Nearly half of all Internet users are unsure whether the content they are accessing online is legal, Ofcom research has found.
However, one in six people online believed they downloaded or accessed content illegally over a three-month period this year.
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.
Ofcom says 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 per cent of users cannot confidently identify whether the online content they download, stream or share is legal or not1 – highlighting the importance of increased efforts to educate and inform consumers.
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 consumer study also found that:
One in six (16 per cent) Internet users aged 12+ downloaded or accessed online content illegally during the three month period from May to July 2012;
Reported levels of infringement varied considerably by content type: 8 per cent of Internet users consumed some music illegally in the three months, but just 2 per cent did so for games and software;
The most common reasons cited for accessing content illegally were because it is free (54 per cent), convenient (48 per cent) and quick (44 per cent). Around a quarter (26 per cent) of infringers said it allows them to try before they buy;
Infringers said they would be encouraged to stop doing so if cheaper legal services were available (39 per cent), everything they wanted was available from a legal source (32 per cent) or it was more clear what content was legal (26 per cent). One in six said they would stop if they received one notifying letter from their ISP;
Those who consumed a mixture of legal and illegal online content in the form of music, films and TV programmes reported spending more on legal content in these categories over the three-month period than those who consumed entirely legal or illegal content.
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, under the Digital Economy Act 2010, when the Code comes into force.
Consumer research is only one perspective on levels of online copyright infringement. For a more complete picture, it should be considered alongside direct measurement of behaviour on file-sharing websites and wider industry data. Ofcom expects to consider all these data sources as part of its statutory reporting duties in the near future.
The full report – the OCI Tracker Benchmark Study – 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.