One of the points addressed by SABIP’s latest report, Changing Attitudes and Behaviour in the ‘Non-Internet’ Digital World and Their Implications for Intellectual Property, is the difference between attitudes to online and offline copyright infringement. (Offline infringement is divided into mass optical disc piracy and physical P2P file-sharing.)
The report says that consumers perceive counterfeit optical discs (CDs and DVDs) as illegal and suppliers as motivated by profit. For online P2P file-sharing, the perception of legality is ‘ambiguous’ and suppliers are believed not to be motivated by profit. This divergent perception is interesting because a significant percentage of consumers are put off buying counterfeit discs because of perceived links with organized crime.
Are the public perceptions founded on fact? It is well established that counterfeit discs are produced and distributed by organized crime groups with a profit motive (e.g. Asian triads, yakuza and the Mafia). Copyright crimes are low-risk and lucrative, complementing portfolios of other criminal activities ranging from narcotics and weapons trafficking to contract killing and prostitution.
Is illegal P2P file-sharing utterly different? In some ways yes, but there are criminal dimensions that should not be ignored. Firstly, for some participants P2P (or The Scene, the hard core which provides much of the content) is a commercial activity and/or one that is big enough to damage right owners’ interests, so they are potentially committing a criminal offence under s. 107 (2A) CDPA. Secondly, it appears that online piracy is the main source of content for counterfeit discs. This is evidenced by the fact that within hours of a film being uploaded to a top site it will be being sold as a disc on the street. So these two worlds of criminal offline and innocent online are not necessarily so separate as they might at first seem.
The Government is keen not to identify the Digital Economy Bill as relevant to criminal offences – it does not wish to criminalize ordinary people. Some ordinary people, however, might find P2P more off-putting if they knew that the distribution network (a) involves criminal activity (under copyright law) and (b) has a relationship to criminal activity of a less virtual kind.