Piracy costs the UK film industry $660m a year and universal broadband is expected to increase that further. Sarah Cooper reports.

Piracy costs the UK film industry an estimated $660m (£404m) each year, according to a 2007 survey commissioned by the UK Film Council (UKFC) and UK anti-piracy organisation Fact. DVD retail takes the biggest hit with annual losses of $327m (£200m), along with $144m (£88m) to the theatrical sector, $90m (£55m)to DVD rental, $87m (£53m) to legal downloading and $13m (£8m) to pay-per-view.

The survey revealed some 16% of UK online consumers file-share regularly, with an estimated 100 million illegal downloads being made in 2007. And with the government’s pledge to introduce high-speed broadband to all UK homes by 2012, the problem looks set to get worse.

One of the biggest challenges is consumer attitudes, says piracy expert David Price of Envisional, which monitors illegal online activity. “There’s a generation of people for whom illegal downloading is just another thing you do on the internet, like YouTube and Facebook,” he says. “[Given] a lot of the sites are very polished and the quality of the copies are often very good, it doesn’t seem ‘wrong’ in the way that buying a DVD from a dodgy market stall would.”

There is also a growing expectation from younger generations to access online material for free. The UKFC has set up its own online resource, FindAnyFilm.com, to point consumers in the direction of material available legally.
“There’s a large discrepancy between the films people want to watch, and what is available legally,” claims Pete Buckingham, UKFC head of distribution. “What the industry needs to think about is making legal material more readily available.”

Price believes UK consumers would pay to download legally: “Most people still have a level of respect for content owners and are prepared to pay for something as long as they see the value in it.”
A University College London report on digital consumers in the online age, published in May, claimed up to 70% of those downloading unauthorised material would stop if they received a warning letter from an internet service provider (ISP).

Following last month’s Digital Britain report, UK ISPs are now charged with cutting illegal file-sharing by 70% within a year. This would see persistent offenders banned from certain sites. The ISPs would also be expected to contact infringers to warn them and pass on offenders’ details to content owners to allow legal action.

Fact estimates 90% of the counterfeit versions originate from recordings in the cinema, though illegal recording remains only a civil offence in the UK and not a criminal one (the remaining 10% is thought to come from industry screeners). Fact and the Film Distributors’ Association have set up FightFilmTheft to provide the exhibition sector with guidelines for tackling illegal recording and offers rewards to cinema staff to catch offenders.

The UK’s main anti-piracy legislation is the Copyright, Design And Patents Act 1988, for which the illegal copying of work in the course of a business can be punishable by a 10-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine.

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