Approximately 5.2 million Australians, equating to 26 per cent of internet users aged 12-plus, watched at least one item of online content illegally in the first three months of this year.
Among that group, movies were the most popular category at 48 per cent followed by music (37 per cent), TV programs (33 per cent) and video games (22 per cent).
That’s according to research commissioned by the Department of Communications and undertaken by Taylor Nelson Sofries (TNS) Australia in March and April.
Among internet users who consumed content online over the 3 month period, the survey revealed 43 per cent watched at least one item illegally.
Parallel research in the UK showed the rate of online piracy was less than half of Australia’s at 21 per cent, while movies accounted for just 25 per cent of illegal consumption.
The findings have been seized on by the government and copyright owners to stress the importance of the legislation which will enable rights holders to ask judges to block overseas websites that facilitate piracy.
Another key measure is a copyright notice infringement code scheme, due to start on September 1, which will result in ISPs sending up to three written warnings to fixed broadband customers who are suspected of persistently downloading pirated content.
The UK introduced a site-blocking scheme two years ago, which has dramatically reduced traffic to BitTorrent and other sites, according to Lori Flekser, Executive Director of the IP Awareness Foundation,
“The research shows the only way to change people’s behaviour is through some threat to their liberty or their wallets,” Flekser tells IF.
Most people download pirated content because it is free, according to the survey of 2,630 Australians. Respondents claimed they would be encouraged to stop if legal content were cheaper and available more quickly.
Flekser takes issue with those arguments, pointing out most of the top-10 grossing films in Australia in 2014 opened either before or on the same date as the US, and that prices here for screen content compare favourably to the rest of the world.
She quoted yet-to-be published research from Deakin University which shows Australian cinema ticket prices are under the average in OECD countries measured by the number of minutes of work needed to pay for a ticket.
By that yardstick the US is the cheapest at 25 minutes, Chile is the most expensive at 60 minutes and Australia ranks mid-table at 40 minutes.
Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association’s research this year showed the Australian price average for new release SD movies on VOD was $4.63, compared to the UK ($4.78) and US ($4.41).
Tellingly, 21 per cent of those surveyed said they would be encouraged to stop downloading illegally if they got a letter from their ISP threatening to suspend their service.
TNS estimated that 254 million music tracks, 95 million movies, 82 million TV programs and 9 million video games were illegally consumed online in the first quarter.
The median number of files downloaded or streamed illegally was highest for music (20 tracks), followed by TV programs (7), movies (5) and video games (2).
TNS found 43 per cent of internet users were not confident in knowing which online content is legal, rising to 50 per cent of females and 55 per cent of people aged 55 plus.
That does not surprise Flekser who said, “Our research shows the rate of piracy among females is lower. Also women have a stronger moral compass when it comes to these things.”
Flekser concluded, “The recent legislation passed in the Senate and the industry code are great steps forward in the fight against copyright infringement. And I think education plays a very important role in changing behaviour and attitudes.
“We focus a lot of our efforts on creating consumer campaigns and free online resources to teach primary and secondary students about the value of content, the role of copyright and the impact of piracy.”