UK Govt: Piracy ‘Snitch’ Campaign Not Ideal During a Cost of Living Crisis

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From the kids who tell tales in class to the weasel-like characters depicted in TV crime shows, 'snitches' have a perpetual image problem. A recent UK government survey cautiously sought opinions on whether 'grassing' on pirates may have potential as part of a public campaign. When that might happen is unknown, but not this year; people have suffered enough.

mind-smallAfter reading hundreds of copyright reports, anti-piracy studies, lobbying documents, and submissions to government and law enforcement agencies, anything that strays from the norm tends to stand out.

Last month the Industry Trust For IP published ‘Taking a Whole Society Approach to Infringement in the UK’, a report promoting ‘collaboration’ and ‘understanding’ to reduce piracy levels in the UK.

Our initial article focused on just one item in the report but something much more fundamental ran throughout. A pleasant surprise, even.

Softer, More Cooperative Tone

There is no such thing as a friendly anti-piracy report, the topic immediately rules that out, but the language and tone in the Industry Trust’s publication is interestingly close. Considering that companies behind the Industry Trust include Sony, Universal, Disney, and Warner, not to mention Sky, Premier League and the Federation Against Copyright Theft, that seemed a little unusual.

Familiar themes are present – calls for tech platforms to do more and hosts to implement ‘Know Your Customer’ regimes to help identify pirates, for example. However, forceful language such as “must be required to implement X’ and ‘should be prevented from doing Y’ are mostly replaced by scenarios where various entities ‘could’ be a real help if they did A, B or C.

Policymakers could update the UK Policy framework with due diligence protocols for intermediaries providing commercial services to online businesses

Technology companies could support enforcement efforts by introducing improved customer identification and verification

Technology companies could implement technical measures that introduce greater friction into infringement journeys

This type of language and tone certainly fits the overall sentiment of a collaborative campaign but also unusual enough to warrant a closer look.

Whether by pure coincidence or otherwise, the government appears to have concluded that aggressive messaging over online piracy may “seem at odds” with the “cooperative tone” that it considers “advisable in communications this year.”

It’s hard to say whether the Industry Trust’s recent report should be viewed as a product of government advice or independently prudent, but these themes are under discussion at government level.

UK Government Assesses ‘Behavior Change’ Opportunities

The Intellectual Property Office’s ‘Online Copyright Infringement Tracker’ is an annual survey of the latest trends in copyright infringement. Covering consumption habits in 2022, the most recent ‘Wave 12’ report is as detailed as ever but also carries some initially overlooked information.

One of the aims of the annual survey is to identify ‘behavior change’ opportunities. In 2022, this was achieved by way of an ‘Online Community’, a week-long internet-based series of guided activities in which participants interacted with each other and discussion moderators, the government says.

Participants in the community were presented with historical and potential campaigns, some linked to piracy and some not, in order to assess “attitudes towards infringement and behavior change campaigns.”

Govt. Weighed Potential of Piracy ‘Snitch’ Campaign

Unmoved by the colloquialisms of the masses, the government doesn’t use the word ‘snitch’ or the British variant, ‘grass’. Instead, the word ‘report’ is used when referring to citizens reporting fellow citizens to the authorities for alleged infringement.

The questions posed to the ‘Online Community’ aren’t detailed in the report but, to be blunt, the first seems to have been ‘Did you know you could grass on a neighbor or family member for piracy?’ As it turns out, people were generally unaware that they could.

“Across the community, many said they were not aware that they could report others for IP infringement. Generally, they felt it was not a fact that was well known in general,” the study found.

“It was not seen as something which necessarily concerned participants because many felt that others they knew also accessed content this way or that no one would realistically have reason to report them.”

Brits Don’t See The Benefit

“Asked whether they would report someone for infringing, most said they would not and stated various reasons,” the report continued, listing three main reasons as follows:

– There would be no benefit to themselves of reporting someone

– It would seem hypocritical if they used unofficial sources themselves/there could be danger of vindictive behaviour against them

– The police have higher priorities to be dealing with than IP crime

While these responses are entirely predictable, the questions behind them illustrate the disconnect between how ‘regular’ people tend to think and how the government thinks people think.

People Will Start Asking Questions

As the first response highlights, people are generally motivated by some kind of benefit. The proposition as it stands seems to entail doing unpaid anti-piracy work. In practical terms, fill in a form on our new website telling us everything you know but sorry, “we can’t promise to get back to you.” No feedback mechanism or obvious benefit isn’t a great motivator.

Response two speaks for itself; people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones because it might not be long before their own windows need to be replaced. As motivational feedback mechanisms go, that couldn’t be more negative.

As for response three, the notion that police have resources to deal with online piracy but hardly any to tackle burglaries or car thefts would not be well received. Asking the public to make their own situation worse by reporting people they actually know would be extraordinary.

However, when framed slightly differently, some in the ‘Online Community’ were more positive about the proposal.

Deterrent Messaging

According to the government study, when the Online Community were asked whether they would consider incorporating the fact that someone could report another individual into a campaign, the subject of deterrent messaging was seen as a plus.

“[S]ome felt this could be an opportunity as it might deter some people who were thinking about infringing for the first time or were nervous about it,” the report notes.

The big question is whether any of the above will find its way into a future campaign. An even bigger question is whether the government would be prepared to be the ‘face’ of this type of messaging or whether those in the background who stand to benefit have enough confidence to put their own brands on the line.

Possible Potential, But Not Right Now

At least for now, it seems likely that 2023 will come and go without any big moves. The government doesn’t seem excited about this type of campaign in the current climate, despite the positive feedback on potential deterrent messaging.

“Yet, it would be worthwhile to consider the cooperative tone which is advisable in communications this year given the current circumstances and whether such a message would seem at odds with this ethos,” the government added in a soothing, non-confrontational tone.

During lockdown UK citizens were encouraged to report neighbors to the police for breaking social distancing laws. While that would’ve amounted to a crime, police didn’t like the idea. The public didn’t either, but that didn’t stop hundreds of thousands reporting neighbors to the authorities.

The report is available here

Image credit: Pixabay/geralt


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