Turnbull on iiTrial: We need ‘global copyright’


news In the wake of iiNet’s victory in its Internet piracy High Court case, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for the content industry to start releasing all of its content globally through on- and offline platforms simultaneously upon launch, in an effort to meet the demands of consumers and make piracy irrelevant.

The High Court last week knocked back a final appeal in the case by a coalition of film and TV studios, represented by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft. The studios first took iiNet to court in 2009, claiming iiNet had “authorised” its users to download pirated movies and TV over the Internet. However, the court said today, iiNet had no ability to prevent its customers from infringing copyright, and copyright law was not suited to enforcing the laws of content owners through such platforms.

Subsequently, AFACT said the loss illustrated that Australia’s Government needed to step in and take action on the issue of Internet piracy. The Government has said it will examine the decision, but has a preference for talks on the issue to continue under the auspices of the Federal Attorney-General’s Department.

The Coalition, which is currently expected to win government in the next Federal Election, has not yet released a policy on the issue of Internet piracy, although Delimiter has requested comment on the issue several times from figures such as Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis.

Speaking on the ABC’s Political Forum show with host Richard Glover (transcription available here), Turnbull said the content industry currently faced “a very big challenge” with respect to its future. ” I think firstly, we have to move to a system of global copyright where basically people — there are no territorial limitations on copyright,” he said. “Because I think the internet is basically made that all unworkable.”

iiNet chief executive Michael Malone wrote on iiNet’s blog this week that he was a big of a “tragic” for the HBO TV show Game of Thrones (inspired by the classic fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin) and it was “killing” him to know that he would have to wait several weeks before he could legally watch new episodes in Australia — even though Internet pirates had already made the content available on BitTorrent.

“Basically you’ve got to recognise that the minute Game of Thrones or any other show is put to air, it will be available globally,” said Turnbull “.So the owners of that copyright have got to be in a position where it can be released simultaneously theatrically, or in the case of something like that on Pay TV everywhere. But also, it should be for sale through the iTunes store or various other platforms at the same time.”

“Because if it’s not for sale — because what’s happening is, Game of Thrones, episode three I think goes on air this week in Australia. I think it went to air a couple of weeks ago in the States. It’s been tweeted and written up and Facebooked endlessly – and if they can download, they will. Now we’re just kidding ourselves — all they are doing is throwing money away by not making it available instantly.”

Turnbull said he wasn’t suggesting that it was possible to stop people downloading material illegally, but the film and TV studios could “mitigate” that sort of behaviour by making the cost of a legitimate download a lot lower.

The Liberal MP also emphasised that it was important to maintain intellectual property rights, as they helped drive Australia’s creative industries. However, he said the High Court came to the right decision in the iiNet trial, and he “really” welcomed iiNet’s victory. “It is very, very, very difficult if not impossible for someone that is just selling connectivity, just providing bandwidth to then be monitoring what people are doing,” said Turnbull, citing his past background as chairman of 1990’s leading ISP OzEmail, which itself has now been subsumed into iiNet.

It’s all very nice that Turnbull welcomes the outcome of the iiNet trial, and of course his view that content needs to be released simultaneously globally through multiple platforms both online and offline is a very mainstream one — perhaps the mainstream one. Turnbull’s speaking common sense here, and it’s great to hear that from the Coalition, which often seems to be in short supply of this valuable commodity.

However, Turnbull’s statements this week don’t really give us any insight into what the Coalition’s actual policy is on this important issue.

Let me make myself clear. The Labor Federal Government is currently holding highly controversial closed door meetings between the ISP and content industries, with the view of forming an industry code on Internet piracy. The Government has consistently blocked requests for more information on what is being talked about at the meetings, has heavily censored Freedom of Information requests into their content, and has denied requests by consumer groups to attend. The issue has become so serious that the Greens have filed a Senate motion for documents pertaining to the most recent meeting in February to be produced.

Therefore, what we need from Turnbull and his colleagues in the Coalition is not a personal opinion and some whimsy about how good Game of Thrones is (although everyone seems to agree that it’s excellent, an issue on which we concur), but some real answers about what the Coalition would do about this issue if it wins the next election. A policy, in short, a policy. Isn’t that what political parties are supposed to produce? In 2012, the practice seems to have gone out of style, having been replaced by individual politicians making off-the-cuff comments in daily media appearances. In this context, it is perhaps not so important that we know that winter is coming, so to speak, but what our rulers intend to do about it.

Image credit: HBO (promotional shot from Game of Thrones TV show)


  1. At least he’s getting his Good Common .02c in before Abbott and his truth parrot and squawk and make a mess everywhere.
    With any luck his impromptu opinion might help set Coalition policy.

