For close to a decade Australia has been struggling with what the content industries see as a serious online piracy problem but today the country seems closer than ever to a legislative tipping point.
A paper leaked last week revealed that the government is looking towards a range of piracy mitigation measures, from holding ISPs more responsible for their users’ actions to the ISP-level blocking of so-called ‘pirate’ sites.
To coincide with the paper’s official release yesterday, the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA), the trade body representing subscription
television platforms, published (PDF) the results of a survey in which 60% of respondents agreed that people who facilitate piracy should face prosecution.
Whether the respondents understood that those “facilitators” include those who download TV shows and movies using BitTorrent isn’t clear, but the reality on the ground is that a large section of the Australian public has grown weary of being treated as second class consumers. Content not only arrives months adrift on a slow boat from the United States, but also at vastly elevated rates that defy reasonable explanation. This has led many to download TV shows instead, something which has led into today’s debate.
But while some of the Government’s proposals are causing unease due to a perceived reliance on a Big Media “wishlist”, there are signs that ministers understand that the piracy problem doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
In an interview with ABC’s Chris Uhlmann, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnball was put on the spot over what some view as the exploitation of Australian consumers by international entertainment companies. So why do Aussies pay 40% more than those in the US to download movies from iTunes?
“That is, that is a very powerful argument,” Turnball conceded.
“If I can just say so, there is an obligation on the content owners, if their concerns are to be taken seriously and they are by government, and if governments are to take action to help them prevent piracy, then they’ve got to play their part which is to make their content available universally and affordably.”
The argument that content has to be made widely available at a fair price before progress can be made cannot be understated and it will be extremely interesting to see whether the Minister’s acknowledgment of the problem will become a sticking point in negotiations as potential legislation draws closer.
But in the meantime, why are content producers “ripping off” Aussies with inflated prices? Profit, apparently.
“Well, I assume it’s because they feel they can make money out of it,” Turnball said.
Of course, commercial decisions like this get made every day, but as Uhlmann pointed out to the Minister, for Internet content the justification isn’t strong – from a technical standpoint it doesn’t cost any more to make content available for download in Australia than in the United States.
The entertainment companies’ “right” to charge whatever they like is their business, Turnball reiterated, but that approach may come at a price.
“If you want to discourage piracy, the best thing you can do, and the music industry is a very good example of this, the way they’ve responded, the best thing you can do is to make your content available globally, universally and affordably. In other words, you just keep on reducing and reducing and reducing the incentive for people to do the wrong thing,” he said.
Turnball also noted that following the publication of the discussion paper, content owners are going to have to justify why they are charging Australians more than overseas counterparts. That might prove a very interesting discussion.
Finally, the government is now inviting submissions from the public on the issue of online copyright infringement. There is no specific mention of offering content widely at a fair price, however, something which has drawn the ire of the Pirate Party.
“Instead of addressing the reality that Australians are paying more money for less content than other countries, the Discussion Paper is biased towards turning Internet service providers into ‘Internet police’ and censorship in the form of website blocking, neither of which have proven effective overseas,” Pirate Party President-elect Brendan Molloy said in a statement.
Those interested have until September 1 to make their opinions heard – question 9 might prove an opportunity to talk about a fair deal for Australians.