Survey: Availability and cost remain online piracy drivers

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The latest wave of the Online copyright infringement tracker survey from the UK’s Intellectual Property Office suggests that during lockdown, some respondents reported that with their general consumption in entertainment increasing, so too did their use of illegal sources, with motivations being a lack of access to specific content on streaming subscriptions, availability on existing entertainment subscriptions and/or an unwillingness to pay additional costs for content outside of what they already pay for.

The 10th wave of the research was asking about a period markedly different from previous years. For much of the time-period, respondents were being asked to reflect on (i.e. the previous three months) and during the time of fieldwork, the UK (and much of the world) was in a state of lockdown owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many data points, perhaps as a result, appear to have shifted when compared to the previous year’s study.

Overall summary

  • consumption (i.e., downloading or streaming content online) was consistent across a number of categories compared to last year. There were some key differences which included a decline in the proportion of the sample who had downloaded music and TV. There was also a decline in the proportion who had streamed live sport and an increase in those streaming films
  • passion for the content categories remained robust during the Covid-19 pandemic with respondents agreeing that many of them played a central role in their lives
  • the main drivers for online consumption were cost, the choice available and the convenience of being able to consume content whenever they want
  • the overall level of infringement for all content categories (excluding digital visual images) was at 23 per cent, which is 2 per cent lower than where it had been for the previous four years
  • the proportion who had streamed films over the previous three months was up by 8 per cent to 42 per cent – the highest it has been over the past six years and matches the proportion of those who had streamed TV. The amount of legal content consumed in both categories also increased while the amount of illegal content either remained the same or decreased
  • the proportion who had downloaded music was down (by 8 per cent to 23 per cent) compared to last year, with the proportion streaming remaining broadly unchanged (3 per cent decrease to 37 per cent). Despite a decrease in the overall proportion downloading, the volume of tracks downloaded by both legal and illegal methods per respondent increased

In the qualitative phase of research, respondents elaborated on the peculiarities and extraordinary circumstances of this year, detailing some of the surprising benefits as well as the challenges and struggles which came with the experience of lockdown. Those who had been furloughed reported a definite increase in their consumption of their favourite forms of entertainment while those who were still working and studying mostly noted their consumption had remained relatively consistent.

The reason for an increase in entertainment consumption among those with lots of free time during lockdown was the comfort and distraction found in activities such as reading, listening to music, watching films and playing video games etc. Respondents relied upon these activities to fill their time from a practical perspective but also to take their mind off the real world and to help combat stress, boredom and anxiety.

In terms of levels of infringement, the findings from the qualitative phase showed that while many reported no change in their use of illegal sources, some noted that owing to their general consumption in entertainment increasing, so too did their use of illegal sources.

Motivations for doing so remained consistent with those uncovered in the previous wave (2019); a lack of access to specific content on streaming subscriptions they use, availability on existing entertainment subscriptions and/or an unwillingness to pay additional costs for content outside of what they already pay for.

The closing exercise of the Online Community focused on potential communication materials and messages to try and encourage behaviour change around online infringement. Using the segmentation of respondents established in last year’s study, this exercise showed that a number of types of messages were effective for ‘Cautious Infringers’ – those who are uneasy and unsure about illegally accessing content, highlighting the need for education and awareness.

Yet, it emerged that in order to try and reach those who are harder to engage in behaviour change, i.e. the ‘Savvy Infringers’, the most effective way to talk about the consequences of infringement was by focusing on the impact on the individual – both within the industry as well as the impact on the individual consumer through risks to their own hardware and devices.

As established in the previous wave, users of illegal sources mostly fell into two segments:

  • Cautious Infringers: Those who worry about infringing the law and the risks of illegal activity
  • Savvy Infringers: Those who are more tech savvy and knowingly access content illegally without much concern over related dangers or consequences.

The Communications Testing phase again revealed the contrasting needs and attitudes of both segments:

Considerations for cautious infringers:

  • more likely to have a positive reaction to a broad range of messages.
  • consider these messages informative and ‘eye opening’, leading to a potential change in attitudes and resulting behaviours
  • particularly affected by stories of loss to individuals; artists, creatives or employees

Considerations for savvy infringers:

  • sceptical about the true impact of illegal access on industries or of the opinion that industries must change, not consumers
  • of the messages tested, those about potential harm to an individual in the industry had the most impact on this group
  • messages about risk to the consumer through digital viruses etc. should also be considered for this group

According to the IPO, there is potential to explore messages around risk of greater legal action and consequences for those who infringe – this is not currently seen as a viable threat but was mentioned by a few as a potential deterrent if enforced more widely.


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