  2. I agree with Turnbull’s sentiment but calling for ‘Global Copyright’ scares the crap out of me because you know that if it’s ‘Global’, America will be the one making the laws.

  3. Well done Turnbull – just add the bit about removing region-coding and you have the beginnings of a workable policy :)

    And mate… your opponent is Conroy – perennial Luddite of the Year defending title holder – you should be wiping the floor with him!

    • Conroy is a lot of things but a Luddite? Seriously?

      He’s been pretty much the prime force behind the NBN since he cooked it up with Rudd, and the primary push behind the legislation passing and the successful negotiations with Telstra. He knows a hell of a lot about his portfolio and would match if not exceed Turnbull’s knowledge of IT.

      I think you might want to look up what a Luddite actually is.

      • “He knows a hell of a lot about his portfolio and would match if not exceed Turnbull’s knowledge of IT.”

        Yes.. because Conroy knows all about the “spams and scams coming through the portal”..

        The man is a telecommunications genius.

        • Well Conroy (according to the mindless critics) came up with the NBN on the back of an envelope on a flight.

          By doing so, he single handily in just a few hours, surpassed years of Coalition telecoms policy, put together by 4 or 5 ministers.


          • Well that’s the folklore according to the NBN critics, not me…

            But when highlighted as I just did, all of a sudden it “wasn’t his own doing” and it wasn’t on a flight and there wasn’t even an envelope on the flight he wasn’t even on…

            *rolls eyes*

  4. It’s nice to hear a front bench politician from a major party – and a business-minded one, at that – speak sense on the issue.

    Geoblocking is one of the key incentives to circumvent legal channels. Until it’s done away with, the offending content companies cannot take their fight seriously.

  5. I love turnbulls comments on this issue.

    I don’t for a single second think he would be saying them in government. As opposition, you get to say almost anything you want, including common sense things like this. (Notice how he didn’t imply anything would change? Or that the opposition actually has an official position on any of this?).

    Until I see policies, I am taking this as a Turnbull public-opinion grab. Anyone can make sensible statements. Not many go through with sensible policy. (Imagine how the content industry in Australia will react when you talk about reducing their TV-Show cashcows, forcing american content producers to release content simultaneously?? what about Channel 10/7/9’s huge Advertising revenue?).

    If Abbott wants government, he is NOT going to piss off the local content industry with policy around this.

    • Let’s be honest, given the free ride Abbott has had from the Murdoch press, and given Murdoch’s clear opposition to SOPA/PIPA – you’re right. There is no way Abbott would jeopardise that relationship with content owners.

      Turnbull has made a sensible comment. Of course while the content owners should be going down the path of offering their content online globally at reasonable prices, there needs to be great infrastructure to help justify business cases. Sure they exist now to an extent, but things like the NBN (or any FttH) where the coverage is ubiquitous makes it a lot easier to set up sites where people can legally download high quality content easily and quickly.

  6. Agree with most of what he says, but “Global Copyright” doesnt seem to fit in with anything else he said.

    We have global copyright laws, its called the Berne Convention, done under World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which is part of the World Trade Organasition (WTA), which is part of the UN. Countries are not welcome to trade goods and services internationally unless they agree to internal the copyright laws.

    I suspect what Turnbull was talking about was hinting at was a standard way of _enforcing_ existing copyright laws internationally. (also see kim dotcom debacle)

    Copyright holders having a global _policy_ of releases is a completely separate issue, something they should do, but nobody can force them to be sensible.

  7. I agree with the thoughts mentioned in the article… but in business often the best thing to do is test something on a small scale, then duplicate.
    surely the content producers could run some type of experiment and try to measure the actual effects of releasing all content of a particular show on all mediums in all countries at one time.

      • The content owners would never go for this idea though as it would mean they would lose out on the gains in selling the content internationally, and a lot of the people who would pay for it would ultimately be the ones buying it on DVD/Bluray etc anyway.

        Plus of course the government could never legislate this sort of thing.

        • Ah but I thought the content owners were loosing “BILLIONS BILLIONS I SAY!”

          To revenue “lost” on piracy. One would think a small bottomline hit for a stable long run would make up for the continued “bleeding of billions” from Piracy =P

          Of course such logical long term business acumen is fairly rare in the business world these days. Once a business is on top it’ll scratch and claw to keep their antiquated systems in place until time and technology eventually surpass them eventually rendering them bankrupt…. just ask Kodak!

    • There was something like this done by the comedian Louis CK.

