Game of Thrones leak: Brits are now the world's biggest pirates, but I know how we can stop them

If they're going to spoil the fun, then they should have their TV shows spoilt too

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The Independent Online

As the first four episodes of Game of Thrones Season 5 leaked online over the weekend, it was little surprise to me that UK pirates downloaded – or stole, to put it bluntly – more copies than anyone else in the world. Reports say 9.8 per cent of all illegal downloads recorded were from the UK.

We Brits are madly, deeply in love with the otherworldly fantasy saga which draws heavily on a mishmash of Roman, Plantagenet, Tudor and Stuart influences. Power-hungry queens war with mad kings, while a northern wall wards off “Wildlings”. Biting winters provide a backdrop to smutty serfs and nigh-constant treachery, tyranny and torture. It all means there is nothing quite as British – oddly enough – as the American television powerhouse Game of Thrones.

So I laughed this weekend when tech experts said the leaking of four brand new spanking Game of Thrones episodes would provide a moral dilemma. Morals? On the internet? Excuse me while I laugh up some spleen. As downloads of the Game of Thrones plunder reached over 800,000, it was evident yet again that the internet had the morals of a bloke you meet in a Happy Hour in Tenerife who sticks his hand up your frock, steals your credit card then promises to call.

Fans wanted to see all-new Game of Thrones right then, right now. The fact that this was plain theft, or that it might offend lots of their beloved actors, producers and TV bigwigs made no difference. Morals? Ethics? Who are you, the Dalai Llama? It was the weekend, time for some “me time”, and Game of Thrones fans – with Britain topping the list for thievery – wanted to shove all four episodes instantly into their greedy snaffling eye-holes.

So bloody what if four hours later they might feel a bit sick and discombobulated, like kids on a school trip who’d gorged their entire packed lunch – Jaffa cakes, pork pies, Kiora, the lot – two miles outside of the school gates? And so what if HBO lavish around $10m making each episode, which is precisely what makes it such a peerless TV experience in the first place? And no of course we wouldn’t run into a Vue cinema without paying, watch four movies back-to-back without paying, and then flick two fingers up at the usher. That would be illegal.

But this is the internet, stupid: millions of us believe we have the right to take whatever the hell we want. And if we’re pondering on world history – as Game of Thrones author George RR Martin’s Westeros clearly does – it’s rather fitting that the British come top of the charts in the Game of Thrones smash and grab.

After all, one of Martin’s greatest creations, King Joffrey, is a petulant, bloodthirsty child sociopath with a cut-glass British accent. This acidic little toff – part Battle of the Boyne, part Bullingdon Club – wants everything instantly. Land, gold, women, the moon on a stick. His magpie eyes have seen the prize and he’ll enslave or kill anyone in his path.

When international audiences go wild for the privileged, plundering Joffrey, part of me feels proud, certainly, that we still corner the market in creating fictional baddies who put the heeby-jeebies up the rest of the world. But I also can’t help feeling, it’s not doing a great deal to shake our reputation.

Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones


Still, one good thing about modern internet users losing sight of the definition of “theft” – or while we’re at it “voyeurism”, “lynchmobbing”, or “slander” – is that we’re putting in place other strict moral boundaries. One of the worst moral crimes one can commit among the internet today is dropping “spoilers” which ruin the enjoyment of other people’s TV, film, literature experience.

We might turn a blind eye to someone robbing four whole episodes of a very expensively made and well-loved TV show, but if the thief then sidles up to us tomorrow at the office water cooler to blurt out that Sir Wotsit is strangled in episode 2, or a dragon has a poorly paw in episode 4, our wrath will be be mighty and unyeilding. Spoiling Game of Thrones, for even the most fleeting of fans, is akin – moral wise – to stealing charity boxes for sick orphans off shop counters, or kicking grannies up the bum outside Mecca Bingo. You just don’t do it.

We have grown, in recent times, so thoroughly precious about out lives being “spoiled” – with the boundaries growing ever larger – that mentioning Eastenders, Match of the Day, a Bond film from 1977, or a BBC comedy that plays 10 times a day on UK Gold has become socially tricky. When I recently wrote about the BBC’s Easter production of Noah’s Ark I seriously considered whether revealing that the whole thing ends with a massive flood might spoil the Book of Genesis to people who’d not got round to reading it. So it’s rather ironic that viewers who have downloaded and then guzzled up the new Game of Thrones episodes without a speck of guilt are now in their very own modern purgatory, not able to speak or emit a single word or squeak about them. For the braggard and the big gob, surely this is punishment enough.

Of course when entertainment companies send lawyers to these sort of people, it’s customary for the illegal downloader to curl up like a slug and play the “Ooh look! David is shafting Goliath! Poor me!” card, so that no side eventually “wins”.

If I was HBO, I’d employ a team of professional spoilers who instead of suing or looking for prison terms, would simply spend the next 10 years tracking what individual downloaders were watching, allow them to get thoroughly engrossed, then send anonymous messages, revealing whodunnit and spoiling the big plot twist. It’s not five years in Wormwood Scrubs, but to a lot of people it really would be punishment enough.