Game of Thrones Joffery Jack Gleeson 2011
Photograph by Helen Sloan — HBO

Game of Thrones Was 2015’s Most Pirated TV Show

Dec 28, 2015

The wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones has another award to its name.

Downloaded 14.4 million times in 2015, according to TorrentFreak, Game of Thrones was the most pirated television show in the U.S. The series handily topped The Walking Dead, which was pirated 6.9 million times, and The Big Bang Theory, with 4.4 million downloads, for the second straight year.

While the top three shows are notable, the bigger story is that the data shows a shockingly big leap for piracy. In 2014, Game of Thrones downloads stood at 8.1 million, according to TorrentFreak's data. The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory were in the second and third slots with 4.8 million and 3.9 million pirated downloads, respectively.

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TorrentFreak analyzes BitTorrent services that allow users to download television shows, movies, and other content from the Internet. But the website notes its data may only be the tip of the iceberg. Its numbers are estimated based on several, but not all, download sources. And what's more, TorrentFreak says that "online streaming and downloads for file-hosting services" are not included in its data. This suggests the actual piracy numbers are much higher.

BitTorrent is a decidedly divisive topic. Its supporters say the download service provides an opportunity for Internet users to find content they enjoy and watch it free of charge. They also argue that it may increase paid viewership if those who download (or pirate) content ultimately like what they find and decide to watch it through traditional means.

Detractors—which include the recording, television, and film industries—say that the BitTorrent robs copyright holders of revenue they could generate off their creations. These groups have railed against peer-to-peer downloading platforms, saying that the technology provides an easy gateway for users to watch their paid programming for free.

WATCH: For more on Game of Thrones, check out the following Fortune video:

Meanwhile, content creators have drummed up new ways to offer their programming in a bid to sidestep piracy, but to no avail. This past year, for example, HBO launched a $15-a-month service called HBO Now, that lets users stream all of its programming. But based on these findings HBO's video streaming service has done nothing to actually stem piracy's tide.

Regardless of the numbers, the series has been a breakout success for HBO. Based the fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones follows the fight for power among several families in a fictional, castle-filled land. The show's fourth season won a record 12 Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series, and its fifth season is expected to be similarly successful in the upcoming award season. Last month, HBO released a teaser for its highly anticipated sixth season.

MORE: For more on the next season of Game of Thrones, click here.

Yet 2015 was the fourth consecutive year Game of Thrones has topped TorrentFreak's list of most-pirated television shows. That means yet another feather in the award-winning show's cap — albeit this time, a dubious one.

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