Call for study of threat from "offline" filesharing
Swapping of music and video on hard drives and memory sticks could be just as big a threat as online firesharing, says report
Policymakers urgently need better information on people's attitudes to copyright law, according to a report out today warning that friends swapping hard drives and memory sticks could pose as great a piracy threat to media companies as online filesharers.
The Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property (Sabip), a body set up to advise the government, has been looking into "offline" copyright infringement after its research last year into online piracy threw up questions about how consumers get films, music and games for free.
"There's a whole big question here around what is happening offline digitally, the swapping of discs and data in that world. There's a lot of it going on," said Sabip board member Dame Lynne Brindley.
Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, said existing research did not give a clear picture of consumer behaviour. While there was some data on the proportion of people buying counterfeit CDs, DVDs and video games - estimated at between 7% and 16% of the population - Sabip was concerned that more needed to be known about other copyright breaches, such as hard-drive swapping and files being shared by wireless Bluetooth connections.
David Lammy, minister for intellectual property, said such offline copying had to be addressed. He said the Sabip research moved the focus from "geeky teenagers" and on to adults as well.
He said: "The need for research into this area is hugely important so we can understand consumer behaviour, to understand how to enforce copyright and to understand the scale of the problems we are experiencing."
Sabip's review of available national and international research concluded: "Policymakers urgently need a better understanding of how consumers behave in both the online and offline digital environment."
The review, conducted by BOP Consulting, also sought to show that consumers were "more interested in factors such as price, quality, and availability of material, rather than its legal status". It said: "Consumer behaviour online and offline in the digital world needs to be looked at from a new perspective - one that encompasses consumer choice rather than just from the viewpoint of criminal behaviour."
Lammy said that highlighted the need for "public education and for the right pricing and business models to adapt to this environment".
The review also concluded that "evidence" was mixed as to whether illegally consuming content complemented legal consumption - a point of much contention among music industry figures. Some artists claim filesharing can lead people to buy more legal products.
Duncan Calow, a media lawyer at DLA Piper, said the prevalence of offline copyright infringement - whether wilful or unwitting - underlines the need for media companies to better explain to consumers what they could and could not do with the products they bought.
As technology improves and film companies and publishers become more affected by piracy, he expects to see more copyright guidance from rights holders but not necessarily finger-wagging and a list of "don'ts". No one wanted a repeat of the bad press sparked by record labels' pursuit of individual filesharers in the courts.
"Hollywood has learned from looking at the music industry. Those same concerns are also in the publishing industry with the rise of the ebook. They are all desperate to avoid that kind of stand-off," he said.
"So they are starting to try in a fairer way to explain to their consumers what it is they are selling to them ... what is being offered in terms of how you can enjoy content."
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