The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) * has carried out a survey to gauge the perceptions and various sentiments held by EU citizens towards intellectual property rights, which encompass various aspects such as trademarks, designs, patents, copyright and the registration and protection of such.** The survey collected the views of over 26,500 people aged 15 and over across all 28 EU Member States, including Malta. THE EUIPO had also conducted a similar survey in 2013, the results of which have been complemented by this more recent survey. Comparisons to the 2013 survey allow for an insight into how the public opinion of intellectual property rights has been altered during the last 4 years.

As a general overview, 97% of all respondents believe that it is important that inventors, creators and performing artists protect their rights and are entitled to be paid for their work. However, 30% also felt that there are circumstances which can justify the purchase of counterfeit goods. Nevertheless 78% of those surveyed believe that through buying counterfeit goods, businesses and jobs will be destroyed.

While in 2013, the percentage of European citizens which admitted to intentionally purchasing counterfeit products stood at 4%, that number has now grown to 7%. Specifically, amongst young people, in the age group of 15-24, the number increased from 6% to 15%, with the primary reason given being the price of the product. 41% of youths hold the belief that an original product being too expensive justifies the purchase of counterfeit products and 63% of the same demographic also concedes that if original products were more affordable, they would no longer buy counterfeit goods. The latter percentage rises to 75% when considering all those surveyed and not just youths. Ironically, counterfeiting contributes towards the need for original products to periodically increase in price, to make up for the losses caused by counterfeiting.

The survey also inquired on the converse issue of purchasing counterfeit goods without being aware of it. The number of European citizens that have purchased counterfeits due to being misled has grown from 4% in 2013 to 10%, betraying a growing sense of confusion among consumers, and perhaps an increase in quality of counterfeit goods which are better able to fool consumers. Compounding this statistic is another whereby 35% of EU citizens claimed that they have sometimes been at a loss to determine whether a product they had purchased was counterfeit or genuine.

Further confusion arises when EU citizens attempt to discern the legality or otherwise of a source of online content. The number of such citizens has increased from 19% in 2013 to 24%. Despite this, 14% of EU citizens (an increase of 2% since 2013) carry out research when downloading music to verify whether the source is legal or not.

Benevolence among consumers is thankfully on the rise, with all statistics showing that more EU citizens are paying to access copyright protected content (music, videos, movies or TV series) from a lawful service over the Internet. The rise is noticeably higher among youths. In addition, 83% (up from 80% in 2013) of EU citizens prefer accessing online content through the intended legal platform whenever such a legal option is available, provided it is also affordable. The reasoning behind this goes beyond the issue of counterfeiting, the majority of survey respondents also believe that legal sources are of a better quality and are more diverse than illegal ones.

With respect to pirated content, the attitude has shifted very slightly, albeit in a negative manner. A 1% increase in EU citizens (both as a whole and among youths) intentionally accessing pirated content from online sources which are clearly illegal, has been noted. Youths make up a quarter of all respondents who admitted thus. More pronounced is the increase to 31% from 22% in 2013 of respondents who believe obtaining content illegally is acceptable where no legal alternative exists.

Such figures belie that while awareness of counterfeiting is certainly high, it needs to be followed up with more effective education on the subject. More importantly, the education provided must be updated and in conformity with the latest technological advances which are presenting more avenues, opportunities and methods for counterfeiters to peddle their goods.

The Executive Director of EUIPO, António Campinos, made the following statement in light of the survey's results: "Overall, we see that support for IP rights is high among EU citizens. But we also see that more needs to be done to help young people in particular understand the importance of IP to our economy and society, especially now, when encouraging innovation and creativity is increasingly the focus of economic policy across our European Union".