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Externally funded project
Interdisciplinary Research

The Use of Copyright-Protected Creative Online Content by German Consumers

The question of how copyright-protected content is used on the Internet and particularly which conclusions policy-makers, industry and other major players in society should draw from users’ behavior has been the subject of intense debate for years. To what extent do Internet users download, stream or share content like music, movies, series or video games? What is the share of paid compared to free use? Do users consider their own conduct to be legal, and what are their motives for choosing potentially illegal forms of use? What factors would induce users to stop their potentially illegal behaviour? The interdisciplinary research project examines these issues using data from a large-scale, representative quantitative survey of German consumers.

Download an overview of the first results.


Last Update: 22.01.18

The basis of the survey is a translation of the British Online Copyright Infringement Tracker, which since 2012 has been used regularly in the United Kingdom to study the extent of and the reasons for copyright-infringing behaviour of British Internet users. The German survey was adapted to the German context, the content category “e-paper editions of newspapers or journals” and security aspects of Internet use were added, and all survey sections were harmonized for all content types asked about. From May 6 through July 3, 2017 the market research company Kantar TNS used this instrument to conduct a survey of 5,532 German consumers of 12 years and up, partly online, partly in personal interviews. The survey provides comprehensive data on the habits of German consumers with regard to their use of creative online content in the categories music, movies, television programmes and series, computer software, e-books, video games and e-papers, as well as on security aspects of Internet use. The specific aims of the research project are:

  • to measure the extent of copyright infringement as well as legal forms of use,
  • to ascertain users’ attitudes towards copyright-infringing behaviour on the Internet,
  • to determine the degree of awareness of legal offers and how they are evaluated,
  • to find out how much users spend on content and to explore the relationship between illegal and legal consumption of content,
  • and to study the willingness of users to pay for various types of copyright-protected content.

Initial results from this study indicate that about 32 percent of German Internet users aged 12 and up use at least one of the creative online content types surveyed and consider this use to be completely legal. Approximately ten percent consider their use of this content to be partially illegal, while five percent of Internet users estimate their entire online content consumption to be illegal. The remaining 53 percent of Internet users, in contrast, did not consume any of the types of online content included in the questionnaire in the three months before the survey. The motives for possibly illegal behaviour and the factors that might induce users to stop illegal behaviour indicate that more flexible and convenient solutions on the part of online service providers could reduce copyright-infringing acts on the Internet. In particular, content that is already legally available in other countries should quickly be made available in Germany so as to exploit an existing willingness to pay for this content. The results also indicate that the legislature is in turn capable of preventing some copyright infringements, by creating unambiguous, but especially easily understood, rules regarding legal use of Internet content and by informing consumers accordingly.

An overview of the first results (in German) outlines the main conclusions from the survey. In total, however, the survey provides us with the opportunity to conduct many other analyses and thus gain more profound insights into the online behaviour of German consumers. These will be made available here shortly. If you would like to receive information about future publications and news regarding this research project (in German), you can register here for our E-Mail newsletter.

The Munich Center for Internet Research at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities supports this project financially and ideally.