A guide to Reddit's r/piracy subreddit, and how the community discussion site is combating illegal sharing
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  • Post published:11/04/2021
  • Post last modified:11/04/2021
  • Piracy on Reddit has often run rampant on the community discussion website.
  • There are several subreddits dedicated to the discussion of piracy, but Reddit doesn’t officially allow pirated content.
  • Reddit has increased its content moderation efforts but still struggles to ensure its subreddits follow anti-piracy guidelines. 
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Even if you’ve never used Reddit, you’ve no doubt heard of it; it’s one of the largest sites in the US, and with more than 2 million “subreddits,” it has a stunning depth and breadth of content.

With all that activity, it’s not surprising that Reddit has become a hub for digital piracy, and the site has struggled with managing copyright violations for several years. A subreddit called r/piracy (all subreddits begin with an “r/”) in particular has become the focus of some unwanted attention.

Reddit’s piracy subreddit, explained

While other subreddits have occasionally shared copyrighted material, the r/piracy forum is, by design, for individuals interested in the tools, techniques, and resources of online piracy.

With more than 640,000 members, it was created in 2008 with the mission of being “a community dedicated to the discussion of digital piracy,” according to its own description. That you can find discussions of the vulnerabilities of piracy laws on Reddit is unsurprising.

“Google ‘reddit piracy’ and you’ll find lots of active links, where Reddit users openly discuss the weakness and vulnerabilities of various piracy laws,” said Monica Eaton-Cardone, chief operating officer of Chargebacks911. 

Given the subject matter, the piracy subreddit attempts to thread a particularly precarious needle. According to the rules of the subreddit, “submissions must be related to the discussion of digital piracy.” The rules of the forum specifically prohibit activities like linking directly to pirated media, requesting activation keys, asking others to download pirated content, or asking how to pirate specific copyrighted works (though generalized conversations about pirating techniques are acceptable). 

Though pirated content is prohibited on Reddit, some users have found ways to skirt around the rules.
Chainarong Prasertthai/Getty Images

A scan of r/piracy reveals an active community (at any given time, there are more than 1,000 users online) with threads about a diverse range of topics, including tips and tutorials on using popular tools and utilities, troubleshooting tips (“why are my 4K movies purple?”), and news about sources for copyrighted content. 

Unlike many online forums elsewhere on the internet, though, r/piracy is a moderated community (Reddit moderators are unpaid volunteers from the community) and the discourse is largely civil and on-topic. 

The state of piracy on Reddit

Reddit has been attempting to address piracy on its platform for several years, with serious efforts to mitigate copyright infringement beginning around 2019. Eaton-Cardone said, “Reddit has banned some of the more blatant abusers — /r/NFLstreams, /r/NBAstreams, /r/soccerstreams, /r/UFCstreams, /r/WWEstreams — but Reddit is one of the largest sites in the world. Policing it is extraordinarily difficult.” 

Nir Kshetri, a professor at the Bryan School of Business and Economics, explained why Reddit was compelled to act: “When it was shut down, r/NBAstreams had 474,000 subscribers who could access pirated NBA content for free. The subreddit r/soccerstreams had more than 400,000 subscribers who had access to pirated soccer streams.”

Rather than shutting down r/piracy outright, as happened with those other subreddits, Reddit decided in 2019 to delete all of r/piracy’s posts and comments created prior to September 2018 — a decade’s worth of content, erased from the Reddit archives. 

In Reddit’s transparency reporting, it’s clear that the platform has been increasing its content monitoring exponentially. In 2018, Reddit received 9,534 copyright notices, which resulted in 26,234 content removals. In 2019, Reddit received 34,989 copyright notices, which resulted in 124,257 content removals — nearly five times that of the year before. In 2020, Reddit received 86,866 copyright notices and removed 375,774 pieces of content — three times as many as in 2019.

Based on the takedown requests — and actual takedowns — Reddit appears to have a piracy problem, and r/piracy moderators have existential concerns about the future of their subreddit. “We are now on thin ice,” moderators wrote in one post, and added that the subreddit is in jeopardy. “We definitely do not want to be banned like r/megalinks, which was a subreddit specifically tailored to providing links to pirated content.”

Cleansing Reddit won’t eliminate piracy

Even if members appear to follow guidelines and avoid posting links to copyrighted material, some users say that the subreddit is still a direct vector to piracy.

Will Peach, a fourth-year medical student who regularly uses the r/piracy subreddit, said, “It happens via the backdoor. Recommendations are made in various threads and then DMs [direct messages] are sent privately. Piracy happens via other portals, like Google Drive . But it almost always starts on Reddit.”

On its face, the r/piracy subreddit is an online forum for discussing the topic of digital piracy, but it can lead to the sharing of illegal content.
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Reddit moderators appear to be enforcing guidelines in hopes of staving off a full shutdown of the r/piracy subreddit, yet they’re also planning for the worst.

Allan Borch, founder of the tech marketing blog Dotcom Dollar, said, “[They] already have a list of forum replacements, including rival discussion site Raddle.me.” Referring to the purge of posts older than 2018, Borsh added, “Indeed, those posts 10 years in the making aren’t actually gone. They’ve already been archived on GitHub. Piracy might move away from Reddit, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead.”  

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