      He put his latest special (at the time in December 2011) up on his website for $5, with no DRM. If you bought it, it was yours to do as you like.


      According to that page he made $1 million in about 12 days. Dont know what it’s up to as of now.

  8. I have it on good authority that Turnbull is in fact a eunuch. And therefore not to be trusted.

  9. Come on people, if the TPP is ratified it is all just hot air… we will be screwed on IP, copyright and therapeuticals…

  10. They could learn a lessen from Apple and its stores, low prices and high volumes with a low distribution cost

  11. The NBN is the greatest con… er… advance in monitoring what everyone does online. Taking up the NBN will eventually force ISPs to abandon all forms of ADSL, which for now is still relatively “private”. Those who do take up the NBN abandon their own privacy and freedom by default. Furthermore, it has already been admitted by NBN Co. that internet through them will NEVER reduce in price – AND – definitely WILL continue to INCREASE. ADSL on the other hand keeps going down, or, get better in value. (Just look at the latest Exetel $55 terabyte plan!)

    As for copyright – there’s only one reason these sad slobs keep flogging that dead horse… because they get to write of all the lawyers and letters to “offenders” as a business expense and claim it on tax. Alone they’ll never win their foolish war on (so called) piracy. But with the insidious NBN and the blanket government monitoring it enables, they just might.

    So when you’re sitting in gaol because your 12 y.o. brat downloaded that episode of Gilligan’s Island you never saw as a kid… feel free to slap yourself silly for ever paying the NBN Co. to kill ADSL, and monitor and report your every violation to the authorities.

    • Right, so NBN provides the government with an easy foot-in-the-door to start monitoring all of our activity online. Is that right? Or they could just pass legislation to mandate it on existing networks. You need to take your tin-foil hat off.

  12. Finally, a politician making sense on copyright. Now if Turnbull can support the inquiry on the Australia tax by Ed Husic so we don’t end up paying 50% more when they do release TV shows online here & change his mind on the NBN, I’d be happy to vote the libs in.

    • As someone who voted for John Howard, but now in the Labor corner (primarily because of the NBN and complete contempt for the negativity of Tony Abbott – not the Libs pre se`) I still find it a bit off putting that people will forget which political side introduced the NBN (and who bags it, even with mistruths daily), who is fighting against the exorbitant prices we pay for OS products (and which side doesn’t care) and will simply jump ship if the others, who don’t care say, oh ok, if we must…

      Or is this just gamesmanship?

  13. Well done Turnbull. Make a statement about an issue which has got a snowflake’s chance in hell of ever happening. But Hey! It pushes the right buttons.

    So what next? Declare you are for world peace ????????


  14. Wow, about time Malcolm made some sense, now all be need is him to fully support the current NBN and he becomes the Messiah (instead of a very naughty boy) and we can all vote Liberal again!

  15. Whilst MT seems to speak sense, logistically you have to ask how do you get an entire world to agree on a “simultaneous” launch of a television show? Perhaps the really high budget, high profile shows may be able to get close, but there’s a lot of other lesser-profile shows that probably can’t manage it.

    I specifically put quotes around the word “simultaneous” because it won’t truly be simultaneous due to different time zones, at the very least.

    I think we also need to recognise that a lot of material uploaded, whilst it violates copyright, has been done without motivation to making commercial gains, and instead for other motives. To cite a recent personal example, my wife missed the last episode of “Please Marry My Boy” and wanted to see it. We found a copy online. Point is that having the material on the web is an infringement of copyright, but people are uploading this material say as a convenience to other users who may have missed it, for other users in different geographic regions who may not have access to it, etc. Doesn’t change the copyright violation, but there is often no commercial imperative towards why it has been done. This should send a loud message that timely access to content is extremely important.

    The irony from all of this is that many of us are so time poor these days that we typically invest in a PVR so we can record shows and skip ads. Sure the show has been broadcast, but the nett result for a broadcaster is no different than if I had downloaded the show sans advertisements and watched it. The broadcasters all know this, but since the content producers are often not the broadcasters, it falls into the “that’s their problem” category.

  16. They just need to do it the easy way that would have the US screaming foul:

    1. Reduce terms back to 20 (or 20ish) years, retroactively. (This will always be my number one concern… and no… I dont care if the artist grandchildren lose out on royalties, let them perform their own stuff if they are so inclined)

    2. Simply write up the law that copyright cannot be infringed untill the work has been made available in Australia. If big content release in the US two months before Australian release they are allowing a two month window in which the work is not covered by copyright in Australia. Problem solved, either they get their act together and piracy numbers go down (every one has access to it at the same time), or they don’t and piracy numbers go down (as if would not be infringing to download prior to release in Australia)

    See easily fixed… Not that I believe our government have the backbone to stand up to the IP bullies that are the US government (if they did they wouldn’t have had anything to do with ACTA, and would be avoiding the TPP).

