Like it or not, illegal downloading and pirating of movies and TV shows is the way of the world. It seems like the practice is becoming more prevalent each year and yet many shows continue to smash viewership records each season.

Despite the piracy, several of the shows that landed on Torrent Freak’s top 10 list for 2012, including Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, are still enjoying their most watched seasons. The most popular tend to be the most pirated, and yet ratings for many of these shows are on the rise.

Such is the case with Game of Thrones, which took the throne as the number one pirated show of the year, knocking Dexter off its perch atop the list from last year to the number two slot. The Big Bang Theory stayed put in third position, while How I Met Your Mother climbed the ranks to number four. The J.J. Abrams produced NBC drama Revolution was the only new show to crack the top ten, sliding in at 10th place.

Although ratings have still been strong, the number of illegal downloads is a bit alarming. Episodes of Game of Thrones, Dexter and Homeland were downloaded more than they were watched on the air. Check out the numbers for yourself on Torrent Freak’s list below:

New episodes of popular American shows are the most frequently torrented, as they’re released later in many countries, tempting consumers to download rather than wait. For example, in Australia – where Game of Thrones is very popular – the show is released a week later and, as a result, the Land Down Under is the number one downloader of Game of Thrones, accounting for more than 10% of the global total. In fact, more than 80% of TV show piracy occurs outside the United States, according to TorrentFreak.

The lack of available legal downloads is another reason many turn to piracy, and since many premium cable networks like HBO don’t allow streaming  of their programs without a subscription, viewers are choosing to forgo the whole “payment thing” and simply download the content for free. Obviously, the networks will have to devise a way for consumers to get what they want without sacrificing their own bottom line to put an end to, or at least limit, illegal downloads and piracy.

Source: Torrent Freak