Fueled by poor official content availability and unfair pricing, millions of Aussie citizens have turned to unauthorized channels to get their content fix, mainly via torrent and streaming sites.
As a result and after being stirred up largely by Hollywood in the United States, two anti-piracy strategies have emerged. The first involves local ISPs being ordered to block The Pirate Bay and similar sites.
The second is a “three strikes” style warning scheme that would see regular Internet users being monitored by anti-piracy companies and then sent escalating warning notices by their respective ISPs. The idea is that after receiving several these warnings, Internet subscribers will eventually change their ways.
But while site blocking is currently full-steam ahead with The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, isoHunt, TorrentHound and SolarMovie being targeted in Federal Court, negotiations over the warning scheme have labored for years and yielded few results.
In February it was revealed that three-strikes (or graduated response as its often known) would not be immediately going ahead. As has been the case for years, rightsholders and ISPs simply couldn’t agree over who would pay for what was clearly going to be an expensive system.
This raises the somewhat extraordinary situation that having pleaded with the Australian government for “three strikes”, having submitted a draft to the Australian Communications and Media Authority a year ago, and having missed the government-mandated deadline for implementation last September 1, rightsholders and ISPs are now having to lobby the government to put it on hold.
According to ITNews, earlier today Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton told the CommsDay summit that rightsholders and ISPs were working on a joint approach to the government to ask for the “three strikes” scheme to be suspended for another 12 months.
“[The plan is to say] ‘given that the focus is on website blocking at the moment, let’s put that draft code into abeyance and not have the [Australian Communications and Media Authority] seek to further examine it for possible registration, and we’ll come back in 12 months and see whether it makes sense to try and reinvigorate those commercial discussions’,” Stanton says.
Stanton’s statement is clearly trying to focus on the potential gains to be had via a site-blocking regime but discussions on “three strikes” preceded blocking plans by several years and have always been favored by rightsholders. Indeed, even in countries where blocking is already in place, moves to bring in warning notices have continued unabated. But, as always, the real issue revolves around who will pay.
“Hopefully [the suspension] will give us at least a good holding position, and we’ll see in a year’s time whether there really is a problem of scale that needs to be dealt with by a costly and complex scheme,” Stanton explains.
The problem has always been about costs. Rightsholders strongly believe that ISPs should pay a large proportion of the scheme but that position is rarely supported by the ISPs themselves. Even in countries where notice schemes are going ahead, limits on the numbers of notices are often put in place. Which, given the projected cost in Australia, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
“At the moment, [the warning system] is manual,” Village Roadshow co-chief executive Graham Burke said in February. “And it’s just so labor intense, that it’s somewhere in the vicinity of $16 to $20 per notice, which is prohibitive. You might as well give people a DVD.”
Reading between the lines it seems possible that rightsholders and ISPs will seek to come up with a more cost-effective automated system during the next year. The agreement to have some kind of system is now in place but it will all rest on the price tag. If that can be brought down to a few cents per warning then it will be all systems go.
In the meantime, troll activity and plans by Village Roadshow to take a few people court not withstanding, Australians appear to have at least another year of trouble-free downloading – if they can get round the site blocks.