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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June, 2005, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Software piracy 'seen as normal'
By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website

Pirated film discs
Counterfeit copies of films, software and games are readily available
Campaigns to persuade people to stop downloading pirated games or software from the internet are not working, a report suggests.

Two UK university researchers found that people did not see downloading pirated material as theft.

The findings are unwelcome news for the games industry, which says it loses more than 2bn annually from piracy.

The results of the government-funded study were previewed at a games conference in London.

The report, called Fake Nation, is due to be formally presented next week by Dr Jo Bryce of the University of Central Lancashire and Dr Jason Rutter of the University of Manchester.

Crime? What crime?

The study was commissioned to find out if the anti-piracy message was having an impact on people's attitudes.

Dr Jo Bryce
The purchase of counterfeit goods or illegal downloading are seen as normal leisure practices
Dr Jo Bryce, University of Central Lancashire
Most campaigns in the UK have focused on the damage being done by software or film piracy.

They have also pushed the idea that consumers are supporting organised crime when they buy a game or DVD from someone in the street.

Despite ads in the cinema, magazines and newspapers, the message is falling on deaf ears.

"Consumers have an awareness of the scale of the problem and cost, but don't take onboard industry concerns or government messages," said Dr Bryce, a senior lecturer in psychology.

The researchers found that people did not equate downloading a game with the idea of shoplifting the disc from a shop.

"People are more accepting of it, even if they didn't engage it in themselves," said Dr Bryce. "They don't see it as a great problem on a social or economic level.

"They just don't see it as theft. They just see it as inevitable, particularly as new technologies become available."

Unsurprisingly, the main reason people grab games from the net was because they are free.

But scratching beneath the surface, the researchers found that not having to pay for games was particularly attractive for teenagers, as it meant they had more money for other things.

"Teenagers are being tactical spenders," said Dr Bryce. "The money saved lets them spend more on mobile phones, going to the cinema or eating out."

Pub pirates

In the past, much of the anti-piracy drive has been directed against people selling counterfeit discs at markets or on street corners.

The games trade body, the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association, (Elspa) has a 40-strong anti-piracy unit.

Counterfeit games
Copied games worth 4m were seized last year
Last year, it carried out 538 raids across the UK, seizing 4m worth of copied games and successfully prosecuting 67 software counterfeiters.

But the Fake Nation study suggests these efforts may also be misguided. The researchers found that most people did not buy counterfeit software from dodgy dealers on street corners.

Instead they bought games from people they knew in places like the office, the pub or at school.

"The purchase of counterfeit goods or illegal downloading are seen as normal leisure practices," said Dr Bryce.

"The downloading of games is a burgeoning issue, and with broadband growing, this is likely to increase and drive access to pirated games away from commercial interests into people's homes."

Cost to creativity

Despite the study's results, Michael Rawlinson, deputy head of Elspa, remained confident that attitudes towards pirated software could be changed.

"It is possible to effect a change in young people's behaviour once you explain the process of creation in bringing these products to market," he said.

But he admitted that wiping out illegal downloads would take time and money.

"The government has spent millions of pounds to change public awareness of drink-driving and smoking.

"As a society, we need to go through a similar process for creativity and intellectual property."

Around 2,400 people were questioned via the post and the web for the study between August and September last year. The researchers also held 12 focus groups.

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