Almost a fifth of online Brits are enjoying content illegally

The UK government is increasing its efforts to clamp down on online piracy, and now we know the reason why: illegal downloads and streaming are on the rise. Research commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) shows that the number of people accessing content illegally has risen from 17 to 18 percent since 2013. (That equates to roughly 7.8 million Brits pirating at least one item over a three-month period.) Nine percent of internet users aged 12 and above admitted to downloading or streaming music illegally at least once between March and May 2015. Six percent confessed to pirating a movie and seven percent revealed they had watched TV shows illegally. These figures are mostly consistent with the last batch of research conducted by Kantar Media two years ago -- only TV programming has shown change, rising by one percentage point.

The research also looks specifically at the people who have been downloading and streaming content. Twenty-six percent of music listeners admitted to using an illegal source; for TV shows, the figure had risen slightly from 18 to 21 percent. However, in the group of people that had downloaded or streamed movies, only 25 percent said they had used an illegal source -- a sizeable drop from the 33 percent reported in 2013.

Meanwhile, the use of legal services seems to have plateaued. Thirty-nine percent of internet users said they had used legal services exclusively, down from 40 percent in 2013. Furthermore, the number of people using a mix of both legal and illegal sources has remained at 12 percent. In the group of respondents who had been downloading or streaming, 69 percent said they had been using legal sources exclusively -- down from 70 percent in 2013 -- and the number using a mix was unchanged at 22 percent.

These trends can be coupled with an uptick in online media consumption. The research shows that 62 percent of respondents had been using the internet to access either music, films, TV shows, books, games and software. That figure is up from 56 percent in 2013 and indicates a sizeable swing towards both legal services (Netflix) and illegal alternatives (Popcorn Time). Unsurprisingly, the UK government seems intent on tackling the latter. It's considering harsher penalties for online pirates and has seized modded Android consoles designed to pipe movies, TV shows and sport into people's living rooms illegally. If they keep cracking down, it just might impact the figures that are reported in 2017.