Internet users definitely not sure about copyright, reports Ofcom

First published on IPKat.com here.

As the festive season creeps rapidly upon us, many of us will embrace the spirit of sharing. But, while it is easy to share the mince pies in the office, sharing a picture of one online could land you in bother, depending of course on which country you inhabit.  The trouble is, lots of people don’t quite seem to know what they are and are not allowed to do.

Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, has published research which finds that half of all internet users are unsure whether the content they are accessing online is legal.  One in six people online believed they downloaded or accessed content illegally.

Does this make me a pirate?

The research follows a recommendation in the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth that Ofcom should start gathering independent data and establishing trends in the area of online copyright before its formal reporting duties begin.  The report states:
The findings come from the first wave of a large-scale consumer study into the extent of online copyright infringement among internet users aged 12 and above, published today. This ongoing research will identify trends over time, examining infringement of copyright on music, films, TV programmes, software, books and video games.

According to the report, 47% of users cannot confidently identify whether the online content they download, stream or share is legal or not [the number of references to the Court of Justice of the European Union on copyright law indicates that those in the judiciary and national governments are not certain (see 1709 blog post here).  Are 53% of consumers therefore really able to confidently state that linking or framing online content is not copyright infringement?] – highlighting the importance of increased efforts to educate and inform consumers [it might be worth firstly clarifying what actually is the legal position – maybe the UK Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision in NLA v Meltwater will help (IPKat post here)].

In June, Ofcom published a draft Code that would require large fixed internet service providers (ISPs) to inform customers of allegations that their internet connection has been used to infringe copyright, and to explain where they can find licensed content on the internet.

Under the amended Communications Act 2003, Ofcom will report to the Government on efforts made by content owners to invest in awareness campaigns to help educate consumers about the impact of copyright infringement.

The full report, the OCI Tracker Benchmark Study, is available here. It was funded by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), and carried out by Kantar Media on behalf of Ofcom. The report contains details about the methodology used, and the underlying data is also being made available for further analysis.

This Kat can’t help but think that the differences in national copyright laws and exceptions to infringement only contribute to the muddled position.  In a globalised world, the online environment functions in many ways as a single jurisdiction.  It is incongruent therefore that half of its ‘netizens‘ are entitled to a defence of ‘fair use’ for posting a picture to their Facebook wall whilst those in the UK could be liable for copyright infringement for doing the same thing (see IPKat post here).  In the absence of further harmonisation of international copyright law, it is hard to see how the current confusion can be effectively eroded.

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