Internet users definitely not sure about copyright, reports Ofcom

As the festive season creeps rapidly upon us, many of us will embrace the spirit of sharing. But, while it is easy to share the mince pies in the office, sharing a picture of one online could land you in bother, depending of course on which country you inhabit.  The trouble is, lots of people don't quite seem to know what they are and are not allowed to do.

Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, has published research which finds that half of all internet users are unsure whether the content they are accessing online is legal.  One in six people online believed they downloaded or accessed content illegally.

Does this make me a pirate?
The research follows a recommendation in the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth that Ofcom should start gathering independent data and establishing trends in the area of online copyright before its formal reporting duties begin.  The report states:
The findings come from the first wave of a large-scale consumer study into the extent of online copyright infringement among internet users aged 12 and above, published today. This ongoing research will identify trends over time, examining infringement of copyright on music, films, TV programmes, software, books and video games.

According to the report, 47% of users cannot confidently identify whether the online content they download, stream or share is legal or not [the number of references to the Court of Justice of the European Union on copyright law indicates that those in the judiciary and national governments are not certain (see 1709 blog post here).  Are 53% of consumers therefore really able to confidently state that linking or framing online content is not copyright infringement?] – highlighting the importance of increased efforts to educate and inform consumers [it might be worth firstly clarifying what actually is the legal position – maybe the UK Supreme Court's forthcoming decision in NLA v Meltwater will help (IPKat post here)].

In June, Ofcom published a draft Code that would require large fixed internet service providers (ISPs) to inform customers of allegations that their internet connection has been used to infringe copyright, and to explain where they can find licensed content on the internet.

Under the amended Communications Act 2003, Ofcom will report to the Government on efforts made by content owners to invest in awareness campaigns to help educate consumers about the impact of copyright infringement.

The full report, the OCI Tracker Benchmark Study, is available here. It was funded by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), and carried out by Kantar Media on behalf of Ofcom. The report contains details about the methodology used, and the underlying data is also being made available for further analysis.

This Kat can't help but think that the differences in national copyright laws and exceptions to infringement only contribute to the muddled position.  In a globalised world, the online environment functions in many ways as a single jurisdiction.  It is incongruent therefore that half of its 'netizens' are entitled to a defence of 'fair use' for posting a picture to their Facebook wall whilst those in the UK could be liable for copyright infringement for doing the same thing (see IPKat post here).  In the absence of further harmonisation of international copyright law, it is hard to see how the current confusion can be effectively eroded.
Internet users definitely not sure about copyright, reports Ofcom Internet users definitely not sure about copyright, reports Ofcom Reviewed by Robert Cumming on Tuesday, December 04, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. Intriguing first para..

    "As the festive season creeps rapidly upon us, many of us will embrace the spirit of sharing. But, while it is easy to share the mince pies in the office, sharing a picture of one online could land you in bother..."

    Unfortunately the survey did not cover infringement of image copyright or photography and there is not a single mention of photographs in the whole of the 994 page report. An over-sight or deliberate omission? Well one would seriously have to doubt the IPO's suitability to the purpose as guardians of Intellectual Property, if this was an oversight, especially  when anyone (as you did) would consider that image rights theft would come number one or number two on the list of most infringed property on line. However, given the IPO's self confessed policy to redefine the UK market for image IP through the Economic Regulatory Reform Bill, it comes as little surprise that they would rather not fund the gathering of data that would in anyway compromise their agenda.

  2. It could be straight forward: any use for private, non-commercial purposes is permitted free of charge, any use for commercial purposes is subject to licensing fees. Simples!

  3. The lack of any mention of photography or graphic design in the survey interests me too. Taking a quick glance at what my facebook friends have posted, I can see dozens of pictures and links to (mostly parody based, would qualify as 'fair use' under the US system) content that are highly unlikely to be entirely legitimately licenced.

    I'm sure the IPO cannot have simply forgotten about image rights, so I wonder if the IPO have given up on photographers and designers rights, or made a strategic decision not to print statistics about the incredibly high infringement rate?

    The other thing that's missing from the report is an analysis of how accurate the self-reported statistics are. Of the 53% who say they can "confidently identify whether the online content they download, stream or share is legal or not", how many of them are *actually* able to do so? Is their confidence justified? To me, this is they key statistic, as it's an indicator of how comprehensible copyright law is to private individuals.

    Copyright law was largely (until the advent of file-sharing) a business-to-business law. It was reasonable to expect businesses who had invested in presses, copiers, etc. to also be in a position to take legal advice, employ staff to handle IP licencing, etc. Now that computers have removed the price barrier from potential infringement, we have to consider if is it really reasonable to require the same of my mum before she re-posts a funny picture on facebook?

    I think the only long term solution is indeed to allow non-commercial copying. In the same way I can give you a cup of tea, but not sell you one without having to comply with laws governing cafe and restaurant hygiene, or give you a lift in my car but not sell you one without a hackney carriage licence, surely I should be able to give you a file, but not sell you one?

  4. Does the absence of any mention of photographs have anything to do with the de facto exclusion of photographs from the fair dealing provisions of s.30(2) of the Patent, Desings and Copyright Act 1988?
    (For a discussion see, e.g. - "Current Events and Fair Dealing with Photographs: Time for a Revised Approach"; Christohper Kelly, Intelletual Property Quarterly, Issue 4, 2012 p242ff.)

  5. One way the IPO could make a difference is not just through campaigns that attempt to teach internet users the complexity of national copyright laws but actually by encouraging Creators of works displayed on the web to incorporate 'identifiers' in the work that attribute it to the Creator and state whether there are Rights Reserved or its Free-Use.

    Here's an article on that very subject - Why do Creators who spend all day, every day creating IP take little or no responsibility for identifying their work?

    Surely the Creators have got to start taking some responsibility for communicating their rights in works they display, otherwise they perpetuate the problem rather than become part of the solution

    The entire Ofcom Report or anything else I have seen published by IPO or anyone else, is absent of any criticism of the Creators themselves - why?

    Is it that, as was muted at one of the Hoopers events, identifying Creators and enabling a direct line to them for the permission to use or license of works directly, could potentially upset the apple cart for the 'licensing intermediaries' ?

    An interesting thought .......


All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here:

Powered by Blogger.