by Lori Flekser, Executive Director, Creative Content Australia — 10/01/2020
On December 23rd 2019, the Department of Communications released the results of their annual consumer survey on online copyright infringement. Although conducted in June 2019, the results only landed several days into the year-end holidays. The late timing of the release and the massive bushfire disaster unfolding around Australia lead to limited media coverage from the news outlets.
While the timing of the 2019 research release was somewhat opaque, the findings are crystal clear in highlighting how copyright infringement continues to be a major problem for the creative industries.
The Government press release and subsequent media coverage largely focussed on the positive findings that piracy has declined since 2015 – the year that subscription services Stan and Netflix commenced operating in Australia.
The Department of Communications highlighted some of the following statistics from the survey:
But the devil, as always, is in the detail so we delved a little deeper into the findings.
Cost can be a barrier, but most people simply pirate because it’s free
Yes, it’s true that “the inability to afford lawful content remains a barrier” – 20% of respondents cite this as a reason for piracy (compared to 23% in 2015) – but, it’s actually one of the least cited reasons for piracy in both years.
In 2015, Australian consumers were amongst the most prolific pirates per capita in the world. While complaining bitterly that content was late to arrive or just not available in Australia, the majority of infringers (55%) cited “It’s free” as the major reason for their piracy. While that number has decreased to 32%, it is still the main reason people claim for pirating. Creative Content Australia’s annual research studies have also demonstrated that “Free” has been consistently cited as the principal reason that consumers access infringing movies and TV shows online. Unfortunately, Free is not a viable business model for the screen industry.
Site blocking has helped in the fight against piracy, but we mustn’t become complacent
Yes, it’s true that “when encountering a blocked site with illegal content, a majority of consumers did not continue trying [to] access [pirated] content”. Site blocking has proven to have a significant and positive impact on piracy behaviours since its introduction in 2017. In this study, 44% claim that, after encountering a blocked site, they “gave up” looking for illegal content. The next most popular response was that they “sought alternative lawful access” (18%). However, 16% indicated that they “sought alternative free but unlawful access” and, in a worrying shift, it appears that Australians are finding it easier to bypass blocked sites. In 2018 only 1% of Australians reported bypassing a blocked website but by 2019 this had increased significantly to 16%.
While it’s claimed that Piracy has dropped, in the more recent term, it appears to be on the increase
And yes, it’s true that “the number of respondents who consume unlawful content has decreased significantly since 2015”. The data hidden most effectively amongst the cheery survey conclusions was that, while unlawful movie consumption has come down from 49% in 2015 to 25% in 2019, it is actually on the rise from a low of 21% in 2018.
Similarly, there has been no statistically significant decrease in unlawful TV program consumption between 2018 and 2019 (18% to 16%). This comes at a time when there has been a massive increase in the number of services providing legal access to a seemingly infinite range of movies, TV programs, music and games,
The chart below demonstrates the vast number of legal content portals available in Australia including no fee or ad-supported, subscription services and transactional home entertainment:
In spite of these choices, 25% of Australians are still watching pirated movies and 16% are watching pirated TV programs.
Piracy incidence and frequency remains a vexed issue. It’s encouraging to see the numbers decreasing over time but still disheartening to see, in cold, hard data, that piracy remains a threat to the creative industries and continues to imperil the livelihood of the tens of thousands of creative professionals who strive to bring audiences quality movies and TV shows.