Online Piracy is on the Rise


The government recently announced plans to implement tougher punishments for people accessing content illegally when online.

Only days later, research commissioned into the issue has been released. And the headline is, piracy is on the rise.

Consumption up, Piracy up

Consumption of online content (be it legal or illegal) is continuing its upward surge, with the current level regarded as the highest on record. According to the Intellectual Property Office, 62% of UK internet users aged over 12 consumed at least one item of content in the three-month period of the study (March-May 2015). As the medium rises however, so too has its access by illegal means. In a previous study made in 2013, 17% of UK users aged over 12 consumed at least one item of content illegally over the internet. Whilst that figure has only risen to 18% as of 2015, that still represents an increase from 7.2 million to 7.8 million people. Perhaps a more alarming figure is those that reflect the level of users who exclusively consume illegal content. Back in 2013, under a quarter (4%) of those illegal content users consumed no legal content whatsoever. In the latest figures, that number had risen to over a third (8%).


Perhaps unsurprisingly, music and films are the most popular genre of illegal content. Indeed, over a quarter of all users consumed some form of illegal music (26%), joining movies (25%) in the top two. In real world numbers, the increase in volume from that of 2013 is representative of an overall piracy increase. Films for example, were consumed (either streamed or downloaded) a total of 79 million times, up from 30 million two years ago. Similarly startling increases were also found for music, where 343 million tracks were consumed (up from 199 million in 2013), and TV programmes (135 million in 2015, 54 million in 2013).

The IPO then gathered data on the motivations behind illegal content consumption. The most common reasons given were that illegal content is free (49%), convenient (43%) and quick (37%). Whilst the top three reasons remained stable from the 2013 figures, lower down the spectrum some motivations were found to be in decline. For example, “try before you buy” declined from 27% to 17%, whilst “already paid to see it (e.g. at the cinema/ a gig)” fell from 14% to 7%. Users were then asked what might encourage them to stop any content infringement in the future. A quarter claimed a greater availability of cheaper legal services would help, followed by the availability of all the content they wished to consume (21%). There also appears to be a level of confusion as to where the line is drawn. 21% of users said they might be encouraged to stop where it clearer what was legal and what was illegal.

Sterner Government Stance

With a clear increase in levels of piracy online, the UK government look set to begin a fresh crackdown on infringing content consumers. Currently, the punishment for infringing the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act sits at two years imprisonment for online offences, with a planned amendment set to escalate this to 10 years (which is currently the punishment for copyright offences of physical goods). Tackling specifically those who distribute the content rather than consume it, the government believes a tougher stance will act as a deterrent for those who plan to make money from the online distribution of films and music. Of course, this creates debate over the best way to tackle online piracy. Whilst the creative industry will be pleased a subject they have lobbied for change in for some time has borne fruit, some might suggest cheaper services should be more of a priority.

As the above figures suggest, consumption of our entertainment is coming ever increasingly from online sources. The ease of use, value and availability of sites such as YouTube, Spotify and Netflix are being embraced by a more tech-savvy generation. Inevitably then, as legal online content consumption increases, so too does illegal consumption.

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