Offline infringement and consumer attitudes: turning back the tide or building a new future?

"Today", says the IPKat, carefully reproducing the words of the SABIP press release he received yesterday, "sees the publication of the first comprehensive review of currently available national and international research into consumers’ attitudes and behaviours to obtaining and sharing digital content offline. Much of this activity infringes current copyright law in the UK".

The report, Changing Attitudes & Behaviours in the ‘Non-Internet’ Digital World and their Implications for Intellectual Property, was commissioned by SABIP and produced independently by BOP Consulting. Its conclusions, neatly laid out for the benefit of IPKat readers, are as follows:
* Policy makers urgently need a better understanding of how consumers behave in both the online and offline digital environment in order to provide an enabling environment for business and consumers [Merpel's a bit sceptical of this. Look at the hugely successful industries and personal fortunes that have been built on the back of online and offline environments that policy makers didn't have a clue about.].
* When consumers obtain digital content they are more interested in factors such as price, quality, and availability of material, rather than its legal status [Merpel thinks she might just have guessed that one, but the IPKat says you can't jump to conclusions that are not supported by rigorously tested data. After all, common knowledge might just be wrong and consumers might all be fretting away in the privacy of their little worlds, worrying about just how legal their latest purchases are].
* Most of the analysis that has been conducted, which relies heavily on criminology, is unlikely to provide a sound basis for balanced policy [Agreed!]. Consumer behaviour online and offline in the digital world needs to be looked at from a new perspective - one that encompasses consumer choice rather than just from the viewpoint of criminal behaviour [which is how consumers view their actions anyway].
* Major national longitudinal research studies need to be carried out to inform this analysis [The Kats know that paper is expensive, time is precious, words are like gold and press releases are supposed to be short -- but this doesn't really illuminate the news item].
For the record, the report finds that, in terms of content that infringes UK copyright law, copying offline digital content - eg. via the swapping of optical discs (DVDs and CDs) - is as significant as online file-sharing and downloading [Research can ascertain whether this is a constant or whether, as the Kats guess, the trend is towards less offline digital copying as the proportion of offline material sold in the shops continues to decline].

The press release continues thus:
"As both online and offline copying is becoming much easier with developments in hardware and mobile technology, the growth of legal and illegal copying has mushroomed. While much of the academic literature looks at this behaviour from the point of view of criminology, research shows that legality is just one of many factors that people may take into account when deciding to consume copyright products.

A comprehensive new framework for looking at copyright infringement online and offline is suggested, based on evidence that such infringement is often a consequence of rational decision-making by consumers. Consumers weigh up many of the same factors when infringing copyright content as they do when simply purchasing digital content [At least consumers of CDs, DVDs etc display logical behaviour. Cf their behaviour when buying other IP-protected items, such as fashion goods and alcoholic beverages?].

The reasons consumers give for infringing copyright are consistently about the price and availability of the material, rather than its legal status - threats of legal and informal social sanctions, or technology solutions (eg. encryption), do not seem to influence behaviour [This holds for other normative infringing conduct, such as parking and speeding offences]. Consumers seek content that is competitively priced, quickly available and gives them a great deal of choice, including access to material that may not yet be officially available. Consumers who actively do not want illegal content most often say that it is because they believe that ‘pirate’ copies are of poorer quality, lack ‘authenticity’, and are linked to organised crime" [the IPKat wonders how strong the effect of peer pressure is here: sometimes it seems to him that youngsters have to justify purchasing the genuine product when their friends do not, and they are casting around for a defence of their actions with which they are comfortable].
Commenting on this research, Minister for Intellectual Property and Higher Education David Lammy said:
"This report shows that people choose to infringe offline because they believe the 'knock-off' version to be cheaper and more easily available [well, isn't it?]. Buying poor quality CDs or DVDs is not only a poor experience for the user [it is if they're poor quality -- but isn't the whole point of digital copying that you can make copies of copies of copies forever and the quality remains good, unlike old-fashioned cassette tapes and photocopiers?]. The creators and performers lose out if people pirate their material instead of buying it.

"I want to ensure that those who do watch movies or enjoy CDs are paying customers rather than pirates [The consumers regard themselves as paying customers when they buy pirate product -- they're just not paying the right people]. Industry needs to offer new business offerings that are more attractive than unlawful ones [will the 'free newspaper' business model transfer easily to the CD/DVD world?]. It's up to government, industry and the law enforcement community to continue our valuable work together to find effective, tailored solutions to the different challenges that piracy brings us".
Changing Attitudes & Behaviours in the ‘Non-Internet’ Digital World and their Implications for Intellectual Property, Executive Summary here
Report in The Guardian here
King Canute here
Offline infringement and consumer attitudes: turning back the tide or building a new future? Offline infringement and consumer attitudes: turning back the tide or building a new future? Reviewed by Jeremy on Friday, January 15, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. What is new about this? Anyone???

  2. I'd like to point out an orthogonal problem: The idiocy of the (easily-defeated) copy-protection software schemes imposed on digital media.* In particular, the idiots at the vendors made their system create a barrier to legitimate use by the very population most likely to have the skills and otherwise motivation to crack the system: The tech community of non-Anglophone and/or non-Windows users. That's sort of like putting childproof caps on arthritis medication: Most of the legitimate users are unlikely to have small children in the household anyway...

    * The less said about the Sony rootkit problem, the better; it didn't even have the excuse of protecting the actual purchase!


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