order requiring the UK's major internet service providers to block and disrupt servers that feed illegal streams of the Premier League's matches.

The Premier League says a similar order granted for the 2017/18 season allowed it to disrupt or block nearly 200,000 illegal streams of its content.

Sky TV general counsel Sophie Moloney wants ISPs to block websites that facilitate piracy - but the largest ISP, Spark, is not on board with its plan.
Sky TV general counsel Sophie Moloney wants ISPs to block websites that facilitate piracy - but the largest ISP, Spark, is not on board with its plan.

Sky has recently launched legal action against two sellers of Kodi boxes in New Zealand, MyBox and Fibre TV. Both have been forced to stop selling their product. Sky won its case against Fibre TV, but damages have yet to be calculated. The case against MyBox is ongoing. Fibre TV and MyBox have argued their products are technology neutral. Sky says they come with software specifically designed to facilitate copyright infringement.

Sky has also taken at least a dozen successful cases against individuals who accessed illegal streams of Joseph Parker fights posted to Facebook - although it only sought token costs, not damages.

However, while Sky's action over illegal Parker fight streaming has been successful, it also illustrates the complications of Sky's website blocking request. It is unlikely any ISP would want to block Facebook.

Ms Moloney indicates Sky is now changing tack. "We don't currently have any Facebook action against individuals," she says. "We would much prefer to focus on stopping pirate sites and the criminals who run them rather than pursuing individuals.

Source: Sky TV
Source: Sky TV

"Blocking websites is typically a really bad solution to a tricky problem," tech commentator Paul Brislen says.

"We have a very robust, Internal Affairs-run filtering process for child pornography that relies on actual people making verifiable decisions about what sites should and should not be blocked, and that works very well."

But that's an entirely different problem to that which faces Sky TV, he says.

"Forcing ISPs to police users isn't a solution to the changes in the copyright environment - taking away the incentive to download material in the first place is the answer."

Brislen agrees with Spark's take that website blocking would be costly and difficult to administer. He adds that it would also be unlikley to decrease piracy in the "Whac-A-Mole" online environment.

InternetNZ's Cushen says broadcasters and on-demand service providers not only have to make sure content is available here, but that it's easily discoverable.

With a proliferation of online services, it's now hard for the average punter to find a show, and who has NZ rights, he says.