Ofcom Survey of Consumer Online Copyright Infringement

November 20, 2012

A report commissioned by Ofcom, with the uninspiring title ‘Online copyright infringement tracker benchmark study Q3 2012’, gives new insights into consumer attitudes, and consumer ignorance, relevant to online copyright infringement. The report details the main findings of a large-scale consumer tracking study into the extent of online copyright infringement, as well as wider digital behaviours and attitudes, among people aged 12+ in the UK. The study was commissioned by Ofcom, undertaken by Kantar Media and funded by the Intellectual Property Office.

The headlines from the report include the suggestion that nearly half of all Internet users are unsure whether the content they are accessing online is legal. The actual figures suggest that ignorance is somewhat less widespread than the headline suggests as the question was ‘How confident are you that you know what is legal and what isn’t in terms of downloading, streaming/accessing and sharing content through the Internet?’. In answer, 28% responded ‘not particularly confident’, 17% ‘not at all confident’, and 3% ‘don’t know’. A lot of the lack of confidence may stem from the simple fact that few consumers browse with the issue in the forefront of their mind, or may stem from frequent visits to YouTube, from which even a Lord Chief Justice may return lacking confidence in the legality of all the content viewed.

However, the report does show significant infringement. For example, one in six people online believed they downloaded or accessed content illegally over a three-month period in 2012. Whether that level of infringement is deemed shocking may well depend on one’s expectations – some will be surprised that it is so low. The level of infringment of computer software copyright is strikingly high, although music copyright far exceeds it in volume.

The consumer study also found that:

  • reported levels of infringement varied considerably by content type: 8% of Internet users consumed some music illegally in the three months, but just 2% did so for games and software;
  • the most commonly cited reasons for accessing content illegally were because it is free (54%), convenient (48%) and quick (44%) – 26% of infringers said it allows them to try before they buy;
  • infringers said they would be encouraged to stop doing so if cheaper legal services were available (39%), everything they wanted was available from a legal source (32%) or it was more clear what content was legal (26%);
  • one in six said they would stop if they received one notifying letter from their ISP;
  • those who consumed a mixture of legal and illegal online content in the form of music, films and TV programmes reported spending more on legal content in these categories over the three-month period than those who consumed entirely legal or illegal content.  

This very valuable report is the first in a series of ‘research waves’ intended to generate benchmarks and time series relevant to the access and use of copyright material online. The aim is to identify trends over time, examining infringement of copyright on music, films, TV programmes, software, books and video games.

The research follows a recommendation in the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth that Ofcom should start gathering independent data and establishing trends in the area of online copyright before its formal reporting duties begin, under the Digital Economy Act 2010, when the Code comes into force. Ofcom emphasise that consumer research is only one perspective on levels of online copyright infringement. For a more complete picture, it should be considered alongside direct measurement of behaviour on file-sharing web sites and wider industry data. Ofcom expects to consider all these data sources as part of its statutory reporting duties in the near future.

The full report, the OCI Tracker Benchmark Study, is available here. The report contains details about the methodology used, and the underlying data is also being made available for further analysis.