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Latest UK Online Copyright Infringement Research

Research published today by Ofcom shows that 47% of all UK internet users have no idea whether the content they are accessing online is legal or not.

The report follows the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth that Ofcom should start gathering independent data and establishing trends in the area of online copyright, ahead of its reporting obligations under the Digital Economy Act, which came into force in June 2010.

The Digital Economy Act features numerous controversial copyright infringement provisions. Its goals are to make it easier to track down those who persistently infringe copyright, sue them, and, after one year, facilitate the enabling of ´technical measures´ to either reduce the quality of or completely terminate their internet connections.

Ofcom must begin its reporting obligations under the Act one full year after its Code, dealing with the procedures, has been in force. The draft code was published in June 2012 for consultation. Now, it is now subject to a further review by the European Commission, and it will be laid in Parliament around the end of 2012. ISPs will then prepare to meet their obligations, and Ofcom will appoint an appeals body. Ofcom currently expects the first customer notification letters to be sent in early 2014. The full text of the code can be found here.

The Code will initially cover ISPs with more than 400,000 broadband-enabled fixed lines – currently BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk Group and Virgin Media. Together these providers account for more than 93% of the retail broadband market in the UK. ISPs will be required to send letters to customers, at least a month apart, informing them when their account is connected to reports of suspected online copyright infringement.

If a customer receives three letters or more within a 12-month period, anonymous information may be provided on request to copyright owners showing them which infringement reports are linked to that customer’s account. The copyright owner may then seek a court order requiring the ISP to reveal the identity of the customer, with a view to taking legal action for infringement under the Copyright Designs and Patent Act 1988.

Copyright owners can already seek such court orders under existing law, but the Code is designed to enable them to focus legal action on the most persistent alleged infringers.

The consumer research published today also found:
•    One in six (16%) internet users aged 12+ downloaded or accessed online content illegally during the three month period from May to July 2012;

•    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 common reasons cited for accessing content illegally were because it is free (54%), convenient (48%) and quick (44%). Around a quarter (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.

In its statement, Ofcom said the research offers just one perspective on levels of online copyright infringement, and that for a more complete picture it should be considered alongside direct measurement of behaviour on file-sharing websites 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. It was funded by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), and carried out by Kantar Media on behalf of Ofcom. The report contains details about the methodology used, and the underlying data is also being made available for further analysis.