Over the years, users that dabble in obtaining copyrighted content via services like BitTorrent have routinely been maligned as irredeemable freeloaders by the entertainment industry, despite the fact that studies repeatedly show these users tend to be among the biggest purchasers of legitimate, legal content. A new report out of the UK once again deflates the common narrative that pirates are exclusively looking to obtain free stuff. According to a paywalled survey of 1,000 UK residents by anti-piracy outfit MUSO first spotted by Torrent Freak, 60 percent of those surveyed admitted that they had illegally streamed or downloaded music, film, or TV shows sometime in the past. But the study also showed that 83 percent of those questioned try to find the content they are looking for through above board services before trying anything else. And while the study found that 86 percent of survey takers subscribe to a streaming subscription service like Netflix, that total jumped to 91 percent among those that admit to piracy.
The survey found that the top reason that users pirate is the content they were looking for wasn’t legally available (34 percent) was too cumbersome or difficult to access (34 percent), or wasn’t affordable (35 percent).
“The entertainment industry tends to envisage piracy audiences as a criminal element, and writes them off as money lost – but they are wrong to do so,” MUSO executive Paul Briley said of the study’s findings.
“The reality is that the majority of people who have gone through the effort of finding and accessing such unlicensed content are, first and foremost, fans – fans who are more often than not trying to get content legally if they can,” Briley added. The firm’s study echos the findings of countless, similar reports over the last decade. For example, a 2012 study by UK regulator Ofcom found that pirates tend to buy far more legitimate content than their non-pirating counterparts. The same conclusion was drawn in a 2011 study by French government anti-piracy agency HADOPI, which noted that copyright infringers tend to also be the entertainment industry’s biggest customers. Similarly, a study conducted last year by Launchleap found that while more than half of Millennials view illegal live streams of content, the lion’s share would prefer accessing that content via legit services if it was legally available.
Firms like Jupiter Research were noting as far back as 2002 that music file sharing actually drove those users to spend more money on legitimate music purchases than before they began trading music files with their friends. Similar studies in 2005 and again in 2009 routinely told the same story in terms of film and TV content. Rinse, wash and repeat.
The idea that pirates are the entertainment industry’s biggest customers tends to be ignored by some entertainment companies that balk at adjusting their business models for the broadband era. And despite routine claims that piracy would demolish music sector revenues, the music industry has proven to be more profitable than ever.
The reports continue to highlight an important lesson that that many in the entertainment industry have been resistant to learn: they’re better served by treating pirates not as criminals eager to get everything for free—but as potential customers that simply aren’t satisfied by the options currently being made available to them.