Australia’s internet users are pirating less and streaming more from legitimate sources, according to government-commissioned research, confirming exactly what users have been saying all along.
The Department of Communications quietly posted the results of its second consumer survey of online copyright infringement on a Saturday morning.
The survey found consumers are switching off from “unlawful content” with about the same number moving to “consume paid content”.
The company behind the survey, TNS Australia, said its “estimates” were that 23 percent of Australian internet users over 12 had consumed “at least one item of online content unlawfully” in the first few months of 2016.
This was down from 26 percent in 2015, and TNS Australia called that a “significant decline”.
The percentage of movies that Aussie internet users watched this year compared to last showed a big swing towards legitimate content, with similar swings for music and TV programs.
Netflix availability was one of the big reasons for many people to make the switch for movies and TV, coupled with some usage of local on-demand services.
Spotify – and to a lesser extent, Pandora – encouraged more music listeners to gravitate to legitimate content, the report found.
Internet users cited the falling cost of “lawful content” as one reason to stop pirating, as well as content being made available in all markets simultaneously, or being made available full-stop.
Only six percent of people that still turn to pirate content said that “nothing would make them stop”, suggesting that continued refinements to the business model for content could further relegate the anti-piracy debate in Australia.
“The results determine that the pricing and availability of online copyright content, such as streaming services, has led to a reduction in infringement,” the department conceded.
Since the emergence of the first iiTrial in 2009 – and its result, the Government has been under pressure from rights holders to prevent internet users from being able to access pirated content.
Rights holders did eventually have a partial win on this front, with the parliament passing legislation allowing them to apply for a court-ordered block on overseas websites said to facilitate copyright infringement.
These laws are being tested before the courts, though it remains unresolved who will pay for ISPs to institute the court-ordered blocks.
The blocking legislation came after the Government rejected more punitive measures against alleged pirates, such as a contentious ‘three strikes’ scheme where repeat offenders could have had their internet speed slowed or service cancelled.
But the effectiveness of any of these measures was always up for debate, and – when he was Communications Minister – Malcolm Turnbull had questioned whether there was a simpler way to reduce piracy.
“A big factor in this debate is of course the cost and availability of content,” Turnbull said in 2014.
“The owners of copyright material, music, movies or whatever, are able to determine the price at which they sell it and when they sell it. That’s their call.
“[But] if you make it hard and expensive to acquire content legally and at the same time it is easy and free to acquire it illegally and if the owners of that content are reluctant to take legal action against those who do acquire it illegally, well it’s pretty obvious, in the absence of any other sanction, that is going to incentivise copyright infringement.”
Turnbull would reinforce that view a year later.
“Rights holders' most powerful tool to combat online copyright infringement is making content accessible, timely and affordable to consumers,” he said.
After years of court cases and lobbying, Australia’s internet users are seeing proof of what they already knew.
Piracy is falling -- and it’s because rights holders are adapting their offerings to the digital world.