Beattie “ashamed” of Australia’s Internet piracy



news Former Queensland Labor Premier Peter Beattie has published a strongly worded article stating that he is “ashamed” of Australia’s record on Internet piracy, in the latest sign that the two major sides of politics may be in agreement about the need to tackle the issue through new legislation.

In late October, the new Coalition Federal Government reportedly signalled plans to restart long-running talks between the telecommunications and content industries to deal with the issue of Internet piracy, despite the fact that a previous round of talks between the two sides under the previous Labor administration proved pointless.

The Australian newspaper reported at the time (we recommend you click here for the full article) that the Attorney-General’s Department had sent letters to the nation’s top telcos and content creators seeking their participation in a series of industry roundtables to resolve the online piracy issue “as a matter of urgency”.

It is not yet clear precisely what new Attorney-General George Brandis or the Attorney-General’s Department is seeking from the talks. Delimiter has filed a Freedom of Information request with the department seeking the text of any letters sent by Brandis or the Department to telcos on the issue since Brandis took office. Brandis has declined to answer fundamental questions on the Coalition’s plan for the area.

The last round of talks between ISPs and the content industry were also hosted by the Attorney-General’s Department, with departmental secretary Roger Wilkins believed to be taking a personal hand in an issue the bureaucrat has seen as important for the previous Labor Government. The talks were held between late 2011 and mid-2012 under Julia Gillard’s Labor administration, but ultimately broke down due to an inability of the two sides to come to any form of agreement.

However, it appears that the very same issue has now been raised by the Attorney-General’s Department with the new Coalition Attorney-General. Neither Labor nor the Coalition has publicly clarified their position with respect to Internet piracy, despite ongoing requests from the media in the area for both to do so.

The latest salvo in the war was fired over the weekend, with former Queensland Premier and senior Labor figure Peter Beattie publishing an extensive opinionated article in The Australian (we recommend you click here for the full article) stating that he was “ashamed” to say that Australians were among the highest illegal downloaders of pirated material in the world and agreed with Brandis that action needed to be taken on the issue.

“To save Australia’s creative talent we urgently need national legislative reform to stop online piracy, which is eating away at our creative industries,” wrote Beattie.

The former Labor Premier has, up until recently, had a dirct personal interest in advocating for existing copyright industries. In March 2011, Beattie was appointed chairman of the National Association of Cinema Owners (NACO), which represents both independent cinemas as well as major chains. NACO’s website states:

“The National Association of Cinema Operators-Australasia (NACO) represents its members in “whole of industry” issues that may confront them from time to time. Without limitation, licencing fees, film classification and piracy are issues that require a whole of industry response.”

In a speech to the association’s conference recently held in Queensland, Beattie handed over the chairmanship of NACO. However, the former Labor Premier also took the chance to mention what he said was an “urgent need” for legislative reform to address piracy, attacking what he described as “illegal overseas websites”.

“… let me strip away the well-honed myths about these websites,” Beattie reportedly said. “The criminals who operate them are not in the business to promote innovation, or freedom of speech, nor are they in the game to protect the freedom of the internet. Those behind piracy sites are only in it for the money, primarily revenue from advertising (gambling and porn sites), and they have their snouts well and truly stuck in the money trough.”

“Disabling access to websites whose primary purpose is facilitating unauthorised access to copyrighted content will help dry up the money trough. If the legal risks start to outweigh the illegal profits then fewer players will pursue this criminal route.”

The news comes as an extensive survey conducted by respected analysis house Essential Research recently found that a huge proportion of Australians would continue to pirate content such as TV shows and movies online, even if such content was made available everywhere globally at the same time for a low price.

According to ongoing global research, Australians pirate more content online than almost any other nation. For example, when the series finale of popular AMC show Breaking Bad was released in the US through cable networks in early October, the episode quickly made an appearance on popular file-sharing sites, predominantly using the BitTorrent protocol. According to file-sharing news site TorrentFreak, the show was downloaded more than 500,000 times just 12 hours after the first copy appeared online.

