Online piracy: bad in principle, okay in practice

EU countries like Malta, who joined in 2004, engage in more online piracy than their counterparts

While the majority of EU citizens appear to be strongly supportive of the idea of protecting intellectual property – at least ‘on paper’ – on a personal level this support tends to waver as these same citizens manage to find plenty of justification for perusing pirated material online. 

A study – entitled ‘Copyright enforcement online: policies and mechanisms’ – also noted that it is countries who joined the EU in 2004 who engage most in pirating, and that regulatory bodies across Europe have resigned themselves to the fact that the issue will never be dealt with in a streamlined manner since various regional dynamics come into play.

The study, commissioned by the European Audiovisual Observatory within the Council for Europe, maps out the European terrain of online copyright infringement and how various countries have been dealing with this very contemporary problem. 

Quoting research made by the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market, the study identifies a curious psychological dimension to the phenomenon of online piracy.

Observing that “a large majority of EU citizens display strong support for intellectual property”, the same respondents “consider that at a personal level, breaking these rules may be justified to cope with the consequences of limited purchasing power or to protest against an economic model driven by a market economy and premium brands”. 

Additionally, there was also a perception that intellectual property mainly “serves the interests of elites” and that a lack of understanding of what it entails was rife, or at least a disagreement with the idea of the value that intellectual property brings to European citizens at large.

Findings also showed that countries like Malta, who joined the EU in 2004, engaged in more piracy, when compared to their counterparts who joined the Union earlier. Assessing the percentage of people who reported having downloaded or illegally accessed online material in 2013, 13% of respondents from post-2004 EU accession countries admitted to doing so, compared to the 4% in other Member States. 

Demographic factors also came into play, as illegally accessing copyrighted material proved to be more popular among the younger generations, with gender and education also being a determining factor since males, and those with a higher level of education, proved to be more prone to illegally accessing copyrighted content. 

On the matter of combating piracy, the study concluded that a “one-size-fits-all” approach would not be a viable model, “due to the variety of legislative traditions that underpin the different national enforcement systems for copyright violations online”.

“Already in 2012, the European Commission stressed the existence of as many different national legal systems as the number of member states, and since then no further harmonisation initiative has been put in place.”

Given how the aforementioned lack of awareness and sensitivity towards intellectual property remained a consistent problem, the study mentions how countries such as France, Italy and the UK, “have started to invest also on positive measures aimed to promote and incentivise the consumption of legal content and thus gradually invert the trend of illegal consumption”.

This seems to be particularly effective in the case of platforms allowing streaming consumption instead of downloading – such as Netflix, which has recently been made available in virtually all countries in the world, including Malta. 

Internet killing the video star

53% of households have told the Malta Communications Authority that they are now using the Internet to watch TV – a revelation that confirms the shift away from digital terrestrial to internet as the gateway to more content.

In a 2013 survey by the MCA, 26% of households had claimed to view TV via the internet. More interesting is the fact that 63% of these households now consider Internet TV as a good substitute to traditional TV. TV series, followed by live streaming programmes and news are most viewed over the Internet (76% of respondents).

The survey, which was limited to residential users, was carried out by Ernst and Young via telephone interviews after respondents were chosen at random. A total of 801 households participated in the survey.

While generally a majority of up to 70% of households said they were satisfied with the GO and Melita TV offerings, few were making use of their premium channels (20%).

But according to the survey, around 49,000 households in Malta are now believed to be using satellite boxes and IPTV boxes such as the Android Box, for their far more superior line-up of channels. Key to this is the use of the former XBMC software, more commonly known as Kodi, a platform that allows the installation of a myriad of apps, amongst them the user-friendly film torrenting site Genesis.

Still, it’s not looking bad for Malta’s cable and digital providers: while there is overall satisfaction with the IPTV boxes, an outstanding majority (79%) will still not remove their GO or Melita connections.

Other findings include:

• 84% of households with a satellite TV or an IPTV box got the service because of a better channel line up, 17% because of a better price .

• 85% of households that have satellite TV or an IPTV box are also subscribed to a Pay TV service

• 22% of households with a satellite TV or an IPTV box are not quite satisfied with the quality of service, of which 71% blame it on frequent disconnections

• Only 8% of households with a satellite TV or an IPTV box will remove their GO or Melita connection

• More households consider Internet TV to be a good substitute to traditional TV: ‘always’ – 26% [15% in 2013]