We’ve argued for quite a long time that treating “pirates” like criminals instead of potential customers is a massive mistake for a whole host of reasons. There’s the futility of the legal game, for instance, as well as the possible public relations nightmare that going after the public, even the infringing public, can create. But the best reason to not treat infringers like criminals is because they’re often the best actual customers of content out there as well. In study after study, it’s shown that a person who engages in some infringement spends more total money on movies, music, and video games than someone who gets everything legit. Pirates, scurvy-laden bastards as they may be, happen to be the creative industries’ best customers.

And it turns out it’s no different in Australia, where a recent government study bore out the same conclusion: infringers spend more money on content than content-saints.

Consumers who flirt with the morally ambiguous line of content consumption spend more money, according to a survey released by the Australian Department of Communications. Over a three-month period among respondents aged 12 and over, the survey found that those who consumed a mixture of copyright-infringing and non-infringing content spent on average AU$200 on music, AU$118 on video games, AU$92 on movies, and AU$33 on TV content. Consumers who only consumed non-infringing content spent only AU$126 on music, AU$110 on video games, AU$67 on movies, and AU$22 on TV; whereas pure copyright-infringing content consumers spent a mere AU$88 on music, AU$24 on video games, AU$53 on movies, and AU$8 on TV content.

In every market, the sometimes-infringer spends more. In the case of music and movies, the delta between the occasional infringer and the all-legal consumer is huge, much larger than the delta between the all-legal and all-infringement consumers. Video games and television don’t show the same delta, but even in those arenas the occasional infringers spent more than the saint. Why? How?

Well, because the occasional infringer infringes because they’re a fan, a fan perfectly happy to spend money on scarce goods where spending that money makes complete sense.

However, the survey also found that the majority of spending on music and movies was not on the content items themselves.

“For both music and movies, the majority of the average spend was not from purchases of either digital or physical copies. In the case of music, this primarily consisted of concerts and gigs, and in the case of movies, this primarily consisted of going to the cinema,” it said.

And since the advents of the VHS and cassette tapes, that’s always been the case. Theaters are about experience and live music for great acts will always be in demand, even if bootleg tapes and pirated DVDs are in hefty supply, which they are. For the content itself, the survey respondents essentially indicated that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

A majority of survey respondents said that they would pay for a music subscription service that charged AU$5 per month, and AU$10 per month for a movie subscription service. Only 5 percent of respondents said that nothing would make them stop consuming copyright-infringing content.

In other words, the “everyone just wants everything for free” line the entertainment industries have been pimping for decades is bunk. Instead, the overwhelming majority of customers and potential customers want content on-demand at prices that make sense, in which case they’re perfectly willing to fork over the money. And even when they feel the price doesn’t make sense, they’re still willing to fork over money for things they do value as fans — even though they may have become fans through pirated content. Either way, the industries win. It’s just a matter of how much they want to win. Hint: crying over infringers who spend the most money isn’t the optimal response.

Frustratingly, this government study was released roughly a month after Australia passed its version of SOPA, largely at the behest of industry lobbyists armed to the teeth with industry numbers showing industry losses at the hands of these same dastardly pirates who are spending so much money on their products. It sure would have been nice if the government had managed to have access to their own data before passing such draconian legislation, rather than relying on the historically unreliable data from the entertainment industry.

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