Minister: Sue Mums, Dads, Students To Send Anti-Piracy Message

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Just as discussion moves away from the punitive measures that did little to curtail piracy in the last decade, an Australian minister has urged a return. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull says that in order to send a clear message, rightsholders need to "roll up their sleeves" and strategically sue some "moms, dads and students."

nopiracyWhen countries and major rightsholders have announced their new anti-piracy strategies in recent times, several approaches have become apparent.

Instead of pure head-on attacks against websites, their finances are being undermined through deals with advertisers and their sites blocked online. Rather than attempting to batter ISPs into submission through the courts, partnerships are sought instead. And when it comes to the end user, it’s largely education and more education.

In Australia the debate is familiar. On top of a legal framework to have websites blocked at network level, rightsholders are now seeking friendly cooperation from ISPs in order to deliver a message to subscribers that content should be purchased, not pirated.

The debate is well underway with the government seeking input from interested parties. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been putting pressure on rightsholders to ramp up their game in respect of pricing and availability too, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

But yesterday, during a televised interview with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News, Turnbull made comments that transport the debate back many years, raising the specter of tough punitive action to send an anti-piracy message.

At first things started as expected, with the Minister telling Sky that people need to be educated. He raised the usual shoplifting and stealing analogies, noting that taking content from supermarkets is no different from downloading content online.

Then, after outlining New Zealand’s “three strikes” system, he noted that if content owners are suffering losses, then it should be them who foot the bill for any introduced anti-piracy measures. Content owners aside, few would disagree there.

Turnbull also noted that disconnections for persistently pirating Internet users would be met with a lot of resistance so were probably off the table, but then the bombshell.

“Rightsholders are not keen on taking people to court, because it doesn’t look good, because it’s bad publicity. What happens if the person you sue is a single mother, what happens if it’s a teenager, what happens if it’s a retiree on a low income?” Turnbull said.

“The bottom line is though, rightsholders are going to have to be tactical about who they take to court, who they want to sue.”

Education, it seems, only goes so far in Turnbull’s eyes. In addition there will need to be punishments for those who don’t get the message and that in turn will help to solve the problem.

“What you do is that when you raise awareness of this, and as people recognize that there is a risk that they will be sued, and have to pay for what they have stolen, then the level of infringement and theft will decline,” the Minister said.

So who should the rightsholders “strategically” target?

“It is absolutely critical that rightsholders…are prepared to actually roll their sleeves up and take on individuals. They have got to be prepared to sue people. Sue moms and dads and students who are stealing their content. They can’t expect everybody else to do that for them,” Turnbull said.

This kind of aggression from a key Minister in this debate is bound to raise alarm bells. As rightholders head down the cooperation and education route, here is a clear sign that the government thinks that yet more legal action against the public will solve the problem.

It won’t, and ISPs such as iiNet almost certainly won’t like the sound of this either. Whether this will hurt cooperation moving forward remains to be seen, but it’s likely to paint a picture of a government and an industry holding up new carrots, but keeping the same old tired stick in reserve, just in case.

The whole interview can be seen here.

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