HBO is hunting down Game of Thrones pirates. Its weapon: warning letters.
The TV network wants to stop people from illegally downloading its hugely popular and widely pirated TV series.
HBO "aggressively protects its programming," the network told CBC News in an email.
But many Canadians who pirate Game of Thrones claim they haven't much choice; the fantasy drama, known for its violence, nudity and plot-twists, isn't available in Canada without a costly cable subscription.
- HBO cracks down on Canadians accessing U.S.-only streaming service HBO Now
- After Netflix crackdown on border-hopping, Canadians ready to return to piracy
HBO wouldn't provide details about its plan of attack.
But Bell Media, which owns the rights to HBO content in Canada, told CBC News in an email that the American network has been sending warning letters targeting Thrones pirates "for some time now."
Bell added there's no actual "crackdown" in Canada but it suspects "more letters are being issued at this time due to the popularity of Game of Thrones."
According to the online publication, TorrentFreak, HBO is behind thousands of copyright infringement notices recently sent to internet service providers.
The letters reportedly identify the computer user allegedly pirating episodes of Game of Thrones. They also ask the provider to inform the customer about the notice and "take proper steps to prevent further downloading or sharing of unauthorized content."
Internet providers in Canada are required by law to forward infringement notices to customers.
"They see it as a way of hopefully scaring people," tech analyst Patrick O'Rourke says of HBO's intentions. "I don't see them actually taking legal action."
No cheap access in Canada
According to TorrentFreak, the letter also encourages the internet provider to inform the customer that "HBO programming can easily be watched and streamed on many devices legally."
But Canadian pirates argue their options are limited.
In the U.S., Thrones fans can sign up for the streaming service, HBO Now, for $14.99 US a month. But in Canada, viewers must subscribe to cable to legally access the series.
And it doesn't come cheap. To get HBO Canada, subscribers typically have to pay around $20 for a Movie Network package on top of the cost of a regular TV plan.
"If you don't want to pay all that extra money to get channels you don't want, your only option unfortunately is piracy," says O'Rourke, a Toronto-based writer for the tech site MobileSyrup.
The situation has frustrated many Canadian Thrones fans who claim they resorted to piracy after realizing they can't pay for a streaming service to watch the show.
"HBO Canada. I'm sitting here trying as hard as I can to give you money to watch Game of Thrones, and you won't let me," someone tweeted following the recent launch of the new season.
"Now understanding why people pirate Game of Thrones. Wanted to buy via iTunes Store but apparently not available in Canada...ugh," posted another person.
Now understanding why people pirate Game of Thrones. Wanted to buy via iTunes Store but apparently not available in Canada...ugh @HBOCanada— @BailaAbramson
I tried to pay
Jake Deichert of Toronto admits he pirates Game of Thrones every week right after it airs on TV. "I personally torrent the show every Sunday night after 10 p.m.," he says.
Deichert is open about his piracy because he says he would pay to stream the show — if he could.
The 22-year-old software developer isn't interested in an expensive cable package. But he pays for a monthly Netflix subscription and also tried to sign up for HBO Now.
That's when he discovered the streaming service isn't available to Canadians.
"It is depressing," he says. "If HBO Now was in Canada, I 100 per cent would pay just to watch Game of Thrones."
He also checked out Bell's $7.99-a-month streaming service, CraveTV, only to discover it doesn't include the series. "I was willing to pay for it if it was," Deichert says.
No HBO Now for now
He adds he hasn't yet received a threatening letter on behalf of HBO. He believes that instead of circulating letters, HBO could easily curb its piracy problem by making its streaming service available outside the U.S.
"To me, that's problem solved," Deichert says. "I don't expect them to [be available] on Netflix but I expect them to at least bring their streaming service to more countries."
HBO told CBC News it has no plans to bring HBO NOW to Canada. Bell Media said it continues "to assess the market" but, at this time, Game of Thrones is available exclusively to TV subscribers of The Movie Network.
Bell added that it supports HBO's efforts to combat piracy, "which is illegal and immoral."
But pirates like Deichert just don't see it that way.
He says he understands why HBO would try to protect its product. But he also feels justified in pirating Game of Thrones when he would shell out for a streaming service.
"I'm begging for it, but it's not happening yet," he says.
He suggests perhaps the problem will solve itself in the near future as more people cancel their cable subscriptions and streaming services expand their content to meet the demand.
"Cable will not last forever."