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Digital piracy common in the US

November 18, 2011

By Colin Mann

A preliminary report detailing the extent and type of digital piracy that is currently taking place in the United States suggests that while individual acts of digital piracy are common, large-scale digital piracy was found to be rare.

Sponsored by Columbia University’s The American Assembly project, the results were excerpted from a larger forthcoming survey-based study titled, Copy Culture in the US and Germany.

“Drawing on results from the US portion of the survey, it explores what Americans do with digital media, what they want to do, and how they reconcile their attitudes and values with different policies and proposals to enforce copyright online,” wrote Joe Karaganis, vice president at The American Assembly.

Although the full results of the survey will not be released until early 2012, the preliminary report provides a snapshot of the extent to which average Americans engage in various levels of digital piracy.

Among the report’s preliminary conclusions:

  • ‘Piracy’ is common. Some 46 per cent of adults have bought, copied, or downloaded unauthorised music, TV shows or movies. These practices correlate strongly with youth and moderately with higher incomes. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 70 per cent have acquired music or video files this way.
  • Large-scale digital piracy is rare, limited to two per cent of adults for music (>1000 music files in collection and most or all copied or downloaded for free) and one per cent for film (>100 files, most or all from copying or downloading).
  • Console-based video game piracy is very rare, limited (on any scale) to 1-2 per cent of the population.
  • Legal media services can displace piracy. Of the 30 per cent of Americans who have ‘pirated’ digital music files, 46 per cent indicated that they now do so less because of the emergence of low-cost legal streaming services; among TV/movie pirates, 40 per cent.
  • Copyright infringement among family and friends is widely accepted (75 per cent and 56 per cent, respectively, for music; 70 per cent and 54 per cent for film). In contrast, activities that imply dissemination of copyrighted goods to larger networks receive very low levels of support.
  • Only a slim majority of Americans (52 per cent) support penalties for downloading copyrighted music and movies—and limit this support to warnings and fines. Other penalties, such as bandwidth throttling and disconnection, receive much lower levels of support.
  • Disconnection from the Internet, in particular, is very unpopular, with only 16 per cent in favour and 72 per cent of Americans opposed.
  • Among those who support fines, 75 per cent support amounts under $100 per song or movie infringed—hugely undershooting the current statutory penalties.
  • For a majority of Americans (54 per cent), due process in such matters requires a court—not adjudication by private companies.
  • Solid majorities of American Internet users oppose copyright enforcement when it is perceived to intrude on personal rights and freedoms.69 per cent oppose monitoring of their Internet activity for the purposes of enforcement. 57 per cent oppose blocking or filtering if those measures also block some legal content or activity.
  • Comparable majorities (56 per cent) oppose government involvement in “blocking” access to infringing material. This number increases to 64 per cent when the term “censor” is used.
  • Blocking and filtering by commercial intermediaries such as ISPs, social media sites, and search engines receive majority support—until the questions include likely consequences. Majorities of Internet users support requirements that ISPs and search engines “block” infringing material (58 per cent for ISPs; 53 per cent for search engines). This support runs as high as 61 per cent for a soft requirement that user-content driven sites such as Facebook “try to screen all material and reject pirated copies of music and videos.” But this majority disappears when blocking by ISPs is characterized as censorship (46 per cent support), falls further when associated with the blocking of legal content (36 per cent support), and still further when it implies surveillance of Internet use (26 per cent support).
  • Which scenario best approximates the Stop Online Piracy Act? In the project’s view, ISP blocking that also blocks some legal content. In this case, Internet users oppose blocking: 57 per cent to 36 per cent.

Categories: Articles, Consumer Behaviour, Content, Piracy, Research