Third of EU Citizens OK With Piracy When There Are No Legal Options

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A new study from the European Union Intellectual Property Office has found that 31% of EU citizens believe that Internet piracy is acceptable when legal options aren't immediately available. Also, in a clear signal to content providers, a massive 83% say they would prefer to consume content from affordable legal sources.

The European Union Intellectual Property Office has published the findings of a new study commissioned from Deloitte which aims to better understand how EU citizens perceive intellectual property issues.

The report is the product of 26,500 interviews with citizens aged 15 and over and paints a fairly positive picture for rightsholders and other businesses that rely on the exploitation of intellectual property.

The striking headline figure is that 97% of respondents believe that content creators should be able to protect their rights in order to get paid for their work. Alongside almost total support for IP rights, an impressive 83% indicate they would prefer to access digital content through legal services when there is an affordable option available.

Across the EU, just 10% of respondents said they’d deliberately obtained content from illegal sources during the past 12 months, a figure that jumps to 27% among 15 to 24-year-olds. A similar survey carried out in 2013 produced close to the same results.

But while 10% is the average percentage of pirates across all EU countries, several major EU members buck the trends in interesting ways.

France, for example, has many years’ experience of the state-sponsored Hadopi “three strikes” anti-piracy program. With millions of notices sent to ISP subscribers, the program was supposed to educate citizens away from piracy. However, 15% of French citizens admit to downloading or streaming from illegal sources, five percentage points higher than the EU average.

In Germany, where copyright trolls have been running rampant for many years and claiming a deterrent effect, just 7% say they download or stream from illegal sources. While this figure lower than the EU average might seem the logical conclusion, the same percentage is shared with Italy where there is no trolling or state-sponsored anti-piracy scheme.

In Spain, a country that is trying to shake off a reputation of being a piracy haven, 16% of citizens admit to online piracy. That’s double the 8% of UK citizens who admit to consuming unauthorized content online.

As usual, however, there are significant gray areas when it comes to content consumption and whether or not people can be labeled as hardcore pirates.

Just under a third (32%) of the those surveyed said they access content online, whether that’s from a legal or illegal source. Under a quarter (22%) say they use only authorized services. Just 5% use illegal sources alone and 5% said they use a mix of paid lawful and illegal sources.

“This suggests that respondents are willing to switch between legal and illegal sources in order to gain access to content,” the study found.

Also of interest are the significant numbers of citizens who feel that piracy is acceptable under particular sets of circumstances.

A not insignificant 35% of respondents said that it’s acceptable to obtain content illegally as long as it’s only for personal use. Since millions of citizens are already taxed via a private copying levy, the notion that copying for yourself is acceptable shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, although the charge itself applies to blank media, not illegal downloads.

Interestingly, close to a third (31%) believe that it’s acceptable to obtain content illegally if there are no immediately available legal alternatives. So, if a distributor chooses to bring content late to a region or makes content otherwise difficult to obtain, millions believe it’s ok for citizens to help themselves. While that’s probably a concern for rightsholders, it’s a problem that can be fixed.

Overall, an encouraging 71% of pirate respondents said they would stop obtaining content from illegal sources if there was an accessible and affordable legal alternative. Around 20% said they would not necessarily go legal, even if there was an available and affordable option.

“The availability of affordable content from legal offers as the top reason for stopping the behavior is most strongly cited by respondents in the following categories: respondents aged 25 to 39 (74 %), employed (76 %), living in large urbanized cities (75 %), and the most educated (72 %), which is in line with the profile of a typical online user,” the survey notes.

Close to 30% believe that being better informed could help them back away from illegal sources while just 5% said they could never be stopped, no matter what.

But while many consumers want to “do the right thing”, there appears to be confusion when it comes to assessing whether an online service is legal or not. Almost a quarter (24%) of Europeans surveyed said they’d questioned whether an online source was legal, a five-point increase over the earlier 2013 study.

That being said, there’s a perception that legal services can provide a better product. When comparing the quality of content offered on legal and illegal platforms, 69% said that licensed services come out on top, an opinion shared by illegal downloaders and legal consumers alike.

However, when it comes to diversity of content, just over half of respondents (56%) said that legal services do a better job, a figure that drops to 45% among those who illegally download some content. Making a broader range of content available online could address this particularly lukewarm response.

António Campinos, Executive Director of EUIPO, said that the results of the survey show that EU citizens generally have respect for intellectual property but there is still room for improvement.

“Overall, we see that support for IP rights is high among EU citizens,” he said.

“But we also see that more needs to be done to help young people in particular understand the importance of IP to our economy and society, especially now, when encouraging innovation and creativity is increasingly the focus of economic policy across our European Union.”

The full report can be downloaded here (pdf)

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