Digital use is on the rise – but what does that mean for copyright infringement?

The Coronavirus lockdown has dramatically increased the use of digital products as people work from home and now more than ever people are moving to online content over physical media to view movies, TV shows, even plays and musicals.  It remains to be seen what effect this will have on the digital entertainment industry in the long term and whether viewing of pirate copies or listening to illegal downloads has increased during lockdown. Interestingly, before the Coronavirus Pandemic, the UK Intellectual Property Office conducted a study on online copyright infringement and the results were positive, with the majority of infringing activity, such as use of unauthorised streaming or illegally downloading decreasing when compared to previous years. This is part of a number of studies conducted by AudienceNet to track the online behaviours of individuals when it comes to online infringement of copyright. A quick thank you to AudienceNet for their assistance with this post. Below is a summary of the results that came in at the start of the year.

Since 2012, the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has been reviewing consumer behaviour in the 12+ years UK population in relation to online copyright infringement.  The Online Copyright Infringement (OCI) tracker has gathered eight waves of survey data thus far and this study focuses on six main content categories: music, films, tv programmes, books, video games; and computer software.  The OCI tracker has established itself as the most robust and insightful study in this space globally with Australia, Canada and Germany all replicating the survey.


The study was conducted in two stages.  Stage 1 included an online survey with quantitative and qualitative questions and data was collected online only in order to maintain cost and time-efficiency. Stage 2 involves an on-going qualitative engagement, creating an online community for 5 days and features a mixture of tasks, experimental conditions and discussion topics.  This enables the study to reflect the longitudinal, behavioural, research and monitoring of distinct consumer groups over time.

Summary of Findings

For all categories, overall consumption (i.e. downloading or streaming/accessing content online) had remained consistent or increased since the previous wave of survey.

Passion for content categories was generally high, especially those that were integral to day-to-day lives or had an important social element. The main drivers of online consumption were convenience, access to a wide range of content and cost-effectiveness. The overall level of infringement across all content categories (excluding digital visual images) remained consistent across 2018 and 2019. 25% of those who participated had used an illegal source in the last 3 months.

  • Above average infringement levels were seen for e-publications (35%) and live sports (34%)
  • Film (27%), music (20%), software (18%) and TV (17%) were close to, or just below, average infringement levels
  • Infringement for video games (6%) was notably lower than the other categories

Broad Enablers

A key enabler in relation to infringement is the perceived accessibility. The process of accessing content via illegal sources is considered to be relatively easy, and the wealth of content available is enticing. There is also a broader sense of ambiguity around regulation. For some content categories, there was uncertainty around whether they were technically illegal or not. The majority of infringement levels appears to have remained stable, however for e-publishing (perhaps due to the reclassification of the category) there was a significant increase of 22%. Video games and tv programmes saw decreases.

Migrating from purely illegal sources

It is notable that in the vast majority of categories, there was an increase in consumption via the legal sources and the mix of legal and illegal sources.


Infringement Levels over the past three months: 30% Downloaded, 2% Streamed.  General Consumption: 31% Downloaded; 40% Streamed.

Interestingly, the male/ female split was almost equal as to the proportion who infringed.  When considering alternatives to infringement, 34% of respondents would have opted for a paid service, where as 61% would have considered a free alternative – this is perhaps suggestive that price (rather than for example ease of access) is a significant factor for infringement in music with responders preferring free sources (and there being access to them).


Infringement levels over the past three months: 25% Downloaded, 22% Streamed. General Consumption: 18% Downloaded, 34% Streamed

Interestingly (and in contrast to music) of individuals who had infringed, 57% would consider a paid alternative, whereas 32% would prefer a free alternative.  This perhaps suggest that access (for example to the latest titles) is a contributing factor to infringing activity, rather than cost being a barrier.


Infringement levels: 16% Downloaded, 14% Streamed. General Consumptions: 22% Downloaded, 42% Streamed.

When considering alternatives to infringement, respondents were close to even on whether they would consider paid (46%) or free (44%) alternatives.

Live Sports

Infringement levels – 34% Streamed. General Consumption: 14% Streamed.

Notably, 49% of respondents who had infringed said that would consider a paid service, suggesting that access was a significant factor and this is probably due to the increasing number of live sports that have restrictions on access to certain matches or events, usually behind a paywall. It will be interesting to see how these figures change, with more live sport being available via streaming.

Video Games

Infringement levels – 6% Streamed. General Consumption 11% Streamed.

Other industries may want to consider what the video game industry is doing to keep infringement low. One reason for the comparatively low level, will be the complexity of the game itself and the difficulty of replicating the underlying structure of a computer game. A film, by comparison, is relatively easy to copy and software facilitating the copying and sharing of films is more readily available.


Infringement levels – 18% overall. General Consumption: 20% Downloaded, 9% Streamed.

One interesting point for software downloads was that 12-15 year olds had the highest percentage of infringers.


Infringement levels – 35% overall infringement.  General Consumption: 18% Downloaded, 12 Streamed.

The most used sources for illegal activity was via a free website which hosts or links to e-publications (27%). However, 54% of individuals who had infringed stated that they were willing to pay for e-publications. This perhaps indicates that ease of access was a significant factor for infringing activity.

Future Behaviour

Respondents who had used illegal sources at least once in the last three months were asked what they would do if those sources were no longer available to them.  Paid sources were most commonly selected for video games, respondents were more likely to select paid options for films that TV.  Music had the lowest proportion of people saying they would migrate to a paid source with only 34%.  But a similar number would continue listening to a free platform.

Looking to the future

It will be very interesting to see whether the overall trend (of reducing levels of infringement) continues, particularly given the lockdown. Will individuals turn to free infringing copies of media or will the increase in access to legitimate sources enable the continued reduction in infringement. We will have to wait and see.

Thank you again to AudienceNet for their assistance with the study and their impressive presentation on the data.

Thank you to IPO – please see their published study here.

Also this tool has been developed by academics at the University of Glasgow and allows you to look at how variables have changed over the past waves of research. It is worth a look.

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