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UK Online Piracy Increases Slightly But Over Five Years Remains Stable

By , in Intellectual Property Office Online Copyright Infringement tracker Piracy Research , at January 7, 2022

Each year the UK Government publishes a new edition of its Online Copyright Infringement Tracker which reveals the results of an annual survey polling the piracy habits of people twelve years old and above.

The UK Intellectual Property Office has just published the results of the 11th wave which took place in 2021.

A different methodology has been deployed since the 9th wave in an effort to produce robust results and additional insight. In common with earlier years, its a mixed bag of good and bad news for rightsholders.

Key Points in Summary

Overall consumption of content (via legal and illegal sources) increased during this wave across a number of categories, particularly in streaming of content which reached the highest point seen thus far. Consumption of live sports also bounced back to pre-COVID levels and there were small increases in those downloading music, film and TV. In most cases, however, figures were still down on the pre-COVID-19 peak.

Once again the main drivers for accessing content online were the choice and variety of content on offer, the ability to access content immediately, and the cost.

In terms of infringing consumption, overall infringement for all content categories sat at 25%, up from the 23% reported during the 10th wave tracker. While this represents a small increase, overall infringement levels have remained relatively stable over the past five years, meaning that on average a quarter of consumers are still using illegal sources either in whole or in part.

Music, Movies, TV, Live Sports

This is not all bad news for rightsholders, however. In music, for example, the number of consumers who only access content from legal sources (download and streaming) increased to 85% (+3%) with only 2% using illegal sources exclusively.

In respect of film consumption, 80% of respondents consumed only from legal sources, 17% consumed from a mix of legal and illegal, and a stubborn 3% refused to consume anything legally, all unchanged since 2020. The overall level of infringement also remained static at 20%.

While not much has changed in the TV piracy world, the situation hasn’t worsened and there are signs of a slight improvement. While overall levels remained stable at 14% in 2021, the number of consumers accessing content purely from legal platforms increased to 86% (+1%) with just 2% downloading or streaming from only illegal sources.

Live sports is an unusual category in that the availability of sporting events during the COVID-19 lockdown was severely diminished. In 2020, just 8% engaged with live sports overall but in 2021 there was a significant boost to 15%, almost double the figure in the previous year. Interestingly, however, overall levels of infringement dropped from 37% in 2020 to 29% in 2021.

Video Games and Other Content

Overall infringement remained stable in the video games category at 11% in 2021, with just 2% of consumers accessing content only from illegal sources. In software, overall infringement was up from 20% in 2020 to 23% in 2021 while infringement of e-books decreased by 3% from the previous year to 14%.

Overall infringement of digital magazines also decreased in this wave from 28% in 2020 to 27% in 2021 but the same cannot be said about audiobooks, which jumped from 14% in 2020 to 24% in 2021.

“Behaviour Change Opportunities”

In addition to tracking consumption, the UK Government’s annual report also seeks to highlight areas where pirates of all kinds can be encouraged to consume more legal content. In the previous wave, the report found that alluding to the financial impact of infringement on individuals within industries was more engaging than talking about industries as a whole.

There is no broad change in the 2021 report but the study adds some nuance.

“The communications testing this year managed to drill down further into which individuals to focus on and showed that participants found it hard to sympathize with big artists, producers, executives etc. who are seen to have a lot of money and success. Rather, speaking about smaller artists or smaller production companies as well as those individuals employed by industries in the background elicited more positive responses,” the report reads.

Interestingly, the previous report (conducted just three months into the pandemic) described an “underwhelming response” to messages related to the impact of COVID-19 on the creative industries. This time around, things had changed.

“One year on, however, with the pandemic ongoing at the time of research, messages about the continued strain on funds and reports of job losses were seen as some of the most impactful messages and caused some participants to reconsider their behavior.”

Concerns (or lack of) Among Pirates

In an effort to deter pirates, the entertainment industries, particularly those in film, TV and broadcasting, have been pushing a narrative of malware and other cyber-related threats in recent years. The study found that while these worry some less experienced infringers, those who infringe regularly are much less concerned.

While not discounting potential threats, more experienced users said they had built trust in the sources they use and after not experiencing any issues, feel safe to continue using them.

“The notion of increased cyber security threats during the pandemic didn’t seem to increase concern, with many saying they would remain vigilant and knew the warning signs of untrustworthy content to look out for,” the report reads.

When presented with hypothetical scenarios around potential enforcement, the most effective proposition for making participants reconsider was the possibility that internet providers might send them warnings and eventually cut off internet access, followed by “greater implementation and enforcement of fines.”

At the time of writing a new ISP warning campaign seems unlikely after the most recent venture was abandoned in 2019. Fines (or more accurately settlement letters) are being sent out in the UK but currently cover a very small volume of content sent out by a handful of rightsholders.

The full report can be found here

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