Film And TV Piracy: The Attitudes And Behaviours Of 12-17-Year-Old Australians

038-041-ETS_58-Plugged-In-1By Lori Flekser.

It is unusual to be with a group of parents these days without the subject of kids and technology rearing its head. The debate which ensues tends to be a mix of sneaking admiration for the technological genius of their offspring, mixed with self-deprecation for their own technical limitations and a fear of the unknown online spheres in which their children might operate.

Recent research, commissioned by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation (IPAF), into the online behaviour and attitudes of 12-17-year-old movie pirates shows that some of these fears have solid foundation when it comes to the world of movie and TV piracy. The research also highlights the role that parents can have in reducing piracy and creating a generation of good digital citizens.

The IPAF study (conducted by independent research company Sycamore in partnership with Newspoll) was designed to further understand the relationship that Australia’s youth has with the online world, with specific focus on the growing issue of movie/TV copyright infringement. Previous IPAF research had shown the most prolific pirates in Australia to be 18-24-year-old men, with many teens entering adulthood with the habit of movie piracy already formed. It made sense to consider the behaviours that exist in the years preceding adulthood and their relative influences, including the role of parents.

A Life Lived Online – It Is Intense

What is clear from the study is the relationship that 12-17-year-old pirates have with the online environment can be all-consuming. 78 per cent of 12-17 year olds are online daily. Amongst active movie pirates, this figure rises to 88 per cent, and they are accessing wherever and whenever they can.

“I live on the internet, almost daily I talk, text, watch movies and download everything I can for free.” (14-15-year-old)

A Growing Habit?

The IPAF research shows that just over three quarters of 12-17 year olds in Australia say they do not illegally download or stream movies and TV shows. However, participation in piracy grows with age (31 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds are active pirates) and still of concern is that almost one in four are active pirates.

Why Are They Doing It?

There are many different influences on the behaviour of online movie and TV pirates. However, the research defines the three key drivers:

Firstly, we are social animals. We like to follow the pack and there is a sense from kids that everyone is pirating. It is clear from the statistics above that this is simply not true, but the perception that it is a dominant behaviour legitimises it in people’s minds. This is particularly so for kids who are at an age where the social need to ‘fit in’ is strong.

“Why should I be the sucker that has to pay for what everyone else is getting for free?” (12-13-year-old)

Furthermore, some believe that piracy causes no real harm. If there is a sliver of doubt, it is often mistakenly rationalised, by claiming that the industry makes enough money or that accessing pirated content does not matter if it is only for personal use.

Secondly, pirated content is free and easy to access. Teens have unprecedented access to the means that allow them to behave illegally – some report up to 14 devices in their household on which they can access content. They can download at speed and are given the space and freedom to explore.

The 12-17-year-old pirates in the study found it impossible to understand why they would pay for something when they could get it for free. Compounding this issue is that they also have limited access to funds and their parents may be unwilling to pay for legal downloads.

Finally, there is a perception that nobody is trying to stop piracy. Pirated content is easily available so teens assume it must be okay – or else someone would remove it. They believe there are no adverse consequences of pirating – other than perhaps a greater exposure to viruses, which they manage. The perceived lack of intervention reinforces the belief that piracy is not an issue worth worrying about.

“It’s so easy to do, with no real consequences for those pirating the content.” (16-17-year-old)

Does It Matter?

The IPAF study suggests that teen pirates place less value on creative content than older pirates. The proliferation of movies and TV shows online make them ‘less special’ than perhaps they were for their parents’ generation. 12-17 year olds also tend to multitask as they view content online, so the shows they watch rarely command their undivided attention.

“I am not going to watch it more than once, why should I pay for it?” and

“I wouldn’t want to waste my money on something I wasn’t going to love”. (14-15-year-old)

This attitude from some teens that they are ‘wasting their money’ on content is alarming if we believe movies and TV shows are an intrinsic part of our creative culture and one from which significant numbers of people derive their livelihoods.

A more immediate concern for parents is the accidental exposure to unregulated advertising on piracy websites. The research found that the majority of teens recalled gambling, sex industry and weight loss ads when visiting piracy sites.

Recent research by the University of Ballarat[1] confirmed the relationship between piracy sites and online advertising. The research found that 99 per cent of the advertisements were categorised as “High Risk” – defined as promoting goods or services which fall outside the legitimate economy and which may be either illegal, fake or counterfeit.

The research placed the high risk ads into five categories: sex industry, malware, gambling, scams and downloading sites. Only one per cent of the advertisements on the piracy websites surveyed were ‘mainstream ads’, defined as those placed by legitimate businesses.

The University of Ballarat study reiterates how damaging piracy can be to consumers. With malware making up 46 per cent of ads on piracy sites, those who access such sites are at a substantially higher risk of being exposed.

A key finding was that 20 per cent of the ads were categorised as sex industry ads, exposing young kids to graphic, hard core pornography. As the research points out: “Parents need to be aware that advertising linked to the sex industry will be served up to their children, even if they are only intending to download unauthorised torrents for television shows or movies.”

John Carr, a member of the UK Council on Child Internet Safety, the British Government’s principal advisory body for online safety and security for young people, reviewed the Ballarat research and, in a recently published article, waved a red flag warning to parents:

“Parents who hitherto may not have bothered much about their children’s engagement with piracy need to know about this aspect, about what else their children might be tangling with. Right now I’m afraid largely they don’t. The wider public also need to know more about the reality of piracy. That might help strip away some of the well-honed myths the pirates have spun around themselves”.

Carr also stripped back the myths behind such piracy websites and exposed the actual motivation behind those operating piracy sites:[2] “These data rather blow a hole in the carefully nurtured image of piracy sites somehow being a modern version of Robin Hood. They ain’t. Quite the opposite. If ever it was in any doubt, by accepting advertising from these dubious sources their owners are showing that their snouts are well and truly in the sort of money trough no respectable or ethical business would go near in a million years”.

The Solution?

The simplest solution to preventing piracy is to remove access to the means. Many countries in Europe have already passed new laws allowing courts to issue judicial site blocking orders against ISPs to block websites designed to provide access to pirated content. Interestingly, the IPAF study shows that the majority of Australian adults are in favour of such court action (55 per cent).

Most teens are also not averse to more internet regulation to prevent individuals from downloading or streaming pirated content. Only 19 per cent opposed this proposition.

Regulation can also be implemented at a household level. The IPAF research showed 67 per cent of teens see their parents as their main source of advice when it comes to online behaviour. Many parents give tacit or actual approval for illegal downloads.

“Well, my parents do know that I download because my mum was one of the people that taught me how to download, and both of my parents are fine with it”. (16-17-year-old)

78 per cent of non-pirates have had a conversation with their parents about online piracy. There, it seems, lies one of the most appropriate approaches to combat movie and TV piracy amongst 12-17 year olds: parental intervention.

In creating a nation of good and fair digital citizens, Australian parents of today’s digital natives have more influence and power than they perhaps realise.

An e-brochure is available on the IPAF website: Research 2013 Summary, plus a full slide presentation of research findings:

IPAF develops free online education resources and lesson plans with clear curriculum links to help primary and secondary teachers and students explore copyright issues and stimulate discussion about film and TV copyright. For more information, please visit

A new, free education resource entitled ‘Persuasive Language’, developed by an experienced English and Media teacher for IPAF and successfully trialled in the classroom, will be available for Term 1, 2014.

Lori Flekser, Executive Director of the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation

[1] “A systematic approach to measuring advertising transparency online: an Australian case study” Dr. Paul A. Watters, University of Ballarat 2013



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