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)