Pirates Pillage 1M Copies of 'Game

Premiere of HBO fantasy epic on track to be top illegally swapped TV show of 2013

Immediately after the Sunday debut of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” third campaign, hundreds of thousands of digital thieves swarmed to download the seg illegally over the Internet — in numbers never seen before, according to piracy news site TorrentFreak.

In less than 24 hours, pirates around the globe downloaded the episode more than 1 million times, with at one point more than 160,000 individuals sharing the file using BitTorrent software, TorrentFreak editors wrote in a post. Previously the record for the largest BitTorrent “swarm” went to the season 3 premiere of NBC’s “Heroes” in 2008, with 144,663 peers.

At this rate, “Game of Thrones” is poised to reclaim the crown as the most-pirated TV show of the year, a dubious distinction TorrentFreak bestowed on it in 2012.

The five-finger discounts online didn’t diminish HBO’s TV numbers, however. The premium cabler touted record ratings for the season 3 fantasy epic premiere of 4.4 million viewers, up 13% over its year-ago premiere with 3.9 million despite stiff Sunday-night competish.

Asked for comment, HBO said in a statement that in an effort to address piracy, it removed the window between the U.S. and international debut of “Game of Thrones,” essentially launching the third season with a worldwide premiere.

“From initial data, we have seen the benefits of this strategy with viewership up significantly in international markets in comparison to last season, as well as a record premiere here in the U.S.,” HBO said. “‘Game of Thrones’ is a global phenomenon and HBO uses every tool available to protect its content. Unfortunately, with such success also comes theft. Many anti-piracy tactics have been effective and we will continue to improve those efforts so we can continue to deliver high quality, acclaimed programming to our customers.”

The U.S. was the top location of illegal downloaders of the “Game of Thrones,” followed by the U.K. and Australia, according to TorrentFreak.

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