One of the world’s wealthiest countries is also one of its biggest online pirates

The best things are free.
The best things are free.
Image: Reuters/Vivek Prakash
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Piracy has been dying for years, thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Spotify that offer a convenient and affordable buffet of movies, TV shows, and music. The latest evidence suggests that it continues to decline: Visits to piracy sites were down 6% last year.

But the argument that streaming services will eventually make piracy obsolete only holds if Netflix or Spotify is available in a wouldbe pirate’s country and charges affordable fees. New data from Muso, a company that makes anti-piracy technology, shows that it’s generally true that users in lower income countries go to piracy sites more often. But there’s one glaring exception: Singapore.

Singapore is the world’s fourth richest country, measured by gross national income per capita and adjusted for purchasing power, according to the World Bank. Yet Singaporeans rank ninth for the most number of visits to piracy sites per capita, jostling with far poorer countries like Romania, Belarus, and Ukraine.

Although Netflix is available in every country on the planet—except four—it doesn’t adjust its pricing to suit most local markets. So someone in Kiev has to pay €7.99 ($8.72) a month for the cheapest subscription, the same price offered to someone in Paris or Frankfurt, a luxury for someone earning €2,419 a year. Spotify isn’t available in some of the most piracy-prone countries, including Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine.

It’s not clear why Singaporeans like pirating things so much even though they can easily afford to pay for streaming services. Muso says it prefers to let its data ”speak for itself,” and doesn’t try to divine the reasons for the patterns it observes. It pointed to a 2014 survey (pdf) produced by research firm Sycamore Research that showed seven in 10 young Singaporeans, people aged 16 to 24, admitted to actively downloading music, movies, and TV shows illegally. Six out of 10 of all adult respondents said they had pirated stuff online before.

In 2014, Singapore put in place copyright laws that allowed rights holders to ask internet service providers to block websites hosting pirated material. Two years later, it appears Singaporean appetites for free entertainment online remains robust. It could simply be that Singaporeans are doing what they do best—being kiasu. After all, why pay when they can get it for free?