Education, communication key to combating digital piracy, purchase of fake goods | Alexandra Poch

Piracy of digital content - such as films, music, software and video games - by youths aged between 15 and 24, is the highest in Malta among all EU member states. BusinessToday spoke to Alexandra Poch, Deputy Director of the European Observatory on Infringements of IP Rights at EUIPO, to understand what can be done to stop this trend and to make young people understand the full impact of their decisions

Alexandra Poch
Alexandra Poch

Education and communication are crucial in combating misinformation when it comes to the use of content from illegal sources or the purchase of counterfeit goods.

Alexandra Poch, Deputy Director, European Observatory on Infringements of IP Rights at EUIPO, told BusinessToday that youths who turned to illegal sources often appeared to be operating according to a very different moral code: one that is more concerned with protesting against or punishing large providers for their pricing and subscription practices.

The 2022 edition of the Intellectual Property and Youth Scoreboard, released yesterday by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) showed that more than half (52 %) of Europeans surveyed aged between 15 and 24 said they had bought at least one fake product online over the past year, both intentionally or by accident, and a third (33%) said they had accessed digital content from illegal sources.

The report analyses the behaviour of young people towards intellectual property infringement in a post-pandemic context.

Maltese youths in the age group stood out in the report, albeit for the wrong reasons.

In fact, piracy of digital content - such as films, music, software and video games - by youths aged between 15 and 24, is the highest in Malta among all EU member states.

43% of young people in Malta accessed pirated content in the past year, more than double the EU average.

And 41% of Maltese aged between 15 and 24 said they had bought a fake product intentionally over the same period.

Poch said it is important to focus on countering the belief held by some participants that illegal sources of content or fake products, far from causing harm to society, may in fact provide benefits by democratising access to material for those who could otherwise not afford to make use of it.

60 % of young Europeans said they preferred to access digital content from legal sources, compared to 50 % in 2019. In Malta, this percentage amounts to 44 % of young people.

Price and availability remain the main factors for buying counterfeits and for digital piracy, but peer and social influence is also increasingly important.

The research highlights the extent to which the participants relied on friends or peers - rather than the authorities or influencers - when it came to both identifying and validating the sources.

“They are more likely to trust people they know or with whom they could readily identify, especially when those people are part of a similar group, as in in the case of the gaming community,” Poch said.

This may point to the potential value of communications centred on personal testimonies by young people for whom an instance of accessing content from an illegal source, or buying fake products, went badly wrong.

The survey looks at the two sides of IP infringement: the trends in young people purchasing counterfeit goods and accessing pirated content, assessing trends since 2016.

In Malta, the most commonly pirated content are films (63%), followed by TV series and shows (51%), e-books (35%), computer software (32%), video games (28%), live sports events (25%) and music (22%).

Of those Maltese who admitted intentionally buying a fake product  in the past 12 months, 15% purchased clothes, followed by electronic devices (13%), footwear (9%) and hygiene products (7%).

The purchase of counterfeits was clearly much less normalised in participants’ minds than the accessing of digital content from illegal sources.

They were notably more wary about engaging in this behaviour partly because they appeared more aware that this is illegal, but also because they are aware of the inferior quality of counterfeits, as their potential safety risks.

They also associated counterfeits with a broader range of macro-level impacts, such as poor employment conditions and the exploitation of workers, as well as environmental impacts.

“Social impacts of counterfeiting that may carry particular persuasive potential are those relating to organised crime,” Poch said.

“While participants had rarely given much thought to this issue prior to taking part in the research, they were often shocked and concerned when it was mentioned.”

She said this was either because they felt they had been complicit in this crime by purchasing counterfeits, or out of empathy for those involved, such as frontline vendors.

Purchase of fakes

Reflecting the post-pandemic context, the survey confirmed that 37 % of young people bought one or several fake products intentionally, which is a significant increase compared to the previous results (14 % in 2019).

The figure varies notably by country, with the highest percentage being in Greece (62 %) and the lowest in Czechia (24 %).

The counterfeit products that young people most commonly buy intentionally are clothes and accessories (17 %), followed by footwear (14 %) electronic devices (13 %), and hygiene, cosmetics, personal care and perfumes (12 %).

But young people are also misled into buying fakes: unintentional purchase of fake products also stands at 37 % (1), and respondents acknowledged difficulties to distinguish genuine goods from counterfeits. 48 % had not bought such products or were unsure whether or not they had.

Online piracy

As regards digital content, access from legal sources is gaining ground among the younger generations. 60 % said that they had not used, played, downloaded or streamed content from illegal sources in the past year compared to 51 % in 2019, and 40 % in 2016, thus confirming the trend.

However, intentional piracy remains stable, with 21 % of young consumers (one in five) acknowledging they had knowingly accessed pirated content in the last 12 months. A significant proportion of young people were misled into accessing pirated content. 12 % accessed pirated content by accident, and 7 % do not know if they have. The main type of pirated content was films (61 %) and TV series (52 %), followed by music (36 %), using mainly dedicated websites, apps and social media channels.

In light of the new results, the Executive Director of the EUIPO, Christian Archambeau, said:

“This third edition of the IP and Youth Scoreboard, published during the European Year of Youth, confirms the trends identified in previous editions and offers richer insights into youngsters’ perceptions and attitudes. At a time when e-commerce and digital consumption have been significantly growing, the increase in the intentional and unintentional purchase of fake goods is a worrying trend. As for piracy, it does not go down, even if young consumers increasingly prefer content from legal sources. This new analysis provides a valuable tool to help stakeholders, policy makers as well as educators and civil society organisations shape awareness-raising initiatives to support the informed choices of our young citizens and consumers.”

Key drivers behind buying fakes and accessing pirated content

While price and availability continue to be the main reasons for buying fake products and accessing pirated content intentionally, social influences, such as the behaviour of family, friends, or people they know, are gaining significant ground.

Other factors include not caring whether the product was a fake (or whether the content source was illegal), perceiving no difference between original and fake products, and the ease of finding or ordering fake products online. One in 10 respondents mentioned recommendations by influencers or famous people.

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