Between the fancy lawsuits and DRM shenanigans much loved by major film, TV and music industry players, and the rampant copyright infringements by individuals lies several grey industries making money from both sides.
BitTorrent is hugely popular but there are a couple of issues for users. The first is the policing of public torrents by agents for the MPAA, RIAA and so forth. Using BitTorrent from one's home computer leads to the possibility of them discovering your identity (through due legal process) and perhaps serving a lawsuit. Private trackers are just as likely to be watched by such companies and add the extra requirement that one maintain a "ratio" - i.e. that you be a good citizen upload as much as you download, since a BitTorrent swarm can only be healthy if someone is uploading.
Enter the seedbox industry.
These companies will rent you server resources specifically for the purpose of torrenting. They provide high bandwidth so you can more easily maintain your ratios, and anonymity in the sense that infringement notices would first be sent to the hosting provider (most seedbox providers don't own their own infrastructure but rent them from dedicated server providers), who then forward it the seedbox provider, who then chooses what to do with it. I suspect that the typical seedbox provider would not want to put too much effort into investigating the truthfulness of any infringement notices. Seedbox services seem to start around the USD20/month mark, though these are only the purpose built seedboxes. There would be users buying VPS and even dedicated servers expressly for the purpose of torrenting.
Next protocol - NNTP, better known as USENET.
USENET is notionally a discussion medium but is primarily (by volume) used to spread large files - movies, TV, music, games, porn etc. An industry of premium USENET providers has sprung up specifically to this end. Users of such services pay around USD10-15 per month for access with the largest players today offer retention of over 500 days. This means that if someone posts an episode of Heroes today it will be available for download until July 2011. The retention rates of these providers is constantly increasing so in reality content will be available even longer.
BitTorrent and USENET are all about downloads. What about streaming? Hulu is apparently huge in the US but I can't view it from sunny Sydney. :(
Enter the VPN industry! Corporate types may be familiar with using VPNs to access their office networks from home, or when travelling. Services such as strongvpn.com and the not so subtly named UK proxy server will sell you VPN access to machines in the US, UK, and many other countries for the purpose of beating those pesky IP restrictions on streaming services. VPN services start around the USD10-15/month mark.
However, despite telling you how you might engage in the growing past time of copyright infringement this post isn't about that. Its about highlighting the fact that pirates are willing to pay for content, just not necessarily to the copyright holders. Keep in mind that underlying all of the above services is basic internet access - in Australia the most popular ISP plans are around the AUD50/month mark, and arguably users on higher usage plans are more than likely not using their extra quota on Linux ISOs.
The question, then, is why do consumers choose to pay these middlemen rather than copyright holders - is it the price, the breadth of content, geo-restrictions, or a straight out desire to stick it to The Man?
There's been plenty said about consumers wanting on-demand (convenient), reasonably priced access to content. Maybe the reason that the major movie, music and TV studios aren't offering what consumers want online is that they own some or all of these side channels. Not.