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Ten years of studying piracy: Conclusions and questions

by Anna Meadows

This year is a reason to celebrate. It is ten years since the first wave of research into Australian attitudes and behaviours in relation to movie and TV piracy.

It's not often that market researcher has the opportunity to spend a decade researching a single, albeit multidimensional, topic. There is huge benefit to our understanding of a topic given the opportunity to look at it in detail over such an extended period of time. To learn with each wave, to adapt the research, to expose trends in the data and explore potential reasons for those trends over such a time frame is a rarity in market research.

Most importantly it's the ability to have a long-term and consistent approach that has led to research that has had impact amongst stakeholders, informed policy makers' decisions and helped keep the issue of piracy in Australia salient in the minds of the population.

The face of piracy has undergone significant change in a decade, from the age of DVDs being bought from a van outside the school gates to media boxes facilitating an even more social and difficult to detect form of copyright infringement.

What has been consistent is that the issue of piracy is greatest amongst the young - the time rich idealists who devour TV and movie content and justify their sourcing of pirated material by telling themselves it is an industry marketing tool, a belief that they cause no harm and their preference for immediate gratification trumps all.

Whilst cultural nuances exist, people are people and similar rationalisations for what is a less than fully rational behaviour are espoused in each and every market we study - from Taiwan to New Zealand.

There have been some confronting moments along the way. For example, the media studies teacher who brought from her desk drawer a box of hundreds of pirated DVDs to question if it was legal to show them to her class, to the students who justified stealing from a store if they had had a drink or looting a large department store 'because they can afford it and they expect some theft anyway'.

We have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to look at the issue of piracy from many different angles. There are three key principles that have underpinned the research we have conducted which have been consistent now for a decade:

1. It has clear purpose

Research is more useful when it has clear aims. In the case of CCA these are:

Firstly, and most importantly, to inform. It's only by understanding in detail how Australians view piracy and by exploring their current behaviours that CCA has been able to devise strategies for limiting piracy. As described above, data has clearly showed that the most active pirates to be 18-24 year olds. Over time this has led to the development of a youth research program amongst 12-17s to explore the behaviours and circumstances that precede this peak in activity levels. It's also informed the development of highly regarded educational resources and teacher engagement activities across the country.

Secondly the research is intended to engage stakeholders and members. Supporting organisations are encouraged to raise specific issues and questions that they are wrestling with. We include these in the research program. It's often by looking at similar behaviours in different ways that leads us to interesting insights and outcomes.

It has also provided an independent voice to lawmakers to give confidence that legislative changes are undertaken with the public voice in mind as was the case with the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill in 2015.

Finally the research is used to communicate. Significant media interest is generated from each wave which helps to keep the issue of copyright infringement on the public agenda.

2. It is robust

Piracy behaviour is not easy to study. The majority of piracy activity takes place alone and at home. Whilst ways of measuring actual behaviour (for example through clickstream analysis or passive metering technologies) are being integrated into the work that CCA commission, surveys still provide the majority of consumer data collected on the topic, both in Australia and worldwide.

The core methodology used for CCA research is no exception. There are of course limitations to stated preference approaches as they rely on people being able to accurately recall their behaviour and also generate an opinion or attitude to something that they might not have previously considered. Aware of these limitations, the structure and wording of the questionnaire has been kept consistent over successive waves to allow comparisons to be made. New topics and areas of interest are introduced as appropriate.

We consider many different primary and secondary sources. The large quantitative component is balanced by qualitative exploration and literature reviews are conducted to challenge thinking in the analysis phase.

The core annual study is conducted nationally online with sample sizes of in excess of 1200 for each wave. Triple interlocking quotas (age x gender x region) are used to ensure a balanced distribution of the sample and minimise the influence of weights, maximise the effective sample size and reduce margin of error.

Quality control measures mean that those who race through without consideration or fraudulent respondents are screened out.  The data is weighted by the most recent ABS data on gender and within age and relevant geographic strata and with an education rim weight.

All these elements should be core to any decent research project. However, in the age of the 'quick and dirty' Facebook poll, such things matter more than ever.

3. The outcomes are never pre-determined

Research should be a tool to aid decision making, not a crutch to support decisions that have already been made. Whilst hypotheses are constructed prior to the research, a 'wait and see' mindset is essential for robust research and cannot be taken for granted in a commercial context. The best outcomes are possible when there is a wish to be right but a willingness to be proven wrong.

The questions in each survey also allow exploration of new topics and expose further knowledge gaps. For example, in 2017, twice as many set top boxes owners stated they used an infringing app than said they pirated via their set top box (such as Kodi or Roku).

In itself interesting and a fact that then generated further questions as to why? Is it an information, understanding, honesty or self-image issue? All options will be explored in the next wave of research in 2018 and beyond.

This consistency of approach and persistence in uncovering fresh insight has generated huge volumes of qualitative and quantitative data that have led to action. It's been a unique opportunity to provide evidence and a factual foundation to piracy-limiting policy and programs in Australia.

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