Record companies like to portray pirates as scum of the earth: bottom-feeders, who stay holed up in their basements with their fibre-optic lines doing nothing but cavorting on torrent forums whilst listening to that latest boot-legged Justin Bieber album. A new report from Ofcom, though, seems to say that this impression may not be entirely true.
The survey, which polled 4400 internet users aged 12+, had some surprising, and some less-surprising results. Starting with the "I-could've-told-you-that" category, roughly 1-in-6 (or 16% to be precise) of respondents said that they had illegally downloaded at least one piece of content. But, more surprisingly, only a quarter of this group -- or a miniscule 4% of the UK population -- exclusively use pirated content. That means that three quarters of the "pirates" that the record labels are so eager to punish are actually legitimate, fee-paying customers. Moreover, these "hybrid" pirates (who torrent some content and pay for other) typically spend (both overall and per item) far more than their legal friends. In simple terms, the most involved, active, high-spending users of content are the pirates.
What I reckon, then, is that this xckd comic got it spot-on: most people who pirate things are just really active fans for whom pirating content is just the most convenient way to get it -- about half of the "pirates" in the survey said that they mainly used torrents to get at stuff because it was quick and easy (or easier that wrestling with iTunes, at least). So, maybe rather than seizing the laptops of 9-year-old girls, the record companies should focus more on making legal content easier to buy and get? [Ofcom via TorrentFreak]7
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