Last month Australia’s Attorney-General George Brandis labeled his citizens the worst pirates on the planet and vowed to help content holders turn that position around. But Brandis’ industry-leaning position soon became clear as he repeatedly refused to answer questions as to whether he’d properly consulted with consumer groups.
Brandis has, however, consulted deeply with the entertainment industries. His proposals for solving the piracy issue are straight out of the MPAA and RIAA cookbook – three strikes and account terminations for errant Internet users plus ISP blockades of torrent and similar sites.
The reason why the debate over these measures has dragged on so long is down to the defeat of the studios in their legal battle against ISP iiNet. That case failed to render the ISP responsible for the actions of its subscribers and ever since iiNet has provided the most vocal opposition to tough anti-piracy proposals. Today, iiNet Chief Regulatory Officer Steve Dalby underlined that stance with a call for consumers to fight back against “foreign interests.”
“The Hollywood Studios have been relentlessly lobbying the Australian Government on a range of heavy-handed solutions, from a ‘three strikes’ proposal, through to website filtering – none of which take consumers’ interests into account,” Dalby explains.
On three strikes, Dalby notes that even though customers will be expected to pick up the bill for its introduction, there’s no evidence that these schemes have curtailed piracy or increased sales in any other country.
“This leaves us asking why Hollywood might think this approach would work in Australia when it doesn’t even work in their own patch,” he says.
While Dalby believes that the studios’ imposition of ‘three-strikes’ will do little to solve the problem, his opposition to overseas interference is perhaps most visible in his attitudes towards site blocking.
“Why would the Australian government let a foreign company dictate which websites our citizens can access? Are our legislators captured by foreign interests? Should we allow American commercial interest to dictate Australian national policy?” he questions.
Perhaps inevitably, Dalby says that piracy has only blossomed in Australia due to a failure to serve the market, and the studios must address that first.
“Copyright holders have shown us that they’re not interested in new models for Australians, despite the success of services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu in the USA,” he explains.
“The pattern of US traffic Internet now depends on what content is made available via legitimate distribution channels like Netflix, rather than on the Pirate Bay. Giving your competitor a ten-year head start distributing a ‘free’ alternative is pretty stupid. No wonder the content industry is uncompetitive, with that attitude.”
Demand for legal content exists, Dalby says, but only if consumers aren’t subjected to release delays and uncompetitive pricing.
“And that’s the fundamental difference between iiNet and the rights holders. They want to tackle how customers are pirating content. We want them to look at why, and then move forward, addressing the cause, not the symptom,” he says.
Alongside calls for Australians to lobby their MPs, Dalby says he hopes that Hollywood and the government decide to take a more positive approach to solving the problem.
“Until that time, we’ll continue to push for a better future for Australian content users, one removed from the constraints being discussed in Canberra,” he concludes.
Dalby’s attack on the proposals currently on the table shows that a voluntary agreement between iiNet and rightsholders is as far away as ever, an indication that the years-long battle is far from over.