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Ofcom has you pigeonholed

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Analysis New research commissioned by UK uber-regulator Ofcom confirms that a tiny number of Brits are responsible for most of the copyright piracy in Blighty - and they're predominantly male and wealthy.

But you knew that already.

However, the ambitious study has tried something new. It attempted for the first time to create a field guide, or taxonomy, of digital copyright infringers - segmenting them into almost headline-friendly categories such as "digital transgressors" and "ambiguous infringers".

It is possible somebody at Kantar Media, which conducted the study for Ofcom, or at the watchdog itself, aspires to higher things: perhaps a gig at a large advertising agency where such imaginative market segmentation commands high fees from clients.

It's not clear whether this bizarre pigeonholing is what our politicians wanted after instructing Ofcom to produce regular reports into online copyright infringement, as part of the Digital Economy Act of 2010. But it's great fun nonetheless.

Kantar confirmed a tiny number of internet users do most of the pirating: just 1.6 per cent of UK internet users over the age of 12 form the top 10 per cent of all copyright infringers in the country, in terms of the amount of stuff downloaded: they're responsible for 79 per cent of infringements over a six-month period. Spreading the net wider, the top 20 per cent of downloaders by volume is made up of 3.2 per cent of the over-12 internet-connected population, who are responsible for 88 per cent of infringements.

The market research biz also confirmed that the heaviest copyright infringers are middle-class blokes under the age of 34 with decent jobs: the top 20 per cent of infringers "are more likely to be male, [aged] 16 to 34 and ABC1" than casual infringers or non-infringers, we learn.

This demographic is not so dissimilar to the slightly older "Fifty Quid A Week Bloke", a demographic tagged a few years ago as someone with discretionary spending who loves splurging it at the weekend on CDs and DVD box sets. Someone who places a high value on cultural stuff and has a high willingness to pay. Buying stuff is a way of treating yourself, a bit of retail therapy. Keep this in mind as it will become relevant as we continue.

The idea that piracy is a great white middle-class entitlement is not new. One satirical site identified it a few years ago, with white middle-class bloke described thus:

"He will proceed to walk you through the process of how record labels are set up to reward the corporation and fundamentally rob the artist of their rights, royalties and creativity. Prepare to hear the name Steve Albini a lot," Stuff White People Like noted five years ago.

Now comes the fun bit

Kantar Media segments the infringers into named segments:

  • Justifying infringers
    • 9 per cent of all digital pirates in UK
    • Responsible for 24 per cent of infringed volume
    • 2 per cent of all those who watch, read, listen or use digital stuff
  • Digital transgressors
    • 9 per cent of all digital pirates in UK
    • Responsible for 22 per cent of infringed volume
    • 2 per cent of all those who watch, read, listen or use digital stuff
  • Free infringers
    • 42 per cent of all digital pirates in UK
    • Responsible for 35 per cent of infringed volume
    • 10 per cent of all those who watch, read, listen or use digital stuff
  • Ambiguous infringers
    • 39 per cent of all digital pirates in UK
    • Responsible for 19 per cent of infringed volume
    • 9 per cent of all those who watch, read, listen or use digital stuff

The Free Infringers rip off stuff, we are told, because it's free, and they mostly download video games and software. They spend the least, and offer the fewest justifications. Philistines if you like - or maybe just honest. They don't feel infringement is socking it to the man.

Kantar/Ofcom are keen to promote the line that punters are horribly unclear and confused by what is legal, and what isn't. Ofcom actually chose to headline this detail of Kantar's last research - an editorial choice. Perhaps all this piracy goes on because punters don't know what is a legitimate, licensed site and what isn't?

But is it really so confusing? Here's a clue: the legal site is less likely to tout sex enhancement pills and videos of nude Ukrainian crack addicts. For everyone except Ofcom, blue tablets and sex cams are a reasonable indication that something is a little bit dodgy. Perhaps the clue even comes in the name, such as "The Pirate Bay". It would be great if UK taxpayers could, for once, get research that didn't insult our intelligence. Campbell Cowie, take note.

That's not the only subtle bit of direction attempted in the report.

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