Piracy drops despite no website blocks, ‘3-strikes’ scheme

New government-backed study reveals ‘significant drop’ in online copyright infringement within Australia

Online copyright infringement has declined in Australia according to a new government-backed study.

The new study commissioned by the Department of Communications and the Arts was conducted by TNS Australia. The research follows on from an initial TNS report on copyright infringement released last year by the government.

The new TNS research involved interviews with 2405 people aged 12+ and covered the first three months of 2016.

TNS estimates that in the first three months of the year, 23 per cent of Australian Internet users aged 12+ consumed “at least one item of online content unlawfully” — equating to about 4.6 million people.

The 2015 study found that some 26 per cent of Australians were believed to have unlawfully consumed online content.

If the sample is narrowed to people aged 12+ who had consumed online content, some 37 per cent had engaged in some form of copyright infringement in the first quarter of the year, compared to 43 per cent in the 2015 study.

The proportion of content consumers who exclusively accessed content unlawfully dropped from 12 per cent in 2015 to 9 per cent.

The TNS report describes the decline in Australian Internet users engaging in copyright infringement as a “significant drop”.

As with the previous study, the top factors that people said would lead them to stop engaging in copyright infringement remained a reduction in the cost of content, content being available in Australia as soon as it is released elsewhere, and lawful content being available.

The study found significant growth in the use of legal streaming services, including 27 per cent of consumers of online content having used Netflix, up from 9 per cent in 2015 (Netflix only launched in Australia in March 2015). Foxtel/Presto, Stan and SBS's on-demand service all registered “significantly higher levels of usage for consuming and sharing movies and TV programmes”, the report said.

The drop in piracy comes despite two of the key pillars of the government’s strategy to combat online copyright infringement — a so-called ‘three-strikes’ or graduated response scheme and the ISP-level blocking of piracy-linked websites — yet to be implemented.

Representatives of copyright owners and telcos failed to reach agreement on important details of the graduated response scheme that would see alleged copyright infringers sent a series of warning notices.

Attorney-General George Brandis and then communications minister Malcolm Turnbull in late 2014 called for the industry-led development of such a scheme. The government has not followed up on its threat to legislate a copyright notice scheme if telcos and rights holders could not come to an agreement.

Legislation implementing a website-blocking scheme received bipartisan support and was passed in 2015.

There are currently three applications under before the Federal Court based on the legislation, which allows rights holders to apply for an injunction compelling an ISP to block a named website or websites (providing that the court accepts evidence that the primary purpose of a site is copyright infringement or facilitating copyright infringement).

Separate applications lodged by Foxtel and Village Roadshow have been heard jointly by the court. Another application by representatives of the music industry is also before the court.

The court is yet to rule on the applications.

Although ISPs have not opposed the applications, there has been fierce disagreement over who should foot the bill for implementing the website blocks and ongoing court oversight of blocking mirror and proxy sites.