UK online research study

In 2013 in the UK an online research study asked 1,000 UK 11-15-year-olds about their online viewing habits. These were the results:

  • A third (37%) of younger children aged 11-12 admit to having recently downloaded or streamed a film rated 15 from a pirate website
  • One in five 11-15 year olds (21%) say they use pirate websites to keep up with what their friends and older siblings are watching
  • More than a quarter of 11-15 year olds (27%) say their parents don’t know what films they are watching online, and a third (32%) wouldn’t feel comfortable with younger siblings copying their viewing habits

Think how your viewing habits compare to this study. Ask yourselves these questions:

  • Have you recently downloaded or streamed a film from a pirate website that is classified for an older age group?
  • If yes, did you do this to keep up with your friends and older siblings?
  • Do your parents know what you watch online?
  • How would you feel if your younger siblings copied your viewing habits?

How did other members of your class react to these questions?. This task is not designed to make you feel guilty. It is for you to be honest about how you behave online and to reflect on why you do what you do.

Case Studies

Look at the two case studies below of people who have become involved in making available or obtaining digital content online without permission.

The first is a news report about a case in Britain where a young man illegally streamed Premier League football from a website at his home.
A man who streamed live football matches through his computer and charged thousands of people to watch it avoided a prison sentence today. Gary G… was only 16 when he started illegally streaming Premier League matches to a website he set up, and undercutting prices charged by official broadcaster, Sky. He used a huge satellite dish, seven computers and nine satellite decoders to run the ‘freelivefooty’ website from his home in Lower Earley, near Reading.

Judge Reddihough told Gary: ‘Companies in this country, such as the broadcasters in this, and the Premier League, are entitled to their copyright and entitled not to have other people using it illegally, as you did. The trouble is that ultimately in cases like this it will be the consumer that ends up paying because if there are less people using it then the prices have to go up.’

At the end of a six-day trial Gary was convicted of communicating a copyrighted work to the public in the course of a business.

The judge told Gary: ‘I bear in mind you were only 16 years old when you started this enterprise and are still relatively young. I have no doubt at all that you were soon aware that what you were doing was illegal and ignored correspondence that pointed out to you that what you were doing was illegal. You carried on and you made not vast profits but some significant gain.’

He passed a six-month jail term, suspended for two years, and ordered him to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £1,750 towards the prosecution costs.”
Source: Daily Mail – 25th January 2013

For discussion

  • Do you think Gary would have got into such trouble if he hadn’t charged people for watching the football matches? Explain your answer.
  • Why do you think the Judge mention Gary’s age when making his ruling?
  • What do you understand by the Judge’s logic that ‘it will be the consumer that ends up paying’? Do you agree?
  • In the court hearing, the Judge said: “The fact, I’m told, that there are a number of other websites and enterprises conducting the same illegal operations, does not help you.  If anything it calls for the courts to impose deterrent sentences.”  What do you think he meant by this and to what extent do you agree?

This is the opening passage from an article in The Sunday Times:

A couple of years ago, someone wrote on a student website: “Hey relevant organisations reading this. I download shedloads of illegal music and movies. Please trace my IP address and arrest me.”

Provocative it may have been, but the writer knew nothing would happen. And while it may have been only one person, make no mistake: these are the words of a brazen, law-breaking generation. The idea of paying for the arts is utterly alien to many of them. It’s become so common, even people who work in the arts world themselves do it, undermining their own financial future. It’s so shrugged at these days that when episodes of the new Game of Thrones were leaked online, commenters on one newspaper website were openly telling each other where they could find them…

Source: Illegal downloads of music and movie are killing creative industries – Jonathan Dean – The Sunday Times, 26th April 2015

For discussion

  • Do you agree that young people today constitute a ‘brazen, law-breaking generation’? Explain your answer.
  • Elsewhere in this article, one young man who downloads content illegally describes himself as a ‘small fish’. What do you think he means and who might be the ‘big fish’?
  • To what extent do you agree with this young man that illegally downloading on a small scale (i.e., being a ‘small fish’) doesn’t really matter? In what way might your perception change if millions of people are doing the same thing?
  • What do you think the writer means when he says people who work in the arts who download content illegally are ‘undermining their own financial future’?
  • What ‘official’ sources of music downloads or streaming do you know of?
  • Look at the average costs of downloading a music track. Where do you think the money you pay for a track goes?
  • Find some examples of artists who’ve made their material available online for free. Explain what you think they have got out of this arrangement.

Internet Service Providers

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in some parts of the world have agreed to send warning letters to customers who are found to be using illegal file sharing sites. Read through the following arguments against monitoring illegal downloads, and consider whether you think a valid point is being made in each case. Explain your reasons.

Users should have free choice about which sites they use. If they want to use legal or illegal sites, that is their choice – not the choice of the state or the ISP.
Monitoring people’s download activity is taking the ‘surveillance society’ too far: people’s daily activities shouldn’t be subject to constant observation and scrutiny.
These proposals treat internet users as criminals – is this really how ISPs see their customers?
It is a human right to give and receive information freely, and that is more important than copyright.

(i) What responses do you think ISPs or right holders might give to each of these arguments?
(ii) What reassurances do you think Internet users might want to hear?

Using the Internet, research some case studies in your country or elsewhere in which people have been in trouble for illegally sharing digital content. Can you find any examples of ‘deterrent’ sentences as in the case of Gary G… ? What are the ethical issues involved in such deterrent sentences? What are the ethical issues involved in illegal downloads and streaming? Write a short report summarizing your findings.