news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull this morning released research which shows that about a quarter of Australian Internet users pirated Internet content, in a joint effort with the UK Government aimed at displaying the need for international and industry cooperation to tackle the issue.
The Australian research was commissioned by Turnbull’s Department of Communications and undertaken by Taylor Nelson Sofries Australia, with the firm using online and telephone interviews to question 2,630 Australians aged 12 years and over on their entertainment habits between the dates of 25 March and 13 April this year.
The survey found that 43 percent of ‘online content consumers’ surveyed — those who had consumed digital content in the period — had consumed at least some illegal files, representing 26 percent of total Australian Internet users.
In a statement, Turnbull said the resulted highlighted the importance of international collaboration to help understand the reasons for online copyright infringement, establish benchmarks and share solutions. The results, the Minister added, also underscored the importance of Governments working with industry to address infringement issues, and that a range of measures were needed to properly tackle the problem.
Last month the Federal Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, legislation which will allow copyright owners to seek a court injunction which would force Internet providers to block websites which infringe their copyright. And the Australian Communications and Media Authority is currently considering an industry code developed by the Communications Alliance which would eventually see the details of alleged Internet pirates handed over to the content owners to pursue legal action against them.
However, the results also displayed some figures which could prove uncomfortable for the Government.
Last week, Labor MP Ed Husic published a lengthy article arguing the new legislation and industry self-regulatory measures pushed by the Government will “do little” to resolve the issue of Internet piracy, arguing the issue is a market problem and needs to be addressed by focusing on bad corporate behaviour instead.
Turnbull’s research appears to back Husic’s argument, with the survey results showing that 39 percent of pirates would stop infringing if legal content was cheaper, 38 percent would stop if it was more available, and 36 percent would stop if it had the same release date as other countries. 43 percent of Internet users stated they were not confident of what was legal content online.
Last week, Husic said it was access to content — in a convenient manner and at the right price — that would stop piracy.
Husic said it had been shown “repeatedly” that Australian consumers were willing to pay for products offered at a reasonable price and in a timely fashion, citing examples such as the highly popular streaming platforms Spotify and Netflix.
“Until this government and business gets tough on the causes of piracy it’s hard to see a long term, sustained reduction in piracy … If blue-collar workers can change, why can’t some of our big corporations do the same?” he asked.
Turnbull’s statement acknowledged this. “… rights holders’ most powerful tool to combat online copyright infringement is making content accessible, timely and affordable to consumers,” the Minister said. The research also shows that rates of piracy in the UK — where content is much more widely accessible than in Australia — are lower than in Australia.
Turnbull also noted that the UK’s Intellectual Property Office had conducted a similar survey between March and May this year, undertaken by Kantar Media. The survey is the fifth such study the country has undertaken on online copyright infringement. The Australian survey was based on the UK approach. The UK results will be released later today.
This survey represents something of a bitter pill for the Government and for industry group the Communications Alliance, which Turnbull pushed into developing an industry code to deal with the issue of Internet piracy.
On the one hand, of course the survey shows that Australians are massive Internet pirates. We already knew that from a variety of sources, and it probably exacerbated the situation that the survey was taken in Australia during a time when the popular HBO series Game of Thrones was being held hostage in Australia by pay TV giant Foxtel. If you survey Australians about their Internet piracy habits when they are downloading Game of Thrones every week, of course you’re going to see strong pirating behaviour.
However, the survey also backs up the view put by Husic and others that the real cause of Internet piracy is the lack of timely, affordable and accessible access to content. It’s just a little inconvient for Turnbull that Husic has been taling about this issue only last week.
Ultimately I don’t believe Turnbull ever personally really wanted to enact Internet piracy legislation or to force the Communications Alliance to develop an industry code to deal with the issue. Turnbull himself most likely is aware that the issue can only be correctly handled in the long term by rights holders making their content more available. As we’ve seen with the launch of Netflix in Australia, Australians will jump on board in massive numbers if they see content made available in the right manner.
As with the data retention issue, however, Turnbull is essentially handling this issue as a proxy for Attorney-General George Brandis, and the Attorney-General’s Department. The Minister has become the progressive face of Abbott’s Cabinet, ‘selling’ unpopular policies which he has personal doubts about.
It’s an essential irony tied to the nature of party politics. Just as Labor party rules meant Ed Husic was forced to vote for an Internet piracy bill he was not in favour of, so Cabinet rules mean Turnbull is forced ot publicly support and push through Internet piracy policy he most likely has personal doubts about. One does wonder whether our redoubtable Communications Minister will ever get tired of it.
Image credit: NEXTDC