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Fewer than a quarter of infringers would be put off by internet access suspension threat, Ofcom report says

Fewer than one in four UK internet users that engaged in copyright infringing activity during a three month period earlier this year said they would be put off from repeating the offence if they knew they would receive a letter to tell them that their internet access was to be suspended as a result of the behaviour, according to a new study commissioned by Ofcom.20 Nov 2012

A new report (94-page / 1.45MB PDF) published by the regulator confirmed that 22% of the 471 surveyed individuals that confirmed that they had downloaded or streamed/accessed films, music, computer software, books, video games or TV programmes illegally between the beginning of May and the end of July this year would be put off reoffending by a letter threatening internet access suspension from their internet service provider (ISP).

The report, which details the results of a survey of 4,400 individuals on the subject of online copyright infringement, digital behaviours and attitudes, revealed that infringers were more likely to stop offending if legal services were cheaper or if content they were looking for was "available legally".

"Regarding the threat of a letter from their ISP, 22% indicated that a letter suspending their internet access would put them off, falling to 16% for a letter informing them their account had been used to infringe, and 14% for the restricting of internet speed," the report, compiled by Kantar Research on behalf of Ofcom, said.

If legal services were cheaper, 39% of infringers said they would be more likely to stop offending, whilst 32% said they would be encouraged to stop infringing if everything was legally available, the report said.

In June Ofcom published a revised draft anti-piracy code that would require "ISPs with more than 400,000 broadband-enabled fixed lines – currently BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk Group and Virgin Media" to send notifications to their subscribers if it is suspected their account has been used to break copyright laws. Ofcom is required to draw up such a code under the Digital Economy Act.

Under its plans the ISPs would issue "standard form" notifications to customers on the basis of evidence of alleged online copyright infringement gathered by rights holder groups and compiled in a 'copyright infringement report' (CIR). The evidence gathering procedures must be approved by Ofcom. The infringement reports must set out when the alleged infringement was said to have occurred and when the evidence was gathered. Ofcom's code also sets out the standards that infringement reports must meet.

ISPs that issue subscribers with three letters within the space of a year would add the anonymous details of those customers to a 'copyright infringement list'. Rights holders would be able to request access to the list each month and could seek a court order obliging the ISPs to disclose the identity of the suspected infringers so that they can take legal action against them under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. Ofcom has said the code will help rights holders to "focus legal action on the most persistent alleged infringers."

According to the Kantar Media report, one in six UK internet users aged 12 or above engaged in copyright infringing activity at least once during the May-July period earlier this year.

"Our survey indicated that 8% of internet users aged 12+ consumed some music illegally over the three month period, while 6% did so for films. For video games and computer software the figure was just 2%," it said in a summary report.

However, the study found that 47% of all computer software products consumed online had been obtained illegally. Its report said that 35% of films, 26% of music and 12% of books had been downloaded, streamed, accessed or shared illegally.

The report detailed that 44% of all internet users said they were either "not particularly confident" or "not at all" confident in being able to distinguish whether online content was legal or not. It said that free content, convenience and speed were among the main reasons why consumers had engaged in infringing activity.

"Among those who downloaded or accessed content illegally, the most commonly cited reasons for doing so were because it is free (56%), convenient (48%) and quick (44%)," according to the report. "Twenty-six per cent said they did so because it means they can try before they buy. To match this back to behaviour, 40% of those who indicated any illegal behaviour across the content types, and had paid for any content, claimed they had previously accessed any of it for free."

"Factors that infringers said would encourage them to stop infringing included the availability of cheaper legal services (39%), if everything they wanted was available legally (32%) and if it was clearer what is legal and what isn’t (26%)," it said.

Ofcom described Kantar Media's research as a "large-scale consumer tracking study" with its results based on "the most appropriate and rigorous consumer research methodology to use in this area".

The regulator said that it hopes the study, which was funded by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), will "be a useful first step in improving and building the necessary evidence base for online copyright infringement policy."

"Consumer research is only one perspective on levels of online copyright infringement," Ofcom said in a statement. "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."

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