YouTube Leads Music Consumption While Piracy Dips, According to U.K. Government Survey

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An estimated 78 million music tracks were accessed illegally online in the United Kingdom in a three month period, but levels of digital piracy are gradually beginning to decline, according to new research from the U.K.'s Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

From March to May 2016, over 16 million U.K. internet users accessed music online, with YouTube the most popular platform (accounting for 52 percent of all consumption), followed by Spotify (30 percent) and Apple (20 percent), according to the latest data from the IPO’s Online Copyright Infringement Tracker, which measures piracy levels across film, music, TV, books, software and video games.

Within those categories, music was by far the most-consumed content type, both digitally (355 million tracks) and physically (88 million tracks) over the three-month period. Growth in consumption was not matched by growth in piracy, however, with the number of people surveyed who admitted accessing any pirated material falling to 20 percent, down from 24 percent in the same period a year previously.

The percentage of people who admitted to consuming illegal content exclusively fell a small amount, from 15 percent to 13 percent. Data was collected from over 5,000 recipients for the IPO report, which is the sixth edition of its “Online Copyright Infringement Tracker.”

Across all sectors (music, film, TV, etc), an estimated 15 percent (equating to approximately 6.7 million) of U.K. internet users aged 12 and over admitted to consuming one item or more of online content illegally between March and May this year, while 5 percent of those users admitted to exclusively consuming illegal content.

Both figures are flat with those recorded in 2015, suggesting that as the popularity of subscription and licensed music, film TV and games streaming services continues to rise, the level of copyright infringement falls.  

By way of example, IPO states that 96 million music tracks were accessed illegally online in March to May 2015, compared with 78 million in the corresponding period this year.

Over the same time frame, use of peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms fell from 12 percent of those surveyed to 10 percent among all internet users and from 26 percent to 23 percent among people who identified themselves as repeat infringers. The IPO data also reports a significant year-on-year drop in the use of YouTube by infringers, falling from 63 percent to 58 percent.

Of those questioned, the top factors that repeat infringers said would encourage them to stop accessing illegal content included making legal services cheaper (24 percent), if everything they wanted was available legally (20 percent), and if it was clearer what is legal and what is not (19 percent). A relatively sizable 14 percent of those who consumed illegal content exclusively stated that nothing would encourage them to stop.

The boom in digital consumption has also failed to have a significant impact on the number of people who pay for accessing music, film and TV content, which remained stable with 2013 and 2015’s figure of around 57 percent. In contrast, just over a quarter (26 percent) of 12+ internet users surveyed continue to access media content entirely for free. 

Average quarterly spend on music among respondents aged 12+ grew to £22.06 ($28.57), with total music revenues in the same three month period amounting to £1.8 billion ($2.3 billion), according to the IPO. 

Of that total, the live industry accounted for £537 million ($708 million), with physical format revenues totalling £280 million ($360 million) and digital music sales £265 million ($340 million). Online subscriptions generated revenues of £169 million ($218 million) in the latest wave of IPO research, an increase of almost £70 million ($90 million) on the 2015 total.