72% of Internet Users Think ISP Warning Letters Are Useless

72% of Internet Users Think ISP Warning Letters Are Useless
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72% of Internet Users Think ISP Warning Letters Are Useless
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Christopher Clay (CC by 2.0)

ISP piracy warning letters? What, me worry?

Starting in January, British ISPs started sending suspected infringing users warning letters. Made to deter and educate users on the consequences of piracy, the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP) forms part of the Creative Content UK initiative (CCUK.) BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, and Sky Broadband voluntarily supported the VCAP. Users didn’t have to worry about strict punishments; the letters simply served as an educational warning. Yet, does the VCAP actually work? Probably not, according to a new survey.

The Broadband Genie, skeptical of the VCAP’s effectiveness, conducted a survey to see what most Brits thought. The broadband comparison site asked 2,047 people about the VCAP initiative and piracy in general. The first question asked,

“Do you think people will stop accessing or sharing copyrighted material as a result of these warning letters?”

28% believed that yes, the piracy letters will help deter piracy. But a whopping 72% believed no, the initiative won’t work to curb piracy at all. Warning letters that serve to educate users on the harmful effects of piracy won’t serve to discourage users’ habits.

With the Get it Right From a Genuine Site, the CCUK As opposed to punishment, the CCUK aims to deter piracy

So, in Broadband Genie’s survey, why did so many people believe the VCAP will ultimately fail? The second question may shed some light on their responses.

“Were you previously aware of this initiative?”

Despite public support from top broadband media companies, only 18% of Brits (roughly 368 people) knew the program existed. 82% of Brits had no clue about the VCAP.

I wrote about the UK initiative in January, asking several questions about the VCAP’s effectiveness. Yet, the numbers show that most people believe piracy doesn’t cause any actual harm to the entertainment industry. Some may even believe they can download anonymously without any punishment. The third question showed dismal findings for any anti-piracy initiative in the UK, underscoring my theory.

“Which of the following actions do you think would be most effective to stop people downloading or sharing copyrighted material?”

29%, the overwhelming majority for this question, believe that nothing will stop piracy. 22% said that losing internet service may serve as a helpful deterrent. Another 22% responded that receiving a threat of court action against them may ultimately stop illegal file sharing.

Yet, why do people pirate? Broadband Genie aimed to find out.

“What would you say is the main reason people view or download pirated content?”

60% of Brits blamed the high price of genuine content and streaming services. Only 13% believe piracy enabled easier access to copyright material. 10% said that genuine services and sites provide limited content availability.

However, an ethical contradiction appeared. Broadband Genie proposed a hypothetical question about stealing digitally and physically.

“Which of the following do you believe is more unethical?”

64% of respondents didn’t see an ethical difference between stealing a physical or a digital product. 31% considered stealing a physical product worse, and only 5% a digital product.

In addition, a lack of education on the legality of piracy may cause confusion among mainstream internet users. 26% didn’t identify sharing copyrighted material as illegal. 39% considered P2P networks like BitTorrent illegal.

Underscoring the VCAP’s ineffectiveness in the UK, only 3.5% said they knew someone who had received a warning letter. Only a few respondents believe the program will prove effective in the long-run.

10 Responses

  1. Versus

    With the widespread ignorance about both copyright law, fair use, and the effects of piracy on both the arts and the actual human beings behind the arts, it sounds like this should make some difference. If people actually read the letters and reflect on what they say, and if people actually have a conscience.

    • Anonymous

      “…and if people actually have a conscience.”

      Therein lies the problem.

    • Jon

      The whole thing is a waste of time and money. The vast majority of public bitorrent sites are already blocked at ISP level in the UK. Anybody that has the know how to get around these blocks also has the know how to hide their real IP address. The letters will never get to the people that they are targeting.

    • Ryan

      I feel as though piracy is a severe issue, as I have only participated in such an act once. I am a teenager with no source of income and uncooperative family members who refuse to invest money into Video Games. I have pirated Sonic Mania a few months ago, not due to it being free, not the digital rights management, because I and none of my acquaintances have any way of obtaining it. I know that this is a poor excuse, but it is the situation I am in.

  2. Simon

    “However, an ethical contradiction appeared. Broadband Genie proposed a hypothetical question about stealing digitally and physically.”

    There is no contradiction. One is theft, the other is infringement of digital rights. One is a criminal matter, the other is civil. One deprives someone of something tangible, the other deprives someone of a notional potential future sale.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone either, but they’re radically different things.

    If you’re conflating the two in an attempt to steer discussion, you’re being dishonest. If you don’t see a difference, you apparently haven’t taken the time to think about this critically.

    • RMT

      Simon, I think you miss a fundamental difference between stealing CDs/tapes and digital content (and hence the distinction between real property and intellectual property). In fact, the stealing of the physical CD amounts to theft (as you said), but the copyright (intellectual property rights) related to the sound recordings (musical works in terms of the Copyright Act) and other works are also infringed.

    • Anonymous

      Willful copyright infringement is a criminal matter. Penalties include imprisonment up to 5 years. Ethically, they’re both bad. I suppose you could debate how bad one is compared to the other. The main difference is in the enforcement of such laws. If you get caught shoplifting, someone calls the police and you go to jail. If you get caught pirating, you get a friendly, educational letter in the mail. Lack of enforcement and lack of ethics is why people pirate. My faith in humanity is such that I don’t really expect people to get more ethical. Enforcement is really the only place meaningful change could be made.

  3. Sir Up Chuck

    In Europe, and particularly the UK, channels are somewhat limited, pricey, and difficult to manage. Especially for sports fanatics looking for a particular football (soccer), rugby, or cricket match. Hency, the reason why Kodi and XBMC are such massive problems in the UK.