“You wouldn’t steal a movie”, would you?

A public service announcement created in 2004

"You wouldn't steal a car,

you wouldn't steal a handbag,

you wouldn't steal a television,

you wouldn't steal a movie.

Downloading pirated films is stealing,

stealing is against the law,


Remember this anti-piracy ad*? This was what most people of my generation had as education on intellectual property in Europe. And most of us under 25 would not care about it because streaming one movie would not change much for the authors of the movie who was rich anyway, right? Or maybe not… 

The EU Intellectual Property Office released a survey of 22,021 young Europeans (15-24 years) about their behaviour toward intellectual property.  33% used illegal content in the last 12 months. Among those individuals, 21% did it intentionally and 12% did it unintentionally. They mainly accessed the illegal content through dedicated websites for films (63%) and TV series (59%). However, 60% of those young Europeans would rather access content from legal sources.

With a closer look, the behaviour differs depending on the country. Indeed, Malta has the highest percentage point of young people accessing pirated content with 43%, but also the lowest number of young people who would rather access legal content (44%). We can find a correlation between those two numbers. For instance, Germany has the lowest percentage of people accessing pirated content, with 12% and is also the top country in Europe that would rather access content legally. I believe that there is a clear correlation between behaviour and education depending on the country. 

In 2015, a report from the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market defined intellectual property education in EU Member States as “references to skills and competencies that young people can be expected to acquire in the classroom that enable them to become familiar with intellectual property, understand its potential to generate income and economic growth and lead them to respect intellectual property rights, whether their own or those of others”. Of all the European countries, Germany is the only one that mentions the concept of patent already in primary school. Therefore, it is not surprising to notice that Malta does not mention it at all, not even in upper secondary school. Also, among the 30% of people using illegal content in Malta, 12% did it unintentionally showing a lack of awareness of the subject.

So, why is using content legally so important? 

In the audiovisual sector, the authors are the first in the value chain, as they are the creators of the film. And yet, they are the last to benefit financially from the success of their stories. Most screenwriters and directors are not rich, they really need the royalties from their movies to survive and to help them to reinvest and create something new. That is what, for example, YouTuber Kevin Tran 陈科伟 explained during our online event Young creators have rights, right? 

The main reason that more than half of all young people are using illegal content is the cost of subscribing to streaming platforms. Indeed, we can assume that most young people are still students and cannot afford to pay the monthly subscription fee. A good solution to this problem would be for platforms to introduce a reduced student price, as some music platforms have already done. A second reason is the social influence of peers (this has increased by 5 points since a survey was made in 2019). Most of them justify their choice because someone else they know is doing it. Another reasoning is that this way they have access to a wider choice of content. Indeed, sometimes, when they are looking for something precise, and not necessarily recent, the only way they find it is through illegal platforms.

What would make young people stop using illegal content? 

Overall, according to the survey, 47% of all young people using illegal content would stop if they would find more affordable content. The second reason that would make them stop is the fear of punishment. Indeed, 41% of them would stop using illegal content if they were subject to a cyberthreat, cyber-fraud, or punishment. I consider that is also why infringement enforcement agencies need to be tougher and more effective to tackle the use of illegal content.

Maybe it is time to renew the “You wouldn’t steal a movie” campaign from 2004?

On a positive note, we have to recognize that the tendency of using illegal content is decreasing. Since 2019, 10% fewer young people accessed illegal content. Also, between 2017-2020, 17% more people paid to access content legally through a dedicated platform. 

We need to find a solution to reinforce the control of the use of illegal content, but we also need streaming platforms to offer young people more affordable and wider choices of content. This would decrease piracy and increase revenues, and if all streaming platforms would pay royalties to the authors (which not all do yet!) then directors and screenwriters would receive their fair and proportionate remuneration that they deserve for the success of their films and TV series. Remuneration allows authors to make a living and create more for us to watch!

Lina Becella, former intern of the SAA


* The anti-copyright infringement campaign "Piracy. It's a crime." was made in 2004 by the Federation Against Copyright Theft and the Motion Picture Association of America with the intellectual Property office in Singapore and appeared in theatres internationally from 2004 until 2007 (Wikipedia).