However, not everyone believes the problem can be easily solved — and especially not through legislation.

In a fiery blog post published around the last known round of the anti-piracy talks in June 2012, iiNet regulatory chief Steve Dalby was highly critical of the content industry, including the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), which iiNet that year won a high-profile High Court victory against in the area.

“It’s quite clear that finding a new business model for sharing content is a key issue facing the entertainment industry, particularly in light of iiTrial. Copyright legislation needs to change to serve the changing needs of both the rights holders and the expectations of online consumers,” wrote Dalby. “Try telling that to an organisation like the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) – you might as well be talking to a brick wall.”

Dalby accused the US entertainment industry of “ignoring” consumer demand for the ability to access content in their preferred content, at a time that was convenient, for “so many years now” that multiple alternatives had been designed, built, adopted and thoroughly commoditised, becoming mainstream in the process.

“The upcoming Attorney General’s Department forum to discuss online copyright issues will involve rights holders, ISPs, government and consumer representatives,” the iiNet executive wrote. “I don’t need a crystal ball to tell you that the likely conclusion will be negligible change; as has been the situation since the 2005 Australia – US free trade agreement was signed. Little, if anything at all, is to be gained by engaging with rights holders for a commercial solution.”

News of the renewed round of talks to be held by the Attorney-General’s Department has also attracted criticism from digital rights groups.

“Yet again we are faced with a government that is an enemy of the Internet,” commented Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia, after the news of the talks broke. “Previous Attorney-Generals organised secret meetings between ISPs and the copyright lobby, deliberately excluding consumers, and now history repeats. We demand that any consultation about the future of the Internet be conducted transparently and include competent and trusted representatives of the community, not just vested interests.”

“File sharing is not the problem that needs solving,” said Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia. “Graduated response regimes and censorship mechanisms have been proven time and time again to fail to have an impact on file sharing. What has been proven to lower file sharing is convenient, affordable access to content, which is still lacking in Australia. This market access issue, as well as geocodes and other anachronisms of the Copyright Act, are the problems that needs solving, not file sharing.”

The Pirate party said graduated response regimes that result in disconnection from the Internet (better known as “three strikes” schemes) are shown to have limited to no impact on file sharing. Censorship regimes like the proposal being floated by the Attorney-General are circumventable within seconds, the party claimed.

“The Internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it. Work with your fans, not against them,” Molloy concluded.

Image credit: Tobi Loftus Photography, Creative Commons


  1. Strange how in the rush to do ¨something¨, now by both sides, the one thing niether side will do is allow the ordinary public a say. We aren´t even allowed to see the TPP negotiations, let alone have a say on them. I think the real thing politicians like Bettie should be ashamed of is leaving Australians out of what is supposed to be a Democratic process in his attempts to criminalise one third or more of the Australian population.

  2. Of course the major parties are in agreement on this: their corporate paymasters want them to be.

    The only reason we don’t have draconian anti-piracy legislation in place today is the massive public backlash would substantially boost the fortunes of the minor parties, and that is a worse prospect for the majors than just about anything else.

  3. Naturally telcos and content creators are the only stakeholders invited.

    Does the public who gets delayed overpriced or flat out unavailable content not have an interest? Lets not find out the best options for Australians, but the best options for content creators and telcos.

    IMHO this is just a much ado about nothing. Something to distract the masses from substantial issues.

    BTW, is there any doubt of the Murdock Presses feeling on content protection. I guess good press does get a pay-off :)

  4. I think the points raised in the article are valid. People need to realise that while things aren’t perfect (or arguably good) – they are certainly a lot better then they were several years ago. Things are coming out faster in more formats at a better price point. If people don’t start to change behaviours a little faster, legislation will get through to start cracking down on it.

    I do however feel Beattie did miss a few things. It would have been nice to see him push for the industry to speed up their changes. Recognise that although things have changed for the better, there is still a way to go. If we hold that Australian made content is good, push for us to lead the way on new business models & ways of doing things.

