EU Study: More People Consume Legally But Stubborn Pirates Remain

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New research published by the European Union Intellectual Property Office shows that, in the EU, people more frequently pay to access online content. There is still a group of stubborn pirates who remain, however, but these often pay for legal services too. Affordable options appear to be the key to lowering piracy rates.

EU CopyrightThis week, EUIPO released a new study on the perceptions and behavior of Europeans regarding intellectual property. The report covers both counterfeit goods and online piracy but our focus is on the latter.

The research is a follow-up to similar studies in 2013 and 2017. It is based on more than 25,000 interviews that were conducted across 27 European countries this summer and touches on a variety of copyright-related aspects.

Pirates Are a Rare Breed

One of the key findings is that online piracy is a relative fringe activity. Of all respondents, only 8% said they downloaded or streamed content from illegal online sources intentionally over the past year. That’s down two percentage points compared to earlier years.

How common pirates are differs greatly from country to country. In Greece, Poland and Italy the proportion is relatively low at 4% but in Luxembourg and Slovenia, it’s much higher with 18% and 17% respectively, which are significant increases compared to 2017.

Pirates More Likely to Use Legal Services

While pirates are often portrayed as freeloaders, that image requires some nuance. In fact, EUIPO’s study shows that people who consume content illegally are also more likely to access legal services.

“Interestingly, those who intentionally accessed online content from illegal sources, are relatively likely to have also purchased online content from legal sources,” the EUIPO study concludes.

In this study, 59% of the self-proclaimed pirates used legal services, compared to 42% for the European average. This means that legal and illegal consumption are complementary and that pirates are paying customers too.

Piracy is OK Without Alternatives

Another intriguing finding is that many people, who don’t download or stream anything from illegal platforms themselves, still think that piracy can be acceptable under certain circumstances.

More than a quarter of the European population believes that it is acceptable to pirate when there are no legal alternatives (28%), or if it’s only for personal use (27%).

piracy perception

It appears, however, that these piracy approval ratings are dropping as both percentages were significantly higher three years ago. According to EUIPO, accessing pirated content “is less and less acceptable”.

Here we can find substantial differences throughout Europe as well. For example, in Bulgaria, 50% of the people believe piracy is acceptable without legal alternatives, while only 20% of the Finnish respondents agree with this statement.

What Makes Pirates Stop?

The study also zooms in on what’s needed to make pirates stop. Of all the people who admitted to downloading or streaming content from illegal sources, more than half (58%) said they would stop when there are affordable legal options.

The second most likely reason to stop was the risk of punishment, followed by a better understanding of the harm piracy does to creators.


Interestingly, the number of people who cite good legal alternatives as a reason to stop has dropped significantly compared to three years ago. Perhaps because many of the people who chose that reason in the past, have indeed switched over.

Usage of Legal Services Grows

More and more Europeans use legal services to download or stream online media. 42% of all respondents say they pay to access legal services. This is up from 27% three years ago.

People’s attitudes toward these services have changed as well. Compared to earlier years, more people now believe that the diversity and quality offered by legal services are better than the pirated alternatives.

In addition, a massive 89% of all Europeans prefer a legal service over pirate platforms. And to make sure that they do the right thing, people check more often whether a site or service is legal or not.

quality services

Based on the latest findings, EUIPO concludes that there is a gradual but encouraging change in people’s understanding of and attitudes towards copyright.

These changes are in part the result of education but the availability of affordable legal services played a key role as well.

“People are now more willing to pay for legal content particularly if it is made available at a reasonable price. Part of this change may be linked to the increase in availability of legal sources. People are paying more for legal content as the quality and diversity improves.”

The full EUIPO report titled: Citizens and Intellectual Property: Perception, Awareness and Behaviour 2020, is available here


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