UKIPO publishes 11th Tracker report: infringing use was 25% in 2021

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Published annually since 2012, the Online Copyright Infringement Tracker Survey studies the extent of online copyright infringement, digital behaviors and attitudes.  The study was conducted by AudienceNet, an independent researcher on behalf of the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO).

Overall media consumption – the total of all legal and illegal use – was up in 2021

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While live sports consumption had been down in 2020 compared with prior years because fewer sporting events were taking place due to COVID, 2021’s 15% exceeded 2019’s 14% pre-COVID level.   Overall film consumption over streaming was up 3% to 45%, with TV streaming up 3% to 44% – the highest points measured.  Downloading for film and TV returned to pre-pandemic levels, with film downloading at the highest level yet seen by this study.

Infringing use

The 2021 study saw a 2% increase of infringing use of media of any type, at 25%.  The greatest decrease in infringing use was for live sports: 29%, down from 37% in 2020.  Infringing use of film was 20%, and for TV, 14%

Trends for illegal use, by media type

Percentages of consumers using illegal source at least once in the last 3 months (% of consumers in each category). Source: UKIPO

For film streaming, legal sources were the most used.  87% used a “paid subscription to an online video streaming service”. This was followed by “TV Catch-up services” (36%) and “a free streaming video site such as YouTube” (18%).

The percentage of consumers using only illegal content in 2021 was relatively unchanged, compared with 2020.

Downloaded Streamed Downloaded or streamed
Film 9% (0%) 2% (0%) 3% (0%)
TV 6% (-1%) 2% (0%) 2% (0%)
Music 15% (0%) 0% (0%) 2% (0%)



Data collection followed a two-step methodology.  First, UKIPO gave a 15-minute onlin survey to 5,000 UK residents aged 12 and above during March and April of 2021.  The second stage was a five-day qualitative engagement during May 2021, under which 50 infringers aged 16 and above were subjected to a mix of research tasks, experimental conditions and discussion topics.

Read the PDF version, Online Copyright Infringement Tracker, 11th Wave

Read the Executive Summary (HTML)

Why it matters

A year ago, many in our industry thought that the sky was falling and that media consumption would never be the same.  In retrospect, these fears were exaggerated if not unfounded.  In any case, infringing use and piracy still exist.

Many participants told interviewers that their consumption of entertainment content was up, compared to their level before the pandemic, either to fill free time or because they became more reliant on it.  Some said that their increased consumption had also led to an increase in access from unofficial sources, as a way of finding more content in a cost-effective manner. “General drivers of infringement, as in previous waves of qualitative research, remained cost and greater access to content which was not available on paid subscriptions or other legal method,” said the report.

Interestingly, consumers responded positively not only to long-used messaging about the impact of piracy on creative professionals, but also on how the pandemic impacted those creatives.  Knowledge of enforcement against infringers also carry the potential to dissuade ‘recent adopters’ from infringing use, but had little impact on established infringers.

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