Half of UK internet users have no idea whether accessed content, software is legal

The report, commissioned by UK telecom regulator Ofcom and undertaken by Kantar Media, is intended to generate benchmarks for the access and use of copyrighted material online. It found that across six main types of online content (music, film, TV programs, books, video games and computer software), one in six (16%) UK internet users aged 12 and over were estimated to have downloaded or streamed at least one item of online content illegally. A quarter of that group (or 4% overall) were the hardcore infringers: they said eschewed paying for legal content entirely.

When asking infringers why they partake in piracy, the confusion as to legality is clearly the biggest issue. But of those who know that they’re using illegal fare, they do have their reasons. The most common excuse cited for doing so is the typical: because it is free (54%). Other reasons include because it’s convenient (48%) or quick (44%). Close to a quarter (26%) of infringers also said they do it because it means they can try before they buy, indicating that purchasing rather than stealing is at least on the radar screen.

Factors that piracy fans said would encourage them to stop infringing included the confusing response of “availability of cheaper legal services” (39%). They also said that choice is somewhat of an issue: if everything they wanted was available legally (32%) online then they wouldn’t pirate content so often.

That said, levels of infringement varied significantly by content type; the survey indicated that 8% of internet users aged 12+ consumed some music illegally over the three month period, while 6% did so for films. For video games and computer software the figure was just 2%.

When it comes to streaming, overall volumes of illegal content consumed online also varied by category. Volumes were highest for computer software (47% of all computer software products consumed online were estimated to be illegally obtained), followed by films (35%) and music (26%), whereas it was lowest for books (12%).

The survey data also shows that for music, film and TV programs, those who consumed a mixture of legal and illegal content actually spent more on that type of content over a three-month period than those who consumed content 100% legally or 100% illegally.

The report also discovered a gender and age gap. Online copyright infringers across all the content types were more likely to be male (58%) and between the ages of 16–34 (64%) – i.e., in the notoriously tech-savvy age group.

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