Most Australians aren't die-hard pirates

Cost, availability of content key causes of online piracy - and letters from ISPs to account holders look unlikely to stop it

Just over a quarter of Australian Internet users aged 12+ engaged in some form of online copyright violation in the first three months of 2015, according to new government-sponsored research into the prevalence of online piracy.

However, during that period only 7 per cent of Australian Internet users exclusively consumed 'illegal' content.

The research also revealed that cost and availability are likely to have more of an impact on piracy than the government-backed copyright notice scheme.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today released the research which was conducted by TNS Australia.

The report, based on 2630 interviews, found that among those Australians who had accessed 'digital content', such as movies, in the first three months of the year, 43 per cent had accessed at least one item illegally.

That equates to an estimated 26% of Australian Internet users.

A significant portion — 43 per cent — of Australian Internet users are not confident about their ability to discern what is and isn't a violation of copyright.

Although access to free content was the top reason among infringers for engaging in copyright violation — it was cited by 55 per cent of infringers — convenience (51 per cent), speed (45 per cent), the ability to try before you buy (35 per cent), and legal content being too expensive (30 per cent) were also cited.

Among pirates, cutting the cost of legal content services was the most popularly cited change that would cause them to stop infringing.

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That was cited by 39 per cent of those who indicated they had consumed content illegally.

That was closely followed by content an individual wanted to access being available (38 per cent) and content being released at the same time as it is elsewhere (36 per cent).

The potential for a lawsuit (23 per cent), getting a letter from an ISP threatening to suspend Internet access (21 per cent), getting an ISP letter revealing their account had been used for copyright infringement (17 per cent), and a threat from the ISP to throttle Internet access (17 per cent) were all far less likely to stop an individual from engaging in copyright violation.

In that respect, the results perhaps don't bode well for the government-backed copyright infringement notice scheme.

Rights holders and ISPs have worked on developing the scheme, under which ISP customers accused of illicit downloads will potentially receive warning letters (and their personal details may end up being the subject of a discovery process that could be the first stage of a copyright lawsuit).

"Based on the government's own research, the education notice scheme that's been submitted for approval is the least effective option for stopping piracy," Choice's campaigns director, Matt Levey, said.

"We have to ask why is the industry so keen to pursue this scheme when the research shows there are easier, better options available?"

Copyright scheme still stalled

"These results suggest that while there is a role for a copyright notice scheme code in Australia to assist in fighting infringement, more work needs to be done to make legal content more affordable and more available, to combat the root causes of infringing activity," the CEO of telecommunications industry body Communications Alliance, John Stanton, said in response to the research.

"It is interesting that almost three quarters of those internet users who consumed content illegally were also accessing content legally – they were apparently not just looking exclusively for a 'free ride', but also were chasing the convenience that comes with ready availability of content."

Stanton said the process of introducing the copyright notice scheme remains stalled.

The code has been submitted to the Australian Communications and Media Authority by ISPs, meeting a government-set deadline for the industry. However, the ACMA cannot register the code because some details were left out of it when it was submitted. In particular, it is missing details about cost-sharing for the scheme.

Rights holders and ISPs have commissioned an expert to examine the costs that will be incurred by implementing the scheme, Stanton said.

"The widespread pattern of online infringement in Australia, indicated by the research, underlines the fact that rights holders – as indicated by the government – should be ready to pay the majority of the costs of operating a copyright notice scheme, given the enormous financial upside that will flow to rights holders from changing the behaviour of online infringers," Stanton said.

"Significantly, only five per cent of infringers said that nothing would make them stop their activity – so the right combination of initiatives can certainly make an impact on what ISPs agree is a serious problem."

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