Study: Digital piracy declining in Europe

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A study from the European Union Intellectual Property Office examining the consumption of copyright-infringing content in the EU Member States and the UK for TV programmes, music, and film, concludes that digital piracy is declining for all three types of content and that differences among the Member States can be explained by socio-economic factors such as income inequality and by awareness of legal offers among consumers.

The report, Online Copyright Infringement in the European Union, examines such consumption using a variety of desktop and mobile access methods, including streaming, downloading, torrents and ripping software.

The analysis is based on a rich set of data on access to websites offering pirated music, film and TV programmes in all 28 Member States, between January 2017 and December 2020. The dataset includes over 240,000 aggregates for a total of 133 billion accesses.

The report’s main conclusion is that digital piracy is declining for all types of content. Except for a temporary increase in film piracy in the spring of 2020, the decline continued during the COVID pandemic: piracy decreased by 20 per cent in 2018, by 6 per cent in 2019 and by 34 per cent in 2020.

There were significant differences among the Member States. The average Internet user in the EU accessed copyright-infringing content 5.9 times per month during 2020. Latvian users accessed these sites approximately twice as often, whilst Polish users did so only 3.8 times per month. Overall, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the UK, were below the EU average.

Based on a review of the existing literature and available data sources, a number of factors that could influence the consumption of pirated content in a given country were examined.

Among the socio-economic factors, the extent of inequality and the level of income per capita seem to have the greatest impact on the consumption of pirated content: high per capita income and low degree of income inequality are associated with lower levels of illicit consumption, holding other factors constant.

A higher acceptance of digital piracy, as evidenced by responses to the relevant questions in the IP Perception study, is also associated with a higher level of consumption of pirated content. In countries with similar levels of income and inequality, piracy is higher in countries where a high proportion of citizens consider piracy as an acceptable option when there is no legal offer (as reported in the IP Perception study), especially in the case of music piracy.

The awareness of legal offers appears to reduce consumption of pirated content. Furthermore, the number of legal platforms for films and TV channels reduces the consumption of pirated content (this effect cannot be tested in the case of music because the number of platforms has remained stable during the period in almost all of the countries).

In addition, there is a positive association between the proportion of young people (aged 15 to 24) in a country’s population and the extent of film piracy.

The type of content pirated most often is TV, accounting for 70  per cent of accesses to infringing websites in 2020. Film accounted for 20 per cent and music for the remaining 10 per cent of accesses. The most common type of device used to access pirated film and TV is desktop, while in the case of music, mobile devices are used significantly more often. For all content types, streaming is becoming increasingly important and accounts for the bulk of film and TV piracy. In the case of music, stream ripping accounts for about half of all accesses to pirated content.

The year 2020 was of special interest in the analysis, since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in lockdowns of varying degrees in many Member States and many citizens chose to stay at home even in countries where no formal lockdown was in place. Other studies, for example, by Hadopi in France, have shown that both licit and illicit consumption of digital content rose during this period. However, in the present study, this effect is only apparent in the case of film – film piracy increased significantly in March and April 2020 but then resumed its downward trend.


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