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Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ Falls Prey to Piracy

Illegal copies of ‘House of Cards’ crop up on torrent sites

As Netflix loads up on original programming, vid-streamer will increasingly face a Big Media problem: combating illegally ripped copies of its content.

Within the past several weeks, users of file-swapping site The Pirate Bay have shared more than 20,000 copies of “House of Cards” episodes, with thousands more available on other rogue torrent-trackers.

Netflix is presumably less vulnerable to piracy than traditional forms of distribution. Conventional wisdom holds that making high-value content affordable on digital platforms is the antidote to copyright infringement. It would seem to be less hassle to sign up for the streaming service than steal from it.

But Netflix is not available in all countries, which explains in part the appearance of purloined episodes online. At least some unauthorized “House of Cards” copies on The Pirate Bay originated from overseas airings, including on News Corp.’s pay TV plaform Sky Deutschland.

Sony Pictures Television, on behalf of producer Media Rights Capital, is licensing “House of Cards” to pay TV providers in countries where Netflix doesn’t offer a streaming service. While those sales represent an important revenue stream, piracy makes clear the downside to offline exposure. Sony Pictures Television also just announced “House of Cards” will hit home video June 11 — perhaps not a moment too soon.

Some of the torrent-tracker files are likely duds — possibly seeded by Netflix itself to frustrate pirates — but the freeloaders threaten to hurt the company’s ability to monetize the $100 million it spent on the Kevin Spacey starrer.

Netflix’s piracy problem doesn’t come close to that of traditional studios and nets. For example, HBO’s premiere Sunday of “Game of Thrones” season 3 is estimated to have been poached more than 1 million times within 24 hours of airing.

Pursuant to agreements with studios, Netflix mandates strict encryption and authentication specs for device partners to make it difficult — if not impossible — to copy video streams.

“‘House of Cards’ is a popular show and we’re very happy that it is so popular. We have taken the antipiracy measures similar to those that other content providers take,” the company said in a statement. Netflix has not divulged details on how the show has performed but execs aver it has generated valuable buzz and engagement.

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