Australia: Content theft remains static

Independent research commissioned by anti-piracy organisation Creative Content Australia (CCA) shows the growth of online screen content theft has been arrested and remains static, with 21 per cent of adults 18–64 admitting some form of piracy.

CCA Executive Director Lori Flekser released the organisation’s ninth wave of independent research to delegates at the Screen Producers’ Association’s annual Screen Forever conference in Melbourne.

Flekser told delegates that she believes a combination of factors contributed to there being no increase in piracy levels since CCA’s 2016 research – amongst them an increase in subscriptions to streaming services, the presence of site blocks and the prevalence of malware.

Flekser said it was encouraging that the research shows that the majority of pirates have experienced a blocked site when searching for pirated content. “Our research was conducted between September 14 to 19 so it is too early to measure the response to the latest site blocks as the Federal Court ruling, ordering 59 site blocks, did not commence until mid-September. The CCA data only provides a preliminary snapshot of the impact of the blocks. Prior to this only five sites had been blocked. We know from other research that site blocking is effective, and our research confirms that most pirates have encountered a site block,” advised Flekser.

She said the Australian Incopro study (May 2017) – based on the five sites blocked in December-February – shows combined usage of the blocked sites and associated proxies decreased by 59.6 per cent since blocking began in September 2016, a finding consistent with usage patterns in other countries.

The CCA research showed that search engines, such as Google, are most mentioned by adults as the means to find illegal content online, and can facilitate new means to reach alternate infringing sites and proxies when users encounter blocked sites. The study also found that after reaching a blocked site, whilst half of Australians are turning to a legal source to access the same content, 77 per cent of adults and 74 per cent of teens are searching for an alternative infringing site for the same content.

CCA Chairman Graham Burke said it is time the tech giant stepped up and stopped facilitating large scale theft of people’s creative work. “Site blocking works and we have shut the front door of the department store by removing the big sign ‘Free Stolen Goods’. But as the processes to remove ‘mirror’ sites (same car different number plates) are slow, search engines are blatantly thumbing their noses at Australian law and courts by leading people to the back door,” he claimed.

“All you have to do is Google ‘PIR’ and Google auto complete comes up with ‘Pirate Bay proxies’. Google can address this as they have done in other areas and if they don’t they are demonstrating only an interest in luring traffic to their advertising model business. It is time for the tech giant to deliver on their public position of ‘Google is up for working with content owners to fight piracy’. It would be tragic if an overseas monopoly that doesn’t pay tax in our country cost Australians their jobs by its facilitation of large-scale theft,” he declared.

Burke also said that in addition to Australian jobs and livelihoods being under threat, so are Australian stories. “Australian films, and the telling of Australian stories, are part of who we are. My generation was defined by movies like Gallipoli, Storm Boy and Breaker Morant just as Lion, Happy Feet and Red Dog have influenced new generations.”

Creative Content Australia’s recent ‘Price of Piracy’ consumer campaign drew attention to the link between malware and piracy. Numerous international studies have confirmed that link, showing how infringing video streaming has become the number one method to propagate malware on the Internet.

The new research from CCA confirms that amongst persistent pirates, 47 per cent of teens and 59 per cent of adults have contracted a virus or malware by clicking on an ad or pop-up, or from streaming or downloading movies or TV from a pirate site.

Flekser also told delegates that this wave of research had investigated the use of set-top boxes and infringing apps for the first time and found they are ‘piracy’s new frontier’.

Set-top boxes and their software are not illegal. They allow viewers to watch online services on their TV sets including legal services such as Netflix. However, apps can be downloaded that allow ‘add-ons’ to seek out unlicensed content and deliver pirated movies and TV shows with ease.

Of the 31 per cent of Australians aged 12-64 who watch movies or TV shows through a set-top box, CCA research shows one in four teens uses infringing content apps to access pirated content. Amongst adults, that figure is one in five. Use of set-top boxes has been shown to compromise subscriptions to legitimate services.

Flekser said that in terms of attitudes to piracy, the latest study recorded the highest number ever of Australians to agree piracy is stealing/theft (74 per cent of adults and teens) with the majority (68 per cent of teens and 65 per cent of adults) acknowledging that piracy damages the livelihoods and jobs of those working in the film and television industries.

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