Increasing acceptance of counterfeiting in Europe

There is a mismatch between the moral views that people hold on counterfeiting and the reality of the situation, an EU report has found.

Almost 100 per cent of Europeans agree it is important for inventors and creators to protect their rights and be paid for their work, with 70 per cent believing nothing can justify a purchase of a fake, while 78 per cent consider such purchases have a detrimental effect on businesses and jobs, says the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in its recent report on the topic.

However, the survey of more than 26,500 Europeans, which builds on a similar survey in 2013, also found that, despite this condemnation of counterfeiting, a growing percentage of people are turning to counterfeits, mainly for price and availability reasons. Seven percent of Europeans, up from 4 per cent in 2013, admitted purchasing fake goods, the report revealed.

The European Citizens and Intellectual Property: Perception, Awareness and Behaviour report shows that while 74 per cent of Europeans disagree that it is acceptable to buy counterfeit products when the original product is not or not yet available, 24 per cent agree a counterfeit purchase is acceptable in these circumstances – an increase of 6 per cent points from the 2013 survey.

Furthermore, 71 per cent say it is unacceptable to purchase fake goods when the price for the original and authentic product is too high, yet 27 per cent (up from 24 per cent) believe it is fine to purchase fakes for their cheaper price tags compared with the genuine item.

And when it comes to downloading and streaming digital content, 31 per cent (up from 22 per cent) state that obtaining online content via illegal sources is acceptable if no legal alternative is available.

The younger generation, the report found, was most accepting of buying counterfeits, with 15 per cent admitting to intentionally purchasing a fake, an increase of 9 per cent points on 2013. More than 70 per cent of those in the younger age group attributed this behaviour to price.

"The key 15-24 age group seems to have become less convinced that fake goods are damaging and is buying more counterfeit goods, mainly for price reasons," said EUIPO executive director António Campinos.

This is compounded by the fact that this younger generation also has the lowest level of 'good' understanding of IP (64 per cent) compared to other age groups, and since the 2013 survey this understanding has decreased (down from 68 per cent), the report shows.

The survey also revealed the growing sophistication of counterfeiters and their increasing ability to dupe consumers. Around 10 per cent of respondents said they were misled when buying products, with 35 per cent unsure if the product they had bought was genuine or counterfeit, while 24 per cent (41 per cent for younger people) were confused over the legality of a source or website. Furthermore, more than half of the respondents feel that IP principles are not adapted to the internet.

"These findings demonstrate the need for initiatives carried out by the Observatory such as the European Online Content Portal, agorateka, the Ideas Powered website, including the publication of Frequently Asked Questions on copyright, and the Office's support for the setting up of Europol's IPR Crime Coordination Centre, which, among other activities, pays particular attention to the phenomenon of online IPR infringements," Campinos said.

He added that although the study showed support for IP rights, there was still room for improvement, particularly in helping young people to understand the economic logic of IP and the social impact of infringements. The market is not seen to providing services that meet price and affordability expectations, while the perception is that 'elites' such as big companies and famous artists benefit the most with the consumer to a lesser extent, he said.

"The disconnection between support for IP principles overall and actual infringement behaviours related to IP has grown stronger between 2013 and 2016, with two trends that can be observed. On the one hand, there has been an increase in the purchase of counterfeit products, especially among the younger generation, which goes hand in hand with a growing acceptability of this behaviour due to price and lack of availability, as well as a decrease in its perceived harm… As regards digital content, the ambiguity of IP is even more prevalent, thus not only infringement behaviour is at stake, but also the perception of IP as an ecosystem," the report said, concluding that there were several areas and perceptions that could be further analysed and investigated.

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