  17. > Rob: A politician talking sense? Has the world gone completely mad?!?!

    About bloody time.

    Meanwhile Labour is building the “Ferrari in every garage” NBN while simultaneously engaging with the US trade officials in their secret copyright talks. Let’s face it the only real use for these mega speeds will be downloading movies for the great majority of the population. Meanwhile Labour has no policy other than to be the simpering dogs at the US movie studio’s feet. We have no way to download a movie legally. That is ridiculous beyond belief.

    Been a Labour voter all my life but won’t be at the next election.

    Again much as I don’t like saying it, it was Apple that made the breakthrough with music – by dragging the record industry (with great resistance) to their online store.

    Who can do the same with the MPAA?

  18. Universally reviled and unpopular, after coming to power in a dishonest, underhanded fashion. And now holding secret backroom meetings with faceless powerbrokers?

    Honestly, the sooner we get rid of Joffrey the better.

    Wait, we were talking about Game of Thrones, right?

  19. Why not credit Apple? They obviously had the foresight, and perhaps even the common-sense, to realise that much “piracy” (quotes intended) is a function of inadequate or untimely access to music, rather than an intentional decision by people to “steal”. Their music is not even DRM’ed anymore, which is probably more a function of the fact it could be easily bypassed, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

    But content must be made available at the right price. iTunes does not have it right when US$ is at parity with A$ and yet songs here are more expensive. That is quite simply just wrong.

    • I wonder how much of that price difference is to do with them having to broker deals with the regional distributors?

  20. A lot of companies are still thinking they can milk the profits more by scheduling the release of media. DVD regions were designed to do it and they failed. Even now its possible to legally get some shows on DVD from OS before they are screened here. The real issue is, fans of a TV show engage in a global community, if some of that community has access to new material of course they will talk about it and as a result the pressure is on to gain access to the material.

    Also is the issue of pricing, again price higher for another market and you’ll get more people pirating.

  21. I’m so glad that I can have a clear conscience since by borrowing my friend’s box set of my favourite tv show I’m not made to feel like I’m causing ruin for the industry – unlike those nasty pirates who download things for free.

  22. Would it be an impossible task for all the developed economies to first of all help other developing/undeveloped nations to reach the developed status? And that the majority of the citizens in their respective countries have a job?
    It won’t eradicate piracy but if we all had a proper jobs and eductation it should go pretty far in reducing piracy.

    • Do you think the lack of a developed economy causes piracy? Piracy is rife in Australia, the USA, Europe, so what is the presumption here? That developing or undeveloped countries pirate even more than us,
      and we’re tame by comparison?

      With AFACT suing iiNet that kind of suggests that piracy is sufficiently rampant in “developed” Australia.

      I’m wondering how badly people are off when they live in an “developing” or “undeveloped” country and yet they have the tools available (ie. a computer, or a television and DVD player) to inspire them to undertake piracy.

      But no matter, when it comes to “non-commercial” piracy (the kind where a user violates copyright for their own gratification but not for commercial gain via duplication/sale), then the problem always comes down to the same two factors: price of content, and timeliness of content.

      Each “violator” has their own perception of what is a reasonable price to pay for content, and/or how long they should wait to be able to see it, if they are not in a “first-run” region. Different content will have different levels of value to the consumer.

      And then there are people who, no matter how low the price, will still pirate content and refuse to pay for it, because they feel it is a victimless crime, they think they’ll get away with it, they use the “I wouldn’t have bought it anyway” justification to themselves etc.

      You only have to look at iTunes to see that, sure, they’ve sold over a billion songs, but there’s still a crap-load of music piracy going on because a lot of people obviously still think the price is still too high and as already mentioned, many will choose to copy the songs because they can and the feel the risk is acceptable (eg. to being sued).

      Unfortunately the content industry looks at every instance of piracy and says “See, that’s another $ I could have earned if they paid for it” without realising that a large amount of content would never be consumed in the first place if it had to be paid for.

      I’m sure a lot of us know people who have huge/massive digital music collections with a strong likelihood that many of the albums, acquired through non-legitimate means, never get played.

  23. Finally, the people of Tajikistan would be able to watch new episodes of Mad Men at the exact same moment as people in the US.


    Good luck organising this on a global scale Malcolm.

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