New government research has estimated £12bn worth of copyrighted content could be freely consumed through just one peer-to-peer network over a year.
To illustrate the scale of the problem the research pointed out that a 50Mbit/s link could be used to deliver 200 MP3 files in five minutes, a feature film in three minutes and the complete digitised works of Charles Dickens in less than 10 minutes.
The Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Policy (SABIP) commissioned the research to examine consumer attitudes to unauthorised downloading and gauge the impact it has on UK business and government. SABIP said its report is the most detailed study yet on the issue, using data collected across copyright industries and all age ranges.
The report, titled Copycats? Digital Consumers in the On-Line Age, argues that copyright infringement has a huge impact on the UK economy in terms of lost tax revenue and reduced employment.
“The fundamental question is not how or why the downloading, copying and dissemination of unauthorised content takes place but who does it, and can this behaviour be changed?” the report notes.
“And if it cannot be changed, what does need to change: the law, the business models, or the relationship between the creative industries and the public domain?”
Business models are already changing, according to the research, spurred on by the launch of the BBC’s authorised programme-streaming service, iPlayer, as well as music streaming services such as Spotify.
SABIP's findings echo intellectual property minister David Lammy's assertion that one in four UK citizens has tried file sharing – a figure that is bound to increase as high-speed broadband becomes more prevalent.
The SABIP report includes the findings of a study by the UCL Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research of a content-sharing net work with 1.3 million users. UCL suggested that if each 'peer' from the network downloaded one file per day, the resulting number of downloads would equate to 4.73 billion items per year, which would amount to about £12bn in content being consumed annually for free.
The issue of copyright has received increasing public attention recently, following the high-profile legal action taken against The Pirate Bay, a Swedish bit torrent tracker.
The ruling against the Pirate Bay founders coincided with a new law passed in Sweden in April, the Local IPRED law, which allows copyright holders to force internet service providers (ISPs) to reveal details of users sharing files. SABIP noted how this has led to file sharing falling by 30 per cent.
Meanwhile, the debate in the European Parliament on proposals by French president Nicolas Sarkozy for ISPs to throw illegal file-sharers off the internet if they commit three offences has also raised the issue in the public’s eye.
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