Seven Million Illegal Downloaders in the UK?

The issue of illegal downloading has been at the forefront of news headlines over the course of the past few months, with the publication of the Government’s “Digital Britain” report, calls from the Entertainment industry to disconnect file sharers from the Internet and the publication research by IDC claiming that anywhere between 27 and 41% of all software loaded onto UK computers is an illegal copy.

Research published this week by the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property (SABIP) suggests that around seven million UK residents are involved in illegal downloading, with 1.3 million using one of the most popular peer-to-peer file sharing sites on one day in particular. The most shocking finding, however, is that over one year, UK users had free access to software including music, movies and game files estimated at a value of £120 billion.

The report also said that the new generation of broadband internet connections could deliver 200 MP3 files in five minutes, a DVD in three and the complete works of Charles Dickens in less than 10. Intellectual Property Minister David Lammy said that the report highlighted the effect that illegal downloading has on the UK economy as a whole, as well as upon industries which depend upon copyright as their main source of income, such as Entertainment and Technology providers.

This research is telling us what many already know, specifically that illegal downloading is now have a very significant and measurable effect upon the UK economy, and in particular upon the Creative and Technology industries.

The Government has spent the past few years following the publication of the Gower Report trying to come up with a strategy on how to deal with this problem, including the suggestion that Internet Service Providers should take more responsibility, proposing a “three strikes” rule which would see internet users disconnected after three warnings and dealing with increasingly angry calls from the Entertainment Industry to get more involved and deal with the problem.

What the research shows is that the problem is very real beyond the hype and scare tactics but more importantly that it is growing and is more and more common across a number of age groups, rather than previous claims that it is most prevalent in the teen or student population. The message coming out of the report is that there is a lot of confusion in the minds of the public as to what material which is downloadable from the web is actually covered by copyright, with many believing that if software is free, then it isn’t protected.

Something will have to give sooner rather than later. The Entertainment Industry is pushing for public action to be taken against the younger end of the market, with the Government reluctant to do so. The message has to get out to the public on three fronts – that the overwhelming majority of files available for download over the web will be protected by copyright, that the owners of that copyright can take action against file-sharers who download with permission or without paying to do so, and that with so much money being lost it’s only a matter of time before we see high-profile criminal and civil cases being brought against individuals rather than the large-scale downloaders we’ve seen previously.

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