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Why a U.S. ambassador asked Australians to stop pirating ‘Game of Thrones’

Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich warned that piracy hurts Morocco, where this Season 3 scene from "Game of Thrones" was filmed, as well as the United States and other countries. (HBO)
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The U.S. ambassador to Australia loves "Game of Thrones," and he would really, really like Australians to stop downloading pirated copies of the HBO show.

On April 23 -- “U.N. World Book and Copyright Day” -- Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich posted a public message to Facebook imploring Australians to reflect “on why piracy is not some victimless crime” and to stop pirating "Game of Thrones," in particular.

“For those who aren’t already fans, it is a great epic chronicling the devious machinations of rival noble houses fighting for supremacy,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, nearly as epic and devious as the drama, is its unprecedented theft by online viewers around the world.”

Bleich added: "As the Ambassador here in Australia, it was especially troubling to find out that Australian fans were some of the worst offenders."

The ambassador's appeal references the facts that "Game of Thrones" is America’s most-pirated show and that Australia has one of the highest piracy rates on some of the Internet's most popular download sites. (This does not account for pirated DVDs and video CDs, common in countries such as China.) "Game of Thrones" jokes aside, there is also serious geopolitics at play: Media piracy is an increasingly huge issue for U.S. trade policy. The pay-TV industry estimates losses of $1 billion in Asia alone.

Intellectual property is getting tougher and tougher to protect in the digital age, which is a big deal for U.S. economic interests. Imagine if Americans were stealing $1 billion worth of Japanese cars and Japan thought the U.S. government was being lax about finding and punishing the carjackers.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has accordingly ramped up its anti-piracy efforts in recent years, signing an agreement with Australia and six other countries in 2011 to enhance the international legal framework and criminal enforcement around piracy issues. (The European Union and 22 of its members have since signed on, as well.) In fact, Australia is -- contrary to the tenor of Bleich’s message -- a U.S. ally on the intellectual property front, given that Australia has its own intellectual-property exports.

The main copyright offenders are countries in Southeast Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet republics, where -- the Trade Representative claims -- governments have failed to pass or enforce copyright laws, and where piracy runs rampant.

China, perhaps the most rampant infringer of all, has faced relentless criticism from the United States over its lack of copyright protections. A 2011 study by the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated that American businesses lost $48 billion to copyright infringements in China alone -- enough money, it calculated, to employ 2.1 million people. U.S. representatives complained to the World Trade Organization about the problem in June 2012.

But if Australians are aware of the reasons for these diplomatic efforts, they didn’t show it on Bleich’s page.

“It's always about the money with the Americans,” one man wrote.