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Huge economic losses are being sustained due to large-scale unauthorised downloading, generated by widespread confusion about copyright law in the online world.

This UK report examines online consumer behaviour in the UK and its potential impact on business and government policy. It is the first piece of research to look at evidence from across the copyright industries and across all age ranges.

The report has two further objectives:

  • To inform a SABIP workshop at which a selected group of attendees with a direct interest in the issue will consider the implications of consumer behaviour on IP and make recommendations for further areas of SABIP research;
  • To highlight any further SABIP research that is required to ensure that all agencies of Government have the fullest understanding of the issues.

Copycats? Digital Consumers in the Online Age is thus a preliminary piece of research. It is unique in three respects


  •  It represents an independent, systematic and evidence-based approach to the subject;
  • It analyses a wide range of research across academic disciplines and content industries, and it includes some new case study material;
  • It covers the most recent developments, up to April 2009, a fact that is critical in this fastchanging environment.


Key findings

The world of the digital consumer is an environment, indeed a series of ‘eco-systems’, subject to rapid change; change that means many predictions about the future of the Internet and digital convergence (and how these are ‘consumed’) made even two, and certainly five and ten years ago seem quaintly dated – a fact that should be held in mind as predictions are made for the future of not just ‘Digital Britain’, but also the ‘Digital World’.

Within ten years we have seen the widespread domestic use of high-speed broadband and multichannel (and often High Definition) digital television with the facility to time-shift, copy and view programmes on other devices, and to upload these files to websites such as YouTube; the arrival of wi-fi in the high-street, the library, the office, university and the home; the rapid expansion of open source and Creative Commons publishing; at least four iterations of file-sharing technologies; the birth of mainstream blogging as a broad social phenomenon; the arrival of social media as a significant medium of authorship, sharing, and communication; the shift by the younger digital consumer towards the mobile phone as not just an aural communication tool, but also a medium for text messaging, music and video consumption, and as a gateway to post messages, photographs and other types of content to social media websites.

Most recently the large expansion in use of ‘microblogging’, to websites such as the text-based Twitter and the image-based Tumblr, has once again surprised many who suspected these services were a fad. Finally, the recent successful launch of the BBC’s authorised programme-streaming service, iPlayer (41 million downloads in December 2008; eight million in Christmas week according to the Guardian, 2009), and the music streaming service, Spotify (– which makes available around 15 million songs, either without payment but with aural advertising or without advertising for £9.99 a month and had one million users signed-up within one month according to Media Week, 2009) has demonstrated that new forms of business models may be possible in the world of ‘free things’. Unsurprisingly, the literature review we undertook does not grasp the enormity and the speed of these changes. Each impacts centrally on intellectual property.

The challenge for IP policy makers is to judge and, where possible, measure the changing social behaviours and attitudes brought about by the myriad rapidly evolving technologies and networks of the digital revolution, and map this against their economic, political and social objectives. We believe this cannot yet be achieved, as the conditions being established by the Internet, digital convergence and the imminent ‘Digital Britain’ final report are not fully understood.


Related report: Digital Britian, June 2009


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