Availability of new streaming services may be cutting piracy in Australia, but the first review of the government’s website blacklisting legislation suggests it has failed to stop determined pirates from accessing sites that link to copyrighted content.

The Department of Communications and the Arts’ latest Consumer Survey On Online Copyright Infringement 2019 explored consumers’ consumption of music, video games, movies and TV and found that “100% lawful consumption” has increased since 2015.

That was the year Netflix entered the Australian market, which responded so enthusiastically that 2.7m Australians were accessing the service within 7 months; by the end of 2019, the service was delivering content to 11.9m Australians.

Stan also commenced operation in 2015, followed by a surge of alternatives like Apple TV+, Disney+ and rich free catalogues from SBS, the ABC, free-to-air networks, and free services like Crackle and Kanopy.

The proportion of Australians consuming some unlawful content dropped from 43 per cent in 2015 to 16 per cent last year, suggesting that many former infringers were happy to shift their viewing habits to now-plentiful streaming services.

Some 39 per cent of respondents prefer to stream movies and 42 per cent prefer streaming TV shows, the survey found – validating the efforts of a streaming market that has expanded to include myriad free and paid-for streaming options.

Even people who used to only download their movies and TV shows unlawfully were embracing streaming services, with just 1 per cent consuming only unlawful digital content in 2019 – down from 10 per cent the year before.

A third of pirates are undeterred

Although availability of streaming options seems to have stopped many Australians from pirating content, there are indications that even technological protections are doing little to stem the behaviour of the most prolific downloaders.

The 2019 survey was the government’s first opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the government’s Copyright Website Blocking Scheme, which allows copyright holders to obtain legal notices mandating that Internet service providers block access to certain sites.

The scheme was introduced in October 2018, with 181 piracy-related domains blocked late that year and an additional 105 domains added to the list in mid-2019.

Fully 12 per cent of the 2,463 Internet-using respondents said they had encountered a blocked site within the past 3 months – with 44 per cent saying they gave up as a result and 18 per cent saying they looked for a lawful way to access the content.

Yet some 16 per cent looked for alternative free but unlawful access, while an additional 16 per cent bypassed the blocked website and 4 per cent paid a pirate site for access.

That means 36 per cent of Australian copyright pirates won’t take ‘no’ for an answer – and that, Creative Content Australia executive director Lori Flekser lamented in a recent blog, “continues to be a major problem for the creative industries.”

The fact that unlawful content is ‘free’ has been consistently cited as the principal reason that consumers access infringing movies and TV shows online,” she wrote, highlighting survey findings that consumption of unlawful movie content had actually increased – from a low of 21 per cent in 2018, to 25 per cent in 2019.

“Unfortunately, ‘free’ is not a viable business model for the screen industry.”

The piracy generation

While availability of streaming services may have redirected casual pirates, the 2019 Consumer Survey suggests that time – not legislation – may be the thing that finally weans Australians off of their piracy habits.

Aged-based analysis suggests that availability of streaming services has made young Australians far less interested in bypassing content blocks.

Some 31 per cent of 25-to-34 year olds said they would bypass a blocked website, as would 22 per cent of 35-to-44 year olds, 13 per cent of 45-to-54 year olds, and 19 per cent of those aged 55 and older.

Those figures are far higher than the 7 per cent of 16-to-24 year olds who said they would bypass the blocked website – which, coincidentally, are the same people who were teenagers when Netflix was introduced in Australia.

This proportion was similar to the 8 per cent of 12-to-15 year olds – who have never really known a world without streaming video – who said they would bypass content blocks.

These figures suggest that younger Australians have solidified their viewing habits around on-demand video – and may not be as predisposed to pirating content as they age.

Age-related differences suggest that piracy is learned behaviour and lasts a lifetime – with the percentage of content infringers increasing across every age band between 2015 and 2019.

It was only in the 55-plus demographic that more Australians were consuming content (26 per cent) than infringing copyright (11 per cent).

This is the opposite situation to that in 2015, when more elderly Australians were infringing copyright than those in other age groups.

These figures suggest that piracy is a lifelong habit that starts as early as 12, increases through adolescence, and remains steady throughout adulthood.

Only time will tell whether changing behaviour early on can change those habits – but for Flekser, change can’t come to soon.

“Piracy incidence and frequency remains a vexed issue,” she wrote.

“It’s encouraging to see the numbers decreasing over time but still disheartening to see, in cold, hard data, that piracy remains a threat to the creative industries and continues to imperil the livelihood of the tens of thousands of creative professionals who strive to bring audiences quality movies and TV shows.”