Free software users “illegal downloaders” according to OfCom report

A recently released report prepared for OfCom – remember, they’re the folks who are going to be responsible for setting the rules on policing content on the internet – classes anyone downloading free content as someone they “deduce” to be involved in illegal file sharing. Here’s the culprit question:

Q4: Which of these have you used in the last three months in order to download or share files through the internet? Multi-code, Do not rotate
1. Peer-to-peer such as BitTorrent, Gnutella, eDonkey, Limewire and Ares
2. Commercial websites such as iTunes, Blinkbox, Amazon, Lovefilm, Movieflix, Napster, Play, or Spotify
3. Social Networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace, or Bebo
4. File sharing websites such as Rapidshare, Yousendit, or Easyshare
5. Messaging programs such as Windows Messenger or Skype
6. FTP
7. Email
8. Other (please specify)
9. Can’t remember

Apparently an answer other than 2 (Commercial websites) marks you as an illegal downloader. They do note the following:

Of course, those responding to Q4 (methods used to share or download files) may have had things other than the categories in Q3 in mind when talking about file sharing (e.g. photos they had taken) and the question will clearly need tightening in the tracking survey – even when filtering on those downloading or file sharing one of the six categories. This reinforces the recommendation (Recommendation 3 in Section 3) that Q4 be asked for each category of download.

However, even that does not help fully. For example, I tend to download software such as Debian or Ubuntu quite legally (They’re free software) via Bittorrent. It’s not unheard of in the commercial sector either as I have a legitimate copy of DCS: A-10C, a game/simulator that is distributed by the software house themselves over Bittorrent. (Requires a key to activate)

But it’s not just limited to software. Here is the list of categories that the report uses, with examples of legal content I personally have from sources other than “commercial web sites”.

  • Software or applications – Ubuntu, Debian, Thunderbird, many other items.
  • Video games – DCS: A-10C.
  • Films – Sintel
  • TV programmes – None. (I’m currently using NetFlix. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and let them refer to BBC iPlayer as “commercial”)
  • Books – Anything from Project Gutenburg.
  • Podcasts – The Pod Delusion.

Unsurprisingly, they deduce a higher number of “illegal downloaders” in the report than people actually admit to.

  1. #1 by Nat on 10 January 2012 - 21:44

    Pioneer One is a TV programme distributed (and popularised) by BitTorrent:

    • #2 by Tim Dobson on 10 January 2012 - 22:00

      Or indeed, most of the rest of the content of – I’ve downloaded/uploaded and seeded most of it.
      I’ve also downloaded a lot from and others for my libre-music website

      I could sit here and provide examples all day except I think we’d probably see eye to eye. Now it’s time to go and doing something about this. :)

      • #3 by Sam Tuke on 11 January 2012 - 17:07

        Last time I checked Channel 4′s 4OD also used a peer-to-peer back-end. I’m pretty sure that iPlayer did at one stage too.

        Adobe also uses peer-to-peer for some of it’s installers.

        These errors are most likely the result of ignorance rather than malice in my view.

  2. #4 by Tor Valamo on 11 January 2012 - 00:24

    Blizzard (WoW, Starcraft, Diablo) also use BitTorrent in their download client.

  3. #5 by AlexFromBelgium on 11 January 2012 - 07:50

    The incompetence of these kinds of ‘investigations’ is amazing…
    “Ok. In how much time can you analyse the internet?”
    “The internet? You mean the big blue E button in windows?”
    “Yes, yes, that!”
    “Ooh, about 4 week probably is enough”
    “Good, good…”

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