SYDNEY (Reuters) - Taking to Facebook, the U.S. ambassador to Australia is urging Australians to cease their illegal downloads of "Game of Thrones", saying that they are among the world's worst pirates of the wildly popular medieval television drama.
In a post titled "Stopping the Game of Clones", Jeffrey Bleich - himself a devotee of the HBO series - compared the rampant piracy of online thieves to the plotting and machinations of the noble houses in the show.
"Unfortunately, nearly as epic and devious as the drama is its unprecedented theft by online viewers around the world," he wrote on his official Facebook page.
"As the ambassador here in Australia, it was especially troubling to find out that Australian fans were some of the worst offenders with among the highest piracy rates of 'Game of Thrones' in the world".
TorrentFreak, a file-sharing news website, estimated that Game of Thrones was the most pirated TV series in 2012, with one episode notching 4.28 million pirated downloads, equal to the number of broadcast viewers for that episode, Bleich said.
When the second season began, Australian fans had to wait a week before being able to access new episodes by legitimate means, but the wait has come down to a few hours for the third season.
Neil Gane, managing director of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), said that surveys had found that unsurprisingly, most of the illegal downloaders said they did it because it was free.
Game of Thrones season 2 is priced at $38.99 in the Apple iTunes store in the United States and A$33.99 ($35.05) in the Australian store.
"The number of unauthorized downloads is staggering," he told Reuters in an email.
Based on the books by George R. R. Martin, the show follows a vast cast of characters fighting for control of the throne in the fictional world of Westeros.
"If the 4 million people who watched Game of Thrones legally had been illegal downloaders - the show would be off the air and there would never have been a season 3," Bleich said. ($1 = 0.9697 Australian dollars)
(Reporting By Thuy Ong; Editing by Elaine Lies and Robert Birsel)