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Shiver me timbers! Digital pirates beware…


Arguably the single largest loss of revenue for companies producing digital products is to copyright infringement in the form of digital piracy. However, a survey published recently by the UK IPO suggests that the tide may be turning against digital pirates.

The Online Copyright Infringement Tracker is an ongoing survey, commissioned and funded by the UK IPO, of trends in downloading and accessing of digital content. According to the fifth wave of the survey, covering the period of March to May 2015, 62% of internet users in the UK have downloaded or streamed music, TV shows, computer software, videogames or e-books (both legally and illegally). While this represents an increase of 6% compared to 2013, there has been an increase of more than 10% in the use of legal methods for accessing such content over the same period.

The increase in use of legal methods for accessing and downloading digital content may be due in part to the increasingly diverse range of online services available to internet users, as well as cheaper prices as a result of a more competitive market and a significant increase in the number of consumers. However, with one in five internet users in the UK still accessing digital content illegally, the industry is continuing to increase its fight against digital piracy.

For example, over the last two years, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has been running Operation Creative in an attempt to drastically slash the income of websites illegally offering digital content, by cutting advertising revenue. Specifically, since the start of Operation Creative in 2013, there has been a 73% decrease in advertising by the UK’s top spending companies on illegal websites as a result of the PIPCU compiling a list of websites illegally offering digital content and providing the list to a series of advertisers, agencies and intermediaries to enable them to cease advertising on those websites. The aim of the operation is to force the closure of websites illegally offering digital content by making them unprofitable.

In another attempt to thwart the software pirates, Microsoft has recently announced further steps to protect its newly released Windows 10 operating system. According to an updated End User License Agreement from Microsoft, Windows 10 will allow Microsoft to download software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent access to services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorised hardware peripheral devices. Presumably in an attempt to roll out such countermeasures against all users, Microsoft has been offering free upgrades to Windows 10 to all users of Windows 7 or 8.1, including those running non-genuine versions of the operating system, seemingly an attempt to lure copyright infringers into its anti-piracy net.

However, it is clear that hardcore online copyright infringers will not be easily deterred; when the UK IPO’s Online Copyright Infringement Tracker survey asked those accessing digital content illegally what would encourage them to switch to legal methods, the top motivation given was cheaper legal services. Interestingly, the prospect of being sued for copyright infringement was only number five on the list. Clearly, therefore, a significant proportion of those accessing digital content illegally remain of the view that legal methods for accessing digital content should be cheap, if not free, and seem undeterred by any moral and legal implications of copyright infringement. The effectiveness of the digital industry’s campaign against piracy therefore remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the digital waters look set to remain choppy for the foreseeable future.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

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