Ofcom study on online copyright infringement


Half of all internet users are unsure whether the content they are accessing online is legal.

This is one of the results of the quarterly tracking study commissioned by OFCOM and the Intellectual Property Office to Kantar Media concerning the definition of the benchmarks on online copyright infringement[1].

The purpose of the research is to support the UK government in establishing the set of rules aimed to reduce the level of infringement also by involving the ISPs in order to notify the subscribers of allegations that their accounts have been used to infringe copyright.

The research has been published on the 20 November 2012 and it has been inspired by the necessity of the UK regulator to analyse the behaviours of the stakeholders also affected by certain market dynamics and approaches.

The survey has tracked the consumption habits of 4410 UK internet users[2] on a quarterly basis (from May 2012 to July 2012) of the following six categories of contents:

  • Music (excluding online radio stations)
  • Films
  • TV programmes (excluding apps for mobile devices and upgrades to software already owned by the end user)
  • Computer software
  • e-Books
  • Video games (excluding patches and upgrades)

The type of usages has been distinguished in i) streaming, ii) downloading and iii) sharing.

With regards to the digital behaviour, the survey has highlighted that most of the users (66%) claims to have ever downloaded, streamed or accessed content online across the above mentioned six content types.

Music is the most consumed content category (35%) and video games the least with 11%.

According to the survey, the sharing is a limited activity since only 11% of internet users claimed to have shared contents and in particular music.

The study puts in evidence that there is a large percentage of users that access the contents illegally. The 16% of internet users that accessed contents through the web have consumed at least one item illegally.


Music has the highest total estimated volume of content consumed both physically (261 million) and digitally (1100 million). Among the latter an estimated 301 million music tracks were consumed illegally, accounting for 21% of all music available in different formats (digital or physical).

With regards to the music, 23% of those who downloaded or streamed music consumed at least one of their tracks illegally while the 13% consumed all of their tracks illegally, reaching the 5% of the overall internet population.

The most popular service used in order to access musical contents is YouTube (54%) followed by iTunes (33%) and Amazon (23%). This also indicates that free streaming is preferred to the downloading and electronic sell through services.

P2P services (Bittorrent, Piratebay, Isohunt, etc.) have a total incidence equal to the 12%.


With regards to films, streaming (23%) is more common than downloading (14%) and sharing is a very limited activity (2%).

A percentage close to a third of users who have downloaded or streamed films are estimated to have done at least some of this illegally, equating to 6% of internet users.

22% is estimated to have accessed all of them illegally, which is equal to 2% of all internet users.

The most popular services used by internet users are YouTube (42%), Lovefilm (23%), Netflix (19%). P2P services reach a significant quota with a 21%. The quota is equal to 100% for those users which has only indicated the illegal access to the contents.

TV Programmes

A great majority of internet users (87%) accessed TV programmes for free.

39% of those who had paid for TV programmes claimed to have previously downloaded or streamed at least one for free prior to purchase.

The streaming is the favorite type of access (40%), downloading stops to 14%.
The services offered by UK broadcasters are very popular: BBC iPlayer (72%), 4OD (39%), ITV Player (35%), Demand 5 (11%), and Sky Go (7%) are all in the list of the most commonly used services.

Computer Software

With reference to computer software, downloading (17%) is more common than online direct access (12%).

76% of users who had downloaded or accessed computer software online had consumed any of it for free (9% of the internet population).

The vast majority (83%) of those who downloaded or accessed computer software online

are estimated to have done it all legally. One tenth are estimated to have done it all illegally, and 17% having done any of it illegally.

Google search engine, Amazon and Microsoft are the most popular websites used.

The total incidence of P2P services is equal to 18%.


E-books represent the only category where the distribution of physical supports (108 million) is higher than volumes of digital access (69 million).

E-books are typically consumed through the download. The majority (42%) of users who had downloaded or accessed e-books online had paid for all of them; 31% had consumed all their books for free, with 27% having done a mixture of free and paid.

E-books segment is the one with the lowest incidence of unlawful conduct. The 11% of those who had downloaded or accessed e-books are estimated to have accessed at least some of them illegally, with 6% indicating all of them were illegal.

Among the e-books platforms, Kindle is very popular registering the largest usage (80%) among the internet users. Apple is cited by 9% and Google Play by 5%.

Video games

Video games constitute the last category the survey takes in consideration.

Level of downloading and accessing of video games online is equal for both consumption types (12%).

62% of users had downloaded or accessed at least some video games for free.

Legality is largely prevailing on unlawful access which still concerns the 18% of users.

The most commonly used platforms for gaming are Facebook and X-box live. P2P services  reach a 12%.

* * *

The OFCOM study shows a general tendency to a growth of the digital consumption of contents and the existence of a market which is becoming mature and more solid.

There is still a large number of users oriented to unlawful access but this seems to be a decreasing phenomenon in particular for some of the categories analyzed by the UK regulator.

The unlawful access to the contents is justified by the fact that it is free, convenient and quick. Many users demonstrate they do not perceive the abuse they actually perpetrate.

This depends both on a general lack of awareness (“I do it because I can”, “It’s what my friends or family do”) and on the discriminating approach of the frustrated demand (“The files I want are not available on legal services, I don’t want to wait for content to become available on legal services”).

An important signal is given by a substantial part of the users (26%) who have declared to access illegally the content because i) they want try before purchasing, ii) they already own the content in other format, or iii) they already accessed the content against payment of a fee (cinema, concert, etc.).

It is also interesting to note that infringers have stated that main factors that would encourage them to stop use the contents illegally are the availability of cheaper legal services (39%), the availability of everything they succeed to find illegally (32%) and a clearer perception of what is legal and what is not (26%).

The research has also evaluated the effectiveness of a possible ISP notice to the users.

Such notice may be aimed to threat the suspension of the internet access, which is deemed effective by the 22% of users, it may contain a mere infringement notice which would convince the 16% of users, or it may impose the restriction of internet speed which would encourage the 14%.

This measure is already effective in a few countries – Hadopi in France sets out a similar procedure – and it has also been included in the OFCOM draft anti-piracy code [3].

In general the ISP intervention seems to be no more effective than market oriented remedies and the improvement of online services.

The intention of OFCOM is to use the results of the research in order to implement appropriate policies and to promote a cultural change aimed to educate the users.

The results of this kind of researches should be also seriously taken into consideration by the cultural industry in order to develop a reflection on business models and the possible improvement of the services.

They would indeed suggest that unlawful access could be counteracted not only through the threat of sanctions but also by creating user tailored services with a wider availability of contents, featuring an increased simplicity of usage and providing a preferential treatment to those users having already purchased a physical support. And of course, defining appropriate pricing strategies.

[1] http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/telecoms-research/online-copyright/Kantar-Media.pdf

[2] The survey has concerned the over 12 year old internet users.

[3] http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/online-notice/summary/notice.pdf

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