How behavioural economics is killing Aussie pirates

Peter Jackson’s fantasy epic The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of The King was the second-highest grossing film in 2001 and a landmark movie on most peoples’ must-watch list.

But finding the nearly 20-year-old flick on a streaming service is a bit of a struggle. It’s not on Netflix nor is it on Nine Entertainment Co-owned Stan (Nine owns this masthead), which has the third in the trilogy but not the first.

Netflix has changed many things about how we watch content, including whether we pirate it.
Netflix has changed many things about how we watch content, including whether we pirate it.Credit:Chris Ratcliffe

JustWatch Australia, a site that shows you where you can watch different films legally, points to YouTube, iTunes, Google Play or Microsoft where it can be rented for under $5.

In the streaming era having to Google where to find a film is inconvenient however, plenty of movies are just a monthly subscription cost and a click away from being on the nearest screen.


With this in mind, it’s no surprise that a media release from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher on Friday said that Australians are now pirating content at the lowest level in five years, across the categories of movies, television shows, music and video games. At the same time more people are now willing to pay for these products than to download them illegally, according to a survey of Australians conducted by the government.

There is a real economic impact from piracy, with a study by Ipsos and Oxford Economics on behalf of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft in 2011 estimating there had been 6100 jobs cut across the country and a loss of $1.37 billion in gross sales due to piracy. This was equivalent to a GDP loss of $551 million, the report said.

No one reasonable wants someone to lose their job or to drain money from the economy just to be entertained with a movie. But it’s easy to make the wrong decision when the right decision is a struggle. It’s behavioural economics 101 and, frankly, human nature.

According to the survey undertaken by the department about 10 per cent were only consuming unlawful content in 2018 compared with 1 per cent in 2019. The number of people using a combination of lawful and unlawful content fell from 22 per cent to 15 per cent over the same period.

The media release from the government said the decline in piracy was “in part” linked to subscription streaming services, like Netflix and Stan for video and Spotify for music.

Piracy isn’t becoming unfashionable because film and movie lovers are so much more law abiding than they were in the past but because doing the right thing when it comes to content is so much easier in 2019.

All that had to be done was to make it easier, and at a reasonable price, to access the content in the first place and people would choose to pay. If the right option is the easiest option then it’s a no-brainer for most people.

One of the most interesting data points was that 34 per cent of copyright infringers said they would stop if the services were cheaper, while 32 per cent said they would stop if everything they were after was lawfully available. Another third wasn’t sure what was and wasn’t lawful.

Of course, at the same time  it has become easier to access legal content it has also been progressively harder to find unlawful movies because of site-blocking and pressure on search giant Google to remove offenders.

There are many other areas where a path of least resistance could be created to help people make better choices for both society and the economy.

This includes news services, which face copyright issues of their own with websites copying articles within minutes of original reporting being published. Almost all media industry executives think something needs to be done about businesses that rip off original work but there’s mixed opinions about the other side of the spectrum – how to make subscribing an easier option than going to the free websites in the first place.

It’s unclear whether an aggregator subscription product like Apple News+ is the solution, which has attracted publishers like News Corp and Bauer Media but not The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age, or whether it’s a case that media companies need to make it easier to sign up directly and offer more value to their readers.

But the moral of this story is that people are more likely to make a decision that is actually moral when it’s the easiest option avalable.

When it becomes difficult, too expensive, or confusing, the convenient but ethically dubious and financially damaging options might win out. If The Lord Of The Rings had been harder to find it isn’t hard to imagine that it could’ve been a pirated copy that ended up being watched.

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