  5. It’s always the small minority of bad apples that spoils things for the rest of the community. If there weren’t thieves, we wouldn’t need to lock our doors before going out. The whole home security alarm business wouldn’t exist. If there was no internet piracy, there would be no internet censorship by Google of search results. This whole censorship slippery-slope was triggered by the anti-social behaviour of pirates who now have the gall to occupy a moral high horse. It’s like bank robbers complaining about the taxpayer burden of funding a police force.

    • It’s comments like yours that make me think the Pirate Party really should have picked a different name, because you appear to have no clue as to what their actual policies are, but are dismissing them based on the negative connotations of the name alone.

      FYI, I read their policy documents carefully back in August, and voted for them in September. They were certainly a better choice than the Palmer United Party, and (IMHO) the two majors.

      • While I agree with you, I have no idea why the Palmer United Party warrants a mention, they are a better choice than pretty much nobody (maybe shooters and fishers are worse than them).

    • Worth considering what’s actually happening before you jump the gun. For example while it is true that Australians are “big pirates” especially with TV we’re also big consumers. For music we spend $22US/person/year which puts us second behind Japan. We even have growth in sales here which isn’t happening in the US, UK and Germany.

      So maybe the question should be “what’s so different about TV in Australia”? Is it that with music you can freely get a taste of it with ads on Spotify/youtube before you commit? That it’s not a package based service? If TV was distributed as freely as music is, and we are used to an ad supported model for TV already, then why wouldn’t we jump on it? The US has netflix, quality infrastructure and a lot of free streaming from websites. We’re slowly catching up but are well behind.

      Maybe instead of pushing new laws that would give the gov’ extra powers we should instead look at the cause. Tell the media industries “no, we won’t, this is your problem not ours” and force them to look at what other countries/industries have done to dilute these problems already. Because what we do know for certain is that government will always be one step behind the tech savvy in that sort of arms race.

  6. So relying on an “online survey” of just 1075, (out of 7000-8000 invites to participate in this survey)
    290 (27%) responded yes to “Do  you or does anyone in you household download films, music or television shows via the internet for free?”

    So no where does it ask if they download the content illegally.
    There’s no explanation that allows the surveyee to differential between streaming internet content as opposed to downloading for offline consumption. (e.g. using legal methods such as TenPlay, iView, Youtube, as opposed to using the likes of BT)

    Also don’t forget if you actually believe this limited & questionable online survey,
    it mentions the 32% figure for a similar question back in their May 2012 survey.
    Which is a 15% drop…or if I want to skew the result, 18% more people polled say they or a household member downloaded content in May 2012 then in Oct 2013. So the figure is trending down dramatically.
    In fact if the trend continues at the same rate, by 2020, it will be less then 12%!

    So there you go Renee, you should do a new article, that internet piracy in Australia is on track to be less then 12% by 2020! Proving that the current methods are working.

    • I tried to point out that the methodology of the original survey rendered extrapolation of conclusions invalid for similar reasons. Didn’t get me anywhere then, either.

  7. Total waste of time & effort.
    Many years back, before the introduction of DRM we were quite happy to spend heaps for our desired content.
    Ever since Big Brother decided to implement just how, if & when we can access that content we then decided they can all go jump!
    As far as we’re concerned stopping ‘illegal downloading” won’t earn them a single cent of our cash in purchasing their restrictive, crippled, overpriced offerings.

  8. Does anyone actually care what Beattie thinks. In fact in general anything he is FOR is generally a good thing to be against.

  9. I agree that legislation has an important role to play in tackling the issue of piracy.

    The Australian government should legislate that without sufficiently fair and open access to content, and competition at the distribution level, the content industry should be unable to uphold their copyrights in Australia. Only when it is demonstrable that they have done all in their power to meet the needs of consumers should they be able to target copyright infringements and seek compensation at no more than the market price.

  10. I liked the part where he thought money was the only motivation for pirate website operators.
    There’s so much advertising on news group aggregators…
    And the private torrent trackers…one I visit doesn’t even have advertising except to sell t shirts with their own name on it.
    Fact is,pirates gonna pirate even when it is only fame, and even then it is fame for an anonymous identity they can’t ever be associated with due to the nature of their actions.

  11. Before they jump up and down about Piracy, why don’t the take a look at exactly what is been pirated, and where from.

    Mr Beattie talks up “To save Australia’s creative talent…”
    Which indicates that we’re pirating Australian content, but every time I turn around, the media is talking about TV series such as Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, which are all US owned.

    As to the why… now that is a complicated issue.
    Some would say they don’t want to be left out, and see it as soon as the US does.
    More would say because they’re going to buy it anyhow, and just want to see it as soon as they can.
    Others insist that they won’t use such overpriced companies like Foxtel for a few channels.

    Most of these issues however come down to the over-restriction of media in Australia.

    Before you try to cure the disease Mr Beattie, why don’t you first look at preventing the infection.

  12. How much was/is Beattie paid for his role as a front person for the content corporations?

  13. If I could buy access to a file that didn’t destroy itself after 48 hours, was easily portable between my smart tv, phone and computer and was available in 1080,720 and 480 line formats then I would happily buy it.

    I can’t stream much because of a poor connection shared between lots of people in the house. Also, I’m not going to plug a laptop into a TV to watch a blocky stream that may or may not buffer successfully and which eats up my quota.

    What I will do is download a file in advance and then watch it later on. If I can’t get it legally and at a reasonable price I am left with two choices. Either don’t watch it at all, or just bite the bullet and get it through nefarious means. The content companies make the same amount no matter which option I choose. Seems straight forward to me…

  14. I’ll start respecting Big Media’s copyrights when it stops pushing for perpetual copyright extensions.

    • How about we convert the freehold perpetual lease on your residential property into a 90-year lease instead.

        • So, intangible assets are inferior to physical assets, and should be treated on inferior terms? Does that mean the Digital Revolution and all the hoopla about value creation and competitiveness in the digital space is second-rate junk too?

          • Intangible assets are very different to tangible assets. That’s why they have different names.

            I own investment properties. I rent them out. When I rent out a property, it is no longer available to anyone else to live in.

            I create photographs. When I give a copy of that photograph to someone, the photograph is still available to give to other people.

            The nature of my two businesses is different, so I need different protections. I need legal protection to evict tenants who aren’t paying their rent, because by staying in the property they are denying me the income I need to maintain the property.

            The same doesn’t apply to photographs: if someone else starts making money using my photographs the worst that happens is that the market for my photographs will dry up. Until then, I can still make money from my photographs. The legal protections for digital works only relate to an artificially created monopoly on the use of those works.

            Thus tenancy of a residential property is a natural monopoly on use, while copyright over art works is an artificial monopoly on use.

            There is no “inferiority” implied here, the nature of the product is simply different.

          • Piracy and counterfeiting clearly threatens the economic value of intangible assets or intellectual property. Movie studios, record companies, pharmaceutical companies, book publishers, etc, don’t spend hundreds of millions on lawyers, not to mention precious management time, guarding the value of their intangible assets if there were no economic losses at stake.

  15. Those assets are only worth protecting if they are of reasonable value for the customers for their cash.
    P2P offers those of us on crap connections too slow to stream a preview a chance to check things out.
    With the amount of special effects, zero plot rubbish the studios churn out nowadays many of us like to first download an early cam copy to determine if their “latest Blockbuster” is worth the time, cost & effort of attending our local theaters.
    Block that & half the time we won’t even bother going out to hand them our money.

  16. Peter Beattie can sod off. after the ‘smart state’ shit he cooked up (or is that cocked up? NONE of which has panned out so far, AFAIK) he should have been banned from talking tech ever again. NACO was a good fit for him, right in along with the rest of the Dinosaur crowd. should have stuck with them instead of sticking his nose into the modern world…..

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