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Ofcom Study Reveals the Extent of UK Internet Piracy by ISP Customers

Tuesday, Nov 20th, 2012 (1:04 pm) - Score 1,893

The communications regulator has today revealed that 47% of UK internet users are unable to “confidently identify” whether the online content they download, stream or share is legal or not. Meanwhile some 16% of users aged 12+ said they had “accessed online content illegally” between May to July 2012.

Ofcom has a duty to gather “independent data” and establish trends in the area of online copyright infringement, which is a necessary step before the Government’s much delayed Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEAct) finally begins to take practical effect during early 2014. This is important because otherwise there’s no fool proof way to know whether or not the new rules are actually working.

The DEAct, which will be forced upon broadband providers through a strict new code of practice, requires ISPs to clampdown on internet piracy by issuing Notifications Letters (warning notices) to their customers when such activity is detected upon related accounts. Initially this will only apply to the biggest six providers (e.g. BT, EE, O2, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk and Virgin Media). Users whom fail to heed the warnings could face further service restrictions and or court action by Rights Holders.

According to the study, which was funded by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and conducted by Kantar Media, the actual levels of infringement “varied considerably“. For example, 8% of internet users were found to have consumed at least one music track “illegally” over the three month period, while 6% did this for films and just 2% for video games and software applications.

Other Key Findings of the Study

• When looking only at those internet users who had consumed any content online over the three month period, 31% of those consuming any film content and 23% of those consuming any music content had done so illegally. Books had the lowest incidence of illegal consumption among those who had consumed any e-books online, at 11%.

• Online copyright infringers across all the content types were more likely to be male (58%).

• Overall volumes of illegal content consumed online varied by category. Volumes were highest for computer software (47% of all computer software products consumed online were estimated to be illegally obtained), followed by films (35%) and music (26%), whereas it was lowest for books (12%).

• The survey data shows that for music, film and TV programmes, those who consumed a mixture of legal and illegal content claimed to spend more on that type of content over the 3-month period than those who consumed 100% legally or 100% illegally.

• When asking infringers why they download or stream/access content illegally, the most common reasons cited for doing so were because it is free (54%), convenient (48%) and quick (44%). Close to a quarter (26%) of infringers also said they do it because it means they can try before they buy.

• Factors that infringers said would encourage them to stop infringing included the availability of cheaper legal services (39%), if everything they wanted was available legally (32%) and if it was clearer what is legal and what isn’t (26%).

• Forty-four per cent of all internet users aged 12+ claimed to be either ‘not particularly confident’ or ‘not at all’ confident in terms of what is legal and what isn’t online. Confidence was lower amongst females (51%). Although the proportion increased with age, 12-15 year olds (42%) claimed confidence was lower than all other age groups up to the age of 44.

But perhaps of most interest was the impact that Ofcom’s warning letters could have. Apparently 22% of respondents indicated that a letter threatening to suspend their internet access would put them off piracy, which fell to 16% for a letter informing them that their account had been used to infringe and 14% for a threat to restrict internet speeds.

The idea of account disconnection (“suspension“) is strongly opposed, not least because many people and businesses share their access out and thus such a move could result in huge numbers of innocent people losing internet access (now considered to be a human right by the United Nations and many others). In the meantime it’s become incredibly easy to mask unlawful activity on broadband connections (e.g. VPN, Proxy Servers) and many critics, including some well publicised court cases, continue to question the reliability of IP address based evidence in general.

But Ofcom notes that consumer research offers only one perspective on levels of online copyright infringement and says that a “complete view” of the problem can only be produced when the data is “considered alongside direct measurement of infringing behaviour on file-sharing websites and available industry data” (e.g. network traffic volumes by protocol, such as P2P); future studies will focus on this.

It’s similarly interesting to note that those who downloaded or streamed illegal and legal music content (as well as some other types) had consumed a higher number of files legally than those who did it ALL legally, which produced a higher spend on digital music (individually purchased or via subscription).

Overall music online copyright infringers were responsible for illegally downloading or streaming over a quarter (26%) of all digital music consumed on the internet. Music infringers who accessed both legal and illegal content online claimed to spend the most on the category as a whole , spending on average £77.24 over the 3-month period. The 5% of internet users aged 12+ who only accessed illegal content, spent much less (£13.80).

The full report is huge and if you have a few days to spare for reading then it can be found at the link below.

Ofcoms Online Copyright Infringement Tracker Benchmark Study Q3 2012

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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