Overall Trends

The era of CD and DVD copying was brief. Low-priced CD burners arrived in the late 1990s. DVD burners followed in the early 2000s. By most accounts the personal copying of discs was widespread but small in scale, limited by the time and material costs associated with their reproduction. GfK (2010) puts the peak of disc burning in Germany between 2003 and 2005. According to our data the average collection in both the US and Germany today has only a handful of copied CDs and DVDs.

As digital file formats and high bandwidth became the norm, copy culture grew, with more sharing among friends, more downloading over the Internet, and more competition from other legal and illegal sources.

Large numbers of people participate in this copy culture on a casual level.

Copy Culture (US, Among All Adults)

Copy Culture (DE, Among All Adults)

Roughly 46% of American adults and 45% of German adults have acquired media in ways other than by buying a licit product—whether by copying files or discs from family and friends; downloading music, TV shows, or movies for free; or purchasing pirated DVDs.

These numbers have a strong generational component: copy culture is, to a considerable extent, youth culture: among 18- to 29-years-old in both countries, participation in these practices reaches 70%.

But large-scale copying is still rare. Roughly 3% of Americans and 2% of Germans are “heavy” music copiers—for our purposes, those who have collections of more than 1000 files and who indicated that they downloaded or copied most or all of them. In both countries only 1% acquired these files primarily or exclusively through downloading.

Only 1% of Americans and Germans are heavy copiers of TV/movie content—for our purposes, those who possess more than 100 movies or TV shows and copied or downloaded most or all of them.

In both countries personal copying among family and friends plays a large role in copy culture—again tracking sharply with age. Among Americans under 30, sharing with friends/family contributes roughly two-thirds as much to average collection size as online file sharing (16% vs. 25%). Among Germans under 30, collections are smaller and personal copying is more prevalent—contributing 25% to the average collection (compared to 17% for online file sharing). Germans are more than twice as likely as Americans to have copied most or all of their digital music collections from friends and family (11% DE vs. 5% US).

With regard to video collections, personal copying and sharing also play a larger role in Germany: 15% of German Internet users under 30 share movie and TV files, compared with 10% in the US.

Gives Copies Of TV/Movie Files To Family And Friends (US & Germany, Among Internet Users)

  • Netherlands, 2009: A phone survey of 1500 Internet users found that 44% had downloaded media files without paying in the previous year. Downloading for personal use has been held to be legal under “private copy” rules in the Netherlands (Huygen et al. 2009).
  • France, 2009: An online survey of 2600 Internet users by the French enforcement organization HADOPI found that 49% of users had engaged in “illicit consumption” of cultural products at some point and 25% had engaged in file sharing (via P2P and direct downloading) (HADOPI 2011b).
  • Poland, 2011: A study of 1004 Poles found that 39% engage in informal copying and sharing of digital media—more than three times the number of people who had bought an album, book, or seen a movie in the past year. Among “heavy” Internet users, 72% had download files from P2P networks or file locker sites (Filiciak, Hofmokl, and Tarkowski 2012).
  • Germany, 2011: GfK (2011) estimated that 17% of Germans share media collections via hard drives—reaching nearly 38% for Germans under 30. Nearly 40% burn CDs or DVDs.
  • UK, 2010: A Wiggin (2010) survey found that 38% of UK residents swap movie and music files with friends: 8% do so “regularly,” 15% “occasionally,” and 15% “rarely.”

Online File Sharing

Peer-To-Peer File Sharing In Europe (Among Internet Users, Source: OECD/Eurostat)

Our survey allows for only a rough estimation of the shift from P2P services to direct download or cyberlocker services. We asked two questions in this regard: a specific one regarding P2P use…

“Do you ever use the Internet to download or share files using peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, such as BitTorrent or LimeWire?”

And a more general question for each media file type:

“What percentage of your [music files, movie/TV files] are downloaded for free from a website or file-sharing service?”

Neither question offers a perfect proxy for infringement. Answers to both will capture some legal acquisition, from promotional MP3s to creative commons–licensed videos. It is clear that many people download music for free: 41% of music file owners in the US and 28% in Germany do. Among video file owners, 22% and 24% do so, respectively.

