Discussions about online piracy tend to include statistics on the number of people illegally downloading material, what they’re downloading and, how much revenue (if any) was lost as the result of such actions. Rarely does it include whether the piracy is intentional, and that might be an important oversight – especially when a new British study suggests that many people who are illegally downloading copyrighted material – whether it’s movies, television shows, or music – may not know that they’re actually doing anything wrong.
British legal firm Wiggin surveyed 2,500 people about their downloading habits and Internet usage and found that not a surprising number of respondents played dumb for the purposes of not incriminating themselves. Most of those who took part in the survey agreed that copyright and the protection thereof was important, 68 percent said that it was necessary to protect creative industries and artists from piracy. This marks a significant leap from the 55 percent who agreed to that proposition in 2010 – more than a third of people didn’t seem to realize that copying an existing file was against the law.
A full 35 percent of those taking part in the survey claimed that it was either legal for someone to copy a digital media file from a friend, or that they didn’t know if it was illegal. That number seems amazingly high, especially considering the amount of publicity that has existed for years over the legalities of home taping and other methods of copying media. To add a little bit of disbelief, the same survey also revealed that almost two thirds of those asked admitted to “regularly” using search engines like Google to purposely search for illegal or unauthorized content, with one in four saying that they search for such links and material on a daily basis.
It’s possible that there is a large disconnect between “Downloaded from the Internet from a site other than iTunes or Amazon” and “Copied from a friend’s computer” in terms of the public concept of what does and doesn’t constitute piracy. After all, there might be an assumption that the friend has a “right” to share the content they paid for with whomever they liked. But if this survey is accurate, then it suggests that copyright holders and anti-piracy groups have an entirely different argument to make to the public. Instead of explaining why piracy is bad for the creative industries, they might need to start by explaining what piracy truly is.