Counting Cost Of Illegal Downloads

Illegal downloading robs the U.K. economy of millions of pounds every year and seriously damages business and innovation, according to intellectual property minister David Lammy.

“It is something that needs tackling, and we are serious about doing so,” he said, after research by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) estimated that there were 890 million illegal free music downloads through illegal file-sharing in the U.K. in 2007, compared with 140 million paid downloads.

This puts unauthorised access at a ratio of six to one, before offline sharing like disk burning is even considered.

Research commissioned by the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property (SABIP) showed shared content on one network was worth about £12 billion a year and 1.3 million users shared files at midday on a weekday.

If each of them downloaded only one file a day this would amount to 4.73 billion items being consumed for free each year.

The ability to download or share content is getting easier with faster technologies and greater storage space. The new 50-megabytes-per-second broadband access can deliver 200 MP3 music files in five minutes.

The SABIP report found music downloading has “become part and parcel of the social fabric of our society despite its illegal status.”

The creative industries provide about 8 percent of British GDP. Digital copying of products resulted in an estimated loss of 4,000 jobs in 2004. “The report helps put the scale of the problem into context and highlights the gaps in the evidence which need to be filled,” Lammy commented. “It is important that we understand how online consumer behaviour impacts on the UK economy and the future sustainability of our copyright industries”.

SABIP has warned that it may be difficult to change attitudes to free downloading as there was “huge confusion” about what is and is not legal.

It claimed that 70 percent of those aged 15 to 24 did not feel guilty about downloading music for free and 61 percent of the age group did not feel they should have to pay for the music they listen to.

“We can’t expect 12-year-olds to become copyright lawyers before they can switch on a computer, but we can educate people on enforcement and work towards getting the right people caught and punished, wherever they live,” Lammy explained.

The U.K. film industry told the authors of the SABIP report that there were just fewer than 100 million illegal DVD downloads in 2007 and the global film industry is thought to lose more than £4 billion per year.