A better indicator of large-scale unauthorized copying is, in our view, P2P use, which tracks closely with the possession of medium and large collections of music and film in both the US and Germany. This does not mean that large collections are necessarily acquired predominantly through P2P use, but rather that people with large collections are likely to have engaged in P2P file sharing.

File Sharing Practices (US, Among The 79% With Home Internet Access)

File Sharing Practices (Germany, Among The 77% With Home Internet Access)

Roughly 13% of American Internet users have used P2P services. In Germany—according to our data—only 4% have done so. As with other practices, these numbers are significantly higher among the young. Among Americans under 30, 20% of Internet users use P2P services; among Germans under 30, 8% do.

For both Germans and Americans, these numbers fall sharply for more active forms of participation in file-sharing networks. Only 4% of American Internet users, on average, belong to private file-sharing communities (which require invitations and registration, and often the maintenance of minimum upload-to-download ratios). In Germany the number is 1%. Only 2% of Americans and 1% of Germans say they have uploaded TV or movie files to file sharing services.6

Why is P2P file sharing less common in Germany? Part of the explanation may be that Germans have been slower to adopt digital file formats for music. Digital collections—both bought and copied—are smaller. Physical formats remain very popular, accounting for 82% of sales in 2011, compared to just under 50% in the US (Nielsen/Soundscan 2012; RIAA 2012).

  • US, 2011: NPD’s Annual Music Survey (2012) estimated that 13% of American Internet users have downloaded music from a P2P service, down from 19% in 2006.
  • OECD, 2011: The last major Eurostat/OECD compilation of Internet use studies reported overall European P2P use at around 20% of Internet users, comparable to the 19% reported in 2007. German P2P use is described as 10% of Internet users in both 2007 and 2011—consistently among the lowest in Europe. US P2P use is characterized as 15% in the study, based on data from 2005 (OECD 2008; OECD 2011).
  • US, 2009: A Warner Music Group Survey (2010) found that 13% of adults in the US are “avowed pirates.”
  • France, 2009: A TNS Sofres / Logica (2009) survey reported that 29% of French Internet users have illegally downloaded content. Among “daily” Internet users, 36% have done so. Another 8% and 9%, respectively, have “used” illegally downloaded material.
  • France, 2011: A survey by HADOPI (2011a) found that 25% of French Internet users use P2P file-sharing services
  • Canada, 2009: A survey by Angus-Reid (2009) found that 23% of Canadian Internet users have downloaded digital music files from peer-to-peer file-sharing sites in the past month.
  • UK, 2012: A Wiggin (2012) survey found that 12% of adults in the United Kingdom “download unauthorized films or TV programmes” regularly or occasionally, with another 7% doing so rarely. Responses for music and software were nearly identical, as were results for P2P use and use of “linking/hosting” sites.

The disparity may also reflect an absolute decline in German file sharing—a claim made by GfK (2010), whose music industry–sponsored surveys have tracked a one-third drop in the quantity of music illegally downloaded per year since 2004.7

In the narrow case of P2P use, German enforcement almost certainly plays a role—probably in diminishing the absolute level of up- and downloading (as GfK argues), but also certainly in pushing users toward less observable means of sharing and downloading. Because P2P activity is relatively easy to monitor, P2P users have become vulnerable to large-scale private enforcement—principally in the form of cease-and-desist letters demanding financial settlements. These practices are much more prevalent in Germany than in the US, and consequently have produced stronger incentives to adopt less exposed means of sharing files (see below under Penalties). The rise of direct download and streaming services in the past three years is partly explainable in these terms, as is the persistence of personal copying and the growth of anonymizing and proxy services (see below under Privacy and Countermeasures). Overall rates of participation in our broadest copy culture metric—copying and downloading for free—are, in any event, very similar in the two countries.

6. The distinction is usually moot for P2P services, where every download is also a potential upload. Sharing via cyberlocker sites involves “uploading” in a more conventional sense.

7. Following an even sharper drop between 2003 and 2004—the year in which legal downloads became available via iTunes. Because GfK does not release topline results or data, these claims are hard to evaluate.

Why Download?

Americans who download video files for free have relatively balanced motivations for their behavior, ranging from sharing with others, to the desire to watch video files on more than one device, to a distaste for commercials. The German responses were similar, but the sample was too small to provide reliable results.

Why I Download TV/Movies For Free (US, Based On Americans Who Do)

Next: Attitudes