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Australians still pirating, but most would ignore three-strikes warnings

Research from the Department of Communications shows Australians are still pirating, but changes to pricing and availability would make them change their minds, rather than ISP warning letters.

Image by Jaskirat Singh Bawa, CC BY-ND 2.0

New research shows almost half of media-hungry Australians continue to pirate some form of content, but only one in five would pay attention to a letter sent from their ISP warning them to stop.

The Online Copyright Infringement Research Paper [PDF], commissioned by the Department of Communications and prepared by research company TNS, surveyed 2,630 media consumers in Australia over the age of 12 to gauge the rate of piracy across the country, comparing the figures to a similar study in the UK.

The research found that 43 percent of respondents who downloaded or streamed content of any kind had pirated at least some of this content during the survey period (25 March to 13 April 2015) compared to 21 percent of respondents in the UK study. When taken as a proportion of all internet users (rather than just "content consumers"), the percentage of respondents that pirated fell to 26 percent.

The main reasons cited for piracy were that it was free, convenient and quick, with 30 percent of pirates saying that legal content is too expensive.

The research comes off the back of two key industry measures introduced by the Federal Government in recent months as a one-two punch to reduce piracy in Australia. In a bid to cut off access to illicit material, the Government passed new laws one month ago allowing rights holders to seek a court order requiring Internet service providers to block overseas websites that facilitate piracy.

On the consumption end of the debate, the Federal Government called on rights holders and ISPs late last year to develop a 'three-strikes' code to address the problem. Introduced in April and set to be implemented by September, the code would see ISPs issue pirates with warning notices about infringing activity at the behest of rights holders in a bid to educate and ultimately crack down on the behaviour.

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Only 1 in 5 people would respond to a 'three-strikes' scheme, according to new research. Department of Communications/TNS

However, today's figures from the Department of Communications show that, when it comes to rooting out copyright infringement, pirates care more about content pricing than they do about warning letters.

While there remains a solid core of pirates who will never change, with 5 percent of survey respondents saying nothing would make them stop pirating, almost 40 percent of those surveyed said they would be encouraged to stop if two key factors were addressed: pricing and availability.

By comparison, only 1 in 5 people said they would be encouraged to stop if they received a letter from their ISP saying their account would be suspended.

The CEO of Communications Alliance, the peak industry body representing ISPs and telcos both large and small in Australia, said the figures showed a three-strikes scheme was not a silver bullet for the industry.

"Yes, there's a potential role for a copyright notice scheme, and we're trying to get that up," he said. "But I was fascinated that only 21 percent of people said they'd stop infringing if they got a nasty notice from their service provider.

"That says that there is a role for that code but you can't just rely on threatening letters. They're not going to work. What's going to motivate people is availability of affordable content. You simply can't address the problem without taking into account both of those factors."

Communications Alliance also noted that almost three quarters of internet users who pirated were also accessing content through legitimate means. Stanton said this showed pirates were "not just looking exclusively for a 'free ride,' "but were also "chasing the convenience" of readily-available content by paying for it.

Rights holders and content providers have pointed to a number of advances in Australia that have addressed these issues. Alongside the arrival of major player Netflix into the Australian market, other contenders such as Stan and Presto have stepped up to the plate, while Presto part-owner Foxtel dropped the price of its pay TV packages as the competition started to heat up.

Free-to-air TV providers have also come to the plate with SBS conducting a massive overhaul of its On Demand offering, and ABC and the commercial networks beefing up catch-up TV services, to varying degrees of success.

But while Stanton says the industry has come a long way, rights holders couldn't afford to rest on their laurels in the Australian market.

"Progress has been made, that's undeniable," he said. "But if you can believe the results of this research, those people who are out there infringing are saying that their fundamental availability issues haven't been addressed and they'll keep downloading while the only way to get that content is by improper means."

The Department of Communications has summarised the key findings of its research in infographic form [PDF], and you can also read the full report here [PDF].