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Online Piracy: how do they make money?

Online Piracy: how do they make money?

Online Piracy How do they make their money

Online piracy has changed from simply sharing videos, music and ebooks to a lucrative business for those not feeling copyright law and regulations. 

Copyright infringement has been around for a long time. Before the digital age, what people would do is share or sell bootlegged versions of movies, videos and music. Nowadays, it’s become much easier to acquire and share content. A user of the internet only has to navigate to specific forums, sites or video sites and click play or download.

Online piracy has become so big that it’s taking up 24% of global bandwidth, a study done by Dataprot found. People are visiting piracy sites on a frequent basis, and a study done in 2018 found that piracy sites got at least 190 billion visits during that year. 

Depending on your country, it might not even be illegal to download pirated movies or music. For example, in Spain, Poland and Switzerland it’s okay for you to download copyrighted content via torrents, and in countries such as The Netherlands, Greece and Romania it is often overlooked (as mentioned by Vpnmentor). 

Sharing and offering illegally obtained copyrighted content is illegal in almost every country. Why then is it that there are so many piracy sites that offer free downloads of said copyright content? There are several reasons, but the main one usually is that it’s a very lucrative business.

In this blog, we want to talk about the differing ways piracy sites obtain money and to give you a solution to this problem.


  • Cyberlockers 
  • VIP accounts
  • Ad networks
  • How to take down online piracy


A cyberlocker is a file hosting service that allows its users to upload and share files. A cyberlocker isn’t illegal in and of itself. Take Dropbox for example. This file hosting service is a well known Microsoft brand, and it’s used by people worldwide for storing content such as photos and videos. 

Sadly, Dropbox is also used for illegal file sharing such as blockbuster movies or software programs. But how can a digital pirate make money out of this? There’s a multitude of cyberlockers that offer a reward system. The more people download your files, the more money you’ll receive in return. 

So it’ll come as no surprise that many sites that dabble in online piracy offer file sharing links from a cyberlocker with such a reward system in place. Some file hosting sites even go as far as offering $40 per 1000 downloads.

More than a third of music consumers pirate their music, so that means a lot of files are getting shared around and downloaded illegally. It’s therefore not unlikely to assume that sites making use of cyberlockers are sitting on a pile of illegally obtained money. 

VIP accounts

Another popular method of generating revenue by pirates are VIP accounts. VIP accounts are basically pay-walls on a piracy sites. You can not reach a download until after you’ve signed up for their website by paying a small fee.

The addition of VIP accounts is one not a particularly recent one, but it is still used quite often. You’ll find that most online piracy forums require a certain “contribution” score before a user can download copyright infringing content. Users can circumvent this measure by upgrading their account to a paid version. Effectively giving them access to millions of illegal downloads.

It’s not just forums that are making use of this method; other sites do so as well. There’s illegal streaming services that will not allow you in (or will only show you a teaser) until after you’ve paid for an account.

One simply has to pay for these upgrades or VIP accounts with PayPal, Visa or even Mastercard. 

Ad networks

The final method we wanted to talk about today is that of advertising networks. Most of us are familiar with advertising networks. If you own a blog, an ecommerce site or any other type of website, you can put advertisements on it and generate revenue when visitors click on them.

Sadly, online piracy has also found a way of making use of these networks. A large group of websites offering copyright infringing downloads, music and videos are being (unknowingly) sponsored by ad networks. 

Take for example Traffic Junky, which is an advertising network specifically targeting adult content websites. They’ve featured ads on some of the largest adult content sites, such as Pornhub and Youporn. 

What Traffic Junky however doesn’t know is that tens of thousands torrenting and illegal file sharing websites are making use of their network as well. The lack of thorough vetting makes it easy for pirates to slip through and start earning money with advertisements. 

How to take down online piracy

So now we know how online pirates earn money by illegally sharing copyrighted content. They get it through ad networks, offering VIP accounts and through cyberlockers. There’s many other ways they siphon revenue from legit brands and companies, but these are the one’s most used.

Luckily, there is a solution. We offer anti-piracy services so your brand can stop losing revenue to piracy. By making use of automated search engines and trained specialists, we locate infringements and enforce your copyright.

In specific cases, we will also go after payment service providers and advertising networks of these piracy sites. This will stop their illegal revenue generating business from getting anymore of your valuable income. 

We’ve helped over 700 brands protect their intellectual property against piracy. If you are dealing with pirated copies of your content, feel free to contact us.  

Stop losing your revenue

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