Coronavirus: Illegal downloads of Contagion spike globally amid COVID-19 outbreak

Thousands of people around the world are illegally downloading the pandemic movie Contagion following the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film is about a fictional global disease that health officials struggle to contain and how there can be a loss of social order during a pandemic.

The Verge and TorrentFreak partnered to study the rise of people downloading Contagion between January 1 and March 4. The results were found by looking at IP addresses that shared the movie and studying torrent tracker data.

Before January 24 Contagion was being torrented about 200 times per day globally, and on January 25 it jumped to over 1500. Once the disease had arrived in the US, there were over 18,000 downloads each day.

Torrenting is a type of file-sharing technology that allows people to connect and share their content rather than relying on one website to download files.

TorrentFreak's site editor Ernesto says these numbers only apply to torrents which is "a small fraction of the piracy landscape".

"Streaming piracy is much more popular (but not measurable) so the total piracy numbers are much higher."

There has also been a large increase in iTunes rentals of the film in the US where it was the 15th most rented movie on January 29. This time last year it wasn't even in the top 100, according to Buzzfeed.

Online search trends for "Contagion movie" spiked on January 31, but the search term continued to have popularity throughout February and into early March, Google Trends shows.

The number of people globally searching for "Contagion movie" spiked on January 31.
The number of people globally searching for "Contagion movie" spiked on January 31. Photo credit: Google Trends

While the fictional disease in Contagion kills millions - making it far more deadly than COVID-19 - the film's writer Scott Z. Burns told Fortune magazine he was more interested in using the virus to explore "how the preexisting conditions in our society make us susceptible to fear as well as the virus".

"The similarities between our contagion and the coronavirus are immaterial, accidental, and really not that important. What is more important and accurate is the societal response and the spread of fear and the knock-on effects of that. That is proving to be accurate."

COVID-19 has killed nearly 3500 people globally and infected more than 100,000, according to Al